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What is White Tie Attire?

What is White Tie Attire?

In the world of formal dress codes, none is more prestigious than white tie. Also known as 'full evening dress,’ white tie is Western fashion's most formal dress code, typically reserved for state dinners, royal events, high-end charity balls, and select award ceremonies. Think Met Gala or Nobel Prize awards.

Let’s dive into just what white tie dress code is, where it came from and how it differs from black tie attire.


White tie, also known as full evening dress, represents the pinnacle of formal dress codes in Western fashion. Men's white tie attire includes a black tailcoat, white marcella waistcoat or ‘bib’ and a white bow tie, while women traditionally wear full-length ball gowns.

The dress code is typically reserved for high-level diplomatic events, royal gatherings, and exclusive galas. While it has become less common due to more relaxed societal standards, white tie continues to symbolise the epitome of elegance and sophistication, holding a unique place in sartorial tradition.


The history of white tie attire dates back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Initially introduced as a more comfortable alternative to the rigid 'court dress', it gradually became a symbol of high society and sophistication. Its heyday was during the Edwardian era (1900-1914) when it was the standard dress for formal evening events.

Over the years, the prevalence of white tie events have declined due to societies’ shift towards more relaxed dress codes. However, it remains the pinnacle of formal dress.

Despite its waning frequency, the tradition of white tie continues to embody the highest standards of sartorial elegance and formality in Western fashion.


In men's fashion, the white tie ensemble comprises several vital elements. The foremost is the tailcoat. Black and impeccably fitted, it features a short front and split tails at the back, exuding an air of timeless elegance.

The black trousers should also be high-waisted and trimmed with a single satin braid down each outside leg, complementing the tailcoat. These will resemble your black tie trousers, as they were born out of the White Tie dress code.

The white dress shirt, with a wing collar and double cuffs, is another critical element, teamed with a white waistcoat and a white bow tie. The waistcoat should not extend below the front of the tailcoat, but finish just in line with the bottom edge.


For women the white tie dress code calls for a full-length ball gown. The gown should be floor-length. The choice of colour is generally open, though darker hues and classic colours like black, navy, or jewel tones are often preferred.

Long gloves were traditionally an integral part of women's white tie attire. While not as common today, they can still be worn at extremely formal events.

The choice of footwear should be elegant, high-heeled evening shoes, preferably in a colour that complements the gown. A chic clutch bag completes the ensemble, providing a practical and stylish accessory.


White tie and black tie are both formal dress codes, yet they represent different levels of formality.

Men's black tie attire traditionally comprises a black tuxedo, white dress shirt and a black bow tie

An easy way to remember that black tie dress code is a step down from white tie, is to know where black tie dress code came from. Long story short, the tail of the evening tailcoat was cut off for a more relaxed ensemble, and so the dinner jacket or ‘tuxedo’ was born.


White tie is the epitome of formal elegance. It's not a dress code to be taken lightly, nor does it leave much room for personal interpretation or deviation.

If you're invited to a white tie event, respecting the dress code and dressing appropriately is crucial. By adhering to these guidelines, you'll be sure to make a stylish, sophisticated impression that honours the tradition and prestige of white-tie events while avoiding being featured in a ‘Met Gala outfit fails’ article!

If you're looking to hire formal wear for your upcoming event, check out our white tie or tuxedo hire available to hire from Rathbones Tailor.