The White Tie project

Sunday, April 4, 2010
I have a couple of events coming up this year where, for the first time, it looks as if I will be requiring white tie, so over the weekend I have begun assembling the necessary items of clothing. White tie is a pretty expensive dress code to put together since it has a lot of individual parts, almost none of which can be taken from black tie. As a result, whilst it would be lovely to buy a brand new rig off Savile Row, or have Cad and the Dandy make me one, I have decided to save a bit of money by doing as much as possible through vintage and second hand stores. I'll be doing my best to stick to 'correct' white tie, but buying vintage is rarely perfect, so this first attempt will, realistically, have to be 'as near as I can get it', and can then be improved upon in the future. If you want an explanation of 'perfect' White Tie then The Black Tie Guide has a small but expanding section on it.

'The Ball Room' in Oxford, where I was visiting my family over Easter, is good for second hand evening tails, and here I found the necessary very high-waisted trousers (with double braid piping, rather than the plan silk found on black tie trousers) and a lovely old tailcoat from the now sadly defunct Barkers of Kensington. The above picture shows the first slight problem with a second hand tailcoat - getting the precise fit necessary to ensure that waistcoat is not visible beneath the tailcoat. Although the effect is much exaggerated by hanging on a coat-hanger, the tailcoat I found is ever so slightly too short for the only trousers I could find. Since it seemed most important that the waistcoat covers the top of the trousers, this results in a small amount of waistcoat peeking out. However, while this may be a breach of the strict gold standard, it's a small and common enough error that I think I am happy enough to put up with it for the time being.

The waistcoat itself is not a money-saving vintage purchase. Rather, it is a quite expensive one bought new from Ede & Ravenscroft on Savile Row. It was probably a bit of a mistake even going in there, but once I had seen it I was too enamored of the high-quality cotton and the beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons to go anywhere else.

The next problem is the shirt. Strictly, a white-tie shirt ought to be made of white cotton with a plain or marcella bib front, single (but cufflink fastening) cuffs, and a starched detachable collar. This is worn with a marcella cotton bow tie. I am lucky enough to have the bow tie and collar from my school days, but the shirt is a more difficult matter, since these are fairly uncommon and cost over £100 in the few shirtmakers that still do them. I shall have to keep a keen eye on vintage stores for the next couple of weeks, I think, unless any readers have any good ideas?