Even more formal than black-tie — which most Americans see as the pinnacle of formality — is the forgotten white-tie.
Unless you’re British, or a fan of “Downton Abbey,” you’ve probably never heard of white-tie.
Most popular in the early 20th century, white-tie was the standard dinner dress for families of a certain status.
After World War I, when “informal” dinner jackets and black-tie gained acceptance, white-tie fell to the wayside.
The difference between black- and white-tie is simple.
Black-tie includes a black tuxedo dinner jacket, a white wing-collared shirt, and a black satin bow tie. White-tie swaps the dinner jacket for a dress coat with tails, a white cotton bow tie, and a white starchy waistcoat that hits just below the belt line.
Today, white-tie has almost completely faded and been supplanted by black-tie. In the United States, it’s even rarer than it is in the UK, where it is still worn at state dinners and other high society events.
In 2014, Vogue editor Anna Wintour made white-tie the required dress at the annual Met Gala, which she chairs.
Even though the Met Ball is attended mainly by fashion designers and industry insiders, as well as Hollywood stars with doting stylists, many men got the dress code completely wrong. Some ignored it entirely; others merely donned a white dinner jacket and called it a day.
Wintour told “Late Night” host Seth Meyers that the only person who actually nailed the look was British actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
The notoriously exacting fashion editor said she imposed the dress code because it matched the evening’s theme, celebrating an exhibit of 1950s couture designer Charles James’ work.
“Women traditionally have to spend so much time thinking about what they are going to wear, and we felt it was finally time to turn the tables,” Wintour told Meyers. “I had no idea how much panic this would make the men of New York and all over the world think about their outfits.”
Though most American men will never have to worry about dressing for white-tie, black-tie and formality in general are making a surging comeback.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.