Attending weddings is always fun, but dressing up for the occasion can sometimes pose a challenge. You need to consider the season, the venue, and how elaborate the couple’s theme is based on their wedding website or invitation. Thankfully, when the invite indicates a specific dress code, you can at least narrow down the options you have in mind.
But what exactly do you wear when you see the dress code listed as “white tie?”
White tie wedding attire—sometimes indicated by the phrases “full evening dress” and “dress suit—is a step higher from black tie. In fact, it’s the most formal of all dress codes. It’s often required for the fanciest of events, such as royal banquets, state dinners, award ceremonies, galas, and extra formal weddings.
This traditional Western evening dress code dates back to the 1800s when aristocrats wore elaborate clothing at dinners and ceremonies. While it’s not very common nowadays, when you are invited to a white tie formal wedding, dressing the part is a must.
The white tie basics for men are a well-fitting tuxedo or dress coat with tails, high waist trousers, a crisp white evening shirt, and a white waistcoat. The dress coat must be black or any dark shade (never white or off-white), and is often unbuttoned to show off the waistcoat. The dress shirt should be stiff, with a collar so high that the neck is almost hidden. Cufflinks are a must, and as the name states, the white tie attire requires a white bow tie, which should be hand-tied. If you opt to use a clip-on for your formal attire, make sure that it’s not visibly seen. Opera pumps or court shoes—loafers made with leather or velvet and have a distinctive silk bow across the front—are also standard for men. Another option is highly polished, laced-up shoes. This is most often paired with plain long, black socks, so no flesh is shown, even when sitting down.
For ladies who like to dress up, a white tie affair is a dream: full-length ball gowns or floor-length evening dresses that can be paired with a fur mantle, pashmina, or bolero vest. Remember, this is not a casual wedding, so do not wear a cocktail dress or semi-formal ensemble. Dress to impress with a gown or full dress.
Any silhouette gown works, so long as the shape flatters the body and the hem touches the ground. The dress is accentuated by perfectly styled hair (an updo is much more acceptable than loose hair), alluring makeup, and striking jewelry. High stiletto heels are a must, as well as a small, elegant clutch to complete the look.
There are a few accessories that make a distinct difference between black tie and white tie. At white tie weddings, men should wear a beautiful boutonniere in addition to a pocket square to add a more formal feel. And if they really want to dress the part, they can wear a top hat and white dinner gloves. It’s also not too much to bring a dress cane and a pocket watch to perfectly complement the look. In some special cases, wearing military and civil medals—called white tie decorations—can be worn.
Ladies, on the other hand, though not essential, can wear white gloves that go past the elbows or tiaras to complete their formal wear look.
Dressing up for a white tie affair can be intimidating, but when you are neatly groomed and the clothes you choose fit you well, you’re already off to a good start.
When it comes to a white tie wedding, stick to simple colors (but never wear a black shirt to a white tie event), and remember that less is more. You wouldn’t want to distract the newlyweds or draw attention to yourself for the wrong reasons.
If you’re stressed, think of it this way: The strict wedding dress code of a white tie is actually a good thing—it leaves very little room for interpretation, so simply follow the rules to the letter, and you won’t go wrong.