The white tie dress code is the most formal of all, except perhaps specific codes for royal assemblies. Until a couple of years ago, all the etiquette sites were saying it was also the rarest dress code for weddings but not any more! The popularity of programmes such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and Downton Abbey have brought white tie to the foreground again, so many couples are choosing this for their wedding attire. 

white tie wedding attire guide

What kind of wedding is a white tie wedding?

Strictly speaking, this dress code should be associated with formal evening weddings only. But as times change, so do habits, and we’ve certainly seen some ‘white tie weddings’ taking place in the afternoons, although not any breakfast ceremonies yet!

White tie wedding decoded

First, the terminology - a white tie dress code on a wedding invitation is unambiguous but this may also be described, less clearly, as full evening dress, full dress, evening dress or even ‘tails’. Don’t confuse ‘tails’ with ‘top hat and tails’ which is, in fact morning dress.

White tie for men

As usual, gentlemen have it a little easier than ladies, because there is almost no ambiguity about their clothing:

  • A black single breasted tail coat with black trousers and braiding. British white tie requires two lines of black satin braid, American dress codes insist on a single line. Some does accept midnight blue rather than black for the tail coat, but check this out with the bride or one of the bridal party before deviating from the norm
  • A white pique cotton shirt, starched, with starched collar and cuffs
  • Cufflinks and collar studs, also shirt studs (instead of buttons down the shirt)
  • A white pique bow tie, which is always hand tied, not a pre-made or elasticated item
  • Black lace-up shoes
  • For winter weddings a gentleman may also wear a black overcoat with a white silk scarf.

 

White tie for women

 

For women there are always more options and therefore more choices to be made:

 

  • A formal evening dress should be full length. Whilst décolletage is traditional (cleavage in modern parlance) wearing a net or lace cape over the dress is increasingly seen as modesty (and weather) encourage women to explore this very traditional dress code. Gowns that do not reach the ankle and any kind of trousers are unacceptable. Whilst the dress should be sumptuous, its colour should be neutral - brown, black and grey are the traditional approaches, whilst innovative new approaches include gunmetal, ash, muted shades of old gold and even a deep burnt copper, as long as these hues are sombre rather than bright
  • While tiaras were traditional for married women, they are increasingly seen on single ladies too, and jewellery should be opulent - this is not the time for a dainty locket!
  • Bags, on the other hand, should be small and stylish - the clutch is the traditional approach, especially with a beaded or embroidered surface, but drawstring evening bags are increasingly common and these often have corded handles that support beautiful crystal or gilded bag charms
  • Long evening gloves were out for a couple of decades but are coming back, particularly gloves with a beaded or embroidered finish and, for winter white tie, we’re increasingly seeing faux fur trims on long gloves, to match fake fur wraps and stoles
  • Whilst evening coats used to be acceptable, they have faded away in favour of cloaks, capes and pashminas, again in rich and dark shades, rather than bright ones.
  • High heeled shoes, no platforms, that match the gown.