Full-Dress Waistcoat, Trousers, & Dress Shirt

“This is a uniform like no other, and there is little point going off-piste. There is an old proverb that defines genius as ‘an infinite capacity for taking pains’, and the same could be said of white tie. Wearing it won’t turn you into a genius, but wearing it properly will definitely teach you to put clothes together perfectly. Because if you don’t, it won’t work (and rather than end up looking like David Niven, you’ll look like a conductor).”

— Dylan Jones, GQ[1]

If your tailcoat is the star of the white-tie show, so to speak, the other major components of the outfit—trousers, shirt, waistcoat, etc.—are the supporting actors without whom even the most exquisite tailcoat could not perform. In many ways, these components of your white-tie ensemble are almost identical to their black-tie counterparts. However, it is the slight variations, as well as the way these pieces fit together with the tailcoat, that makes a complete white-tie outfit different from, and worth discussing as distinct from, “semi-formal” dress.

Full Dress Trousers

Except for a few tiny details, full dress (or white tie) trousers are nearly identical to black-tie ones; however, it’s these few tiny details that really help to distinguish between white-tie and black-tie looks. Just like dress trousers, full dress trousers are made of the same material as your jacket (or your tailcoat, as the case may be), both sport “braiding” down the outside of the leg—in the same fabric as the lapels’ facing—to conceal seams, and both types of trousers are never cuffed.[2] Just like dress trousers, full dress trousers should fall into a slight break around the ankles.[3] Just like dress trousers, full dress trousers are never worn with a belt; instead, they’re held in place by concealed side-straps and suspenders.[4] However, full dress trousers take two “braids” (or strips of fabric) as opposed to dress trousers’ single braid. Because they’re narrower and must remain parallel to each other while following the trouser’s taper, full dress double braids require even more careful tailoring than their black-tie counterparts. [caption id="attachment_279" align="aligncenter" width="243"]Black Tie Tuxedo pants have one satin strip, unlike White Tie pants with two. Black Tie Tuxedo pants have one satin strip, unlike White Tie pants with two.[/caption] In addition, because the tailcoat’s front waistline is significantly higher than that of the dinner jacket, full dress trousers require a “longer than normal rise”[5] and must sit higher on the waist. As a result, suspenders are no longer optional but instead are crucial components of the ensemble, ensuring that the trousers “sit properly under the high-cut tailcoat and short-waisted dress vest.”[6] These suspenders are always white and made of silk with matching white kidskin tabs.[7] The trousers’ pleats are generally angled toward the fly, helping each element of the outfit lie flat without exposing any potential imperfections or signs of human construction. [caption id="attachment_277" align="aligncenter" width="239"]White Tie Silk Suspenders White Tie Silk Suspenders[/caption]

 Full Dress Waistcoat

The full dress waistcoat is always white and always made of a stiff piqué fabric. Like the black-tie waistcoat, the full dress waistcoat may be either single- or double-breasted (though the single-breasted design is the most traditional[8]) and is classically shawl-collared with a three-button closure. The most important difference here lies in the depth of the waistcoat’s “V” opening. While both black-tie and white-tie coats and waistcoats are designed to show off a good amount of starched shirtfront, such exposure is even more crucial for the full dress model. Because the tailcoat doesn’t button in front, nearly the entire expanse of the waistcoat (plus the amount of shirtfront that shows through) is exposed. As a result, the full dress waistcoat’s tailoring is absolutely essential: its narrow front must manage to cover both the bottom of the dress shirt and the waistband of the trousers, without dropping so low that its points extend beyond the tailcoat’s front points (breaking what might be Alan Flusser’s cardinal rule of formal wear). As a result, the best full dress waistcoats are constructed with a hidden tab that buttons to the inside of the trousers’ waistband[9]: this prevents any elements from pulling up or wearing incorrectly as the night progresses.

Full Dress Shirt

Again, like the black-tie dress shirt, your full-dress option boasts a biblike front made of starched piqué or boiled linen.[10] Note, though, that if anything, full dress shirts tend to be plainer or simpler in style than the semi-formal variety. Full-dress bib fronts are generally flat, though sometimes pleated (if there is any pleating, full dress shirts’ smaller pleats indicate more skilled tailoring). Full dress shirts are never ruffled and never sport the more informal black-tie turndown collar. [caption id="attachment_278" align="aligncenter" width="256"]White Tuxedo Shirt with Bib White Tuxedo Shirt with Bib[/caption] Finally, full dress shirts must be worn with a wing collar, and preferably one of those old-fashioned, starched, removable wing collars that doesn’t lose its shape—no matter what. Not only are these collars superior at holding their shape, such removable wing collars tend to rise higher around the neck than droopier attached-wing versions allow, thus ensuring that the full ensemble “flatters even the most rubicund of faces.”[11] Full dress shirts’ stiff wings are made to sit high on the neck—again, a properly fitted tailcoat should allow 3/4 of an inch of wing collar to rise above the tailcoat’s own collar. Finally, the collar’s crisp wings push the wearer’s bow tie forward so that it, too, always lies in the correct position. Otherwise, the rules for wearing white-tie shirts and accompaniments are quite similar to those for black-tie garments. High-quality full dress shirts, like waistcoats, are held in place by a tab buttoned to the trouser’s waistband, preventing the shirt from “billowing” or rising up above the waistcoat’s fastening with movement, dancing, and so on. The bib front of the shirt should never exceed the width between suspender straps, and your bow tie should never be any wider than the width of the wing collar (or the width of your face). Despite their many similarities, it’s the subtle differences between tailcoat accompaniments and black-tie attire that set these two modes of dress apart. There are, of course, those defining stylistic differences that will always be most obvious—the tailcoat versus the dinner jacket, the white bowtie versus the black, the deep-V waistcoat versus the cummerbund, etc. Still, it’s the details, as well as the positioning of those details, that make up a complete formal ensemble, whether your event of choice calls for black or white tie [1] Jones, 202. [2] Gross, 180. [3] Bridges, 65. [4] Jones, 200. [5] Flusser (2002), 238. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid., 223: Alternatively (and if you can stomach such an option—or its price tag), you might opt for a pair of suspenders in white catgut—what Flusser refers to as the “Rolls Royce of trouser suspension.” [8] Ibid., 237. [9] Ibid. [10] Flusser (1996) 81. [11] Ibid., 73.