If there is one item of dress that I must wear before I die, it is white tie and tails.
A velvet smoking jacket for that Cohiba moment after Sunday lunch comes a close second but full evening dress is the ultimate. Just check out the picture below by Slim Aarons which has become known as “The Kings of Hollywood.”
It’s Clark Gable and friends exchanging banter and getting stuck into the champagne. They’ve probably just finished a nine course banquet and left a table of stunning young fillies to indulge in a spot of boys-talk, no doubt with a healthy dose of mum gags thrown in for good measure.
Throwing on your jeans and popping into the local with friends for a few pints is all very well but there is something about having to dress-up for an occasion that changes the chemistry of your brain and spurs you on to turn the night into an absolute blinder.
But let’s face it, not all of us are invited to ‘White tie’ State dinners or the Lord Mayor of London’s Mansion House Banquet, however, one person who needs no excuse to wear the full Monty is a new customer of mine who is a leading opera singer. He will shortly be travelling to Australia to perform at the Sydney Opera House and has commissioned me to make him a bespoke set of tails.
I am ready to give him his first fitting which as you can see below is literally just the component parts of the jacket loosely basted (sewn) together, with very little construction / scaffolding to hold it up – just some temporary shoulder pads and a little canvas in the chest so I can see how it is falling on him and what needs to be tweaked / re-cut.
Deciding style was easy because formal evening dress is strictly regulated and comprises of the following:
A tailcoat squarely cut away at the front, long enough so it reaches the waist with the tails no longer than the back of the knees. The lapels, usually peaked, are covered in silk or grosgrain.
The waistcoat is made of white cotton pique known as ‘Marcella’ and most importantly should cover the waistband of the trousers and NOT come below the front of the tailcoat. If single-breasted, it should have three mother-of-pearl buttons, all to be fastened.
The bow tie is made of the same Marcella cotton and must be hand tied. If you don’t know how to tie one yourself, then I’ll show you, otherwise, here is a good video.
The trousers are cut to be worn Simon Cowell style – high on the waist with a fishtail back so they can be worn with evening braces. A stripe in the same material as the lapels (silk, satin or braid) runs down the sides – some people say it should have two stripes for white tie, one for black tie, but that is debatable.
The shirt should be made in white cotton with a Marcella front and wing-tip collar. There should be no buttons down the front with a single cuff (not to be confused with double cuffs) all to be fastened with studs.
When it gets to shoes, there comes a dilemma. To wear the correct footwear, takes balls (or arguably a lack of them!)- they are called ‘opera pumps’ and are made of very fine leather which have a silk, or, grosgrain bow on the front.
If you are uncomfortable in these dainty little numbers, then go for some quality calf skin dancing shoes. I have read that patent leather shoes are unacceptable but I think they look great.
Final parts of this get-up from the gods include knee high black silk socks, a white linen handkerchief, white gloves, white silk scarf, top hat, cape and cane. How cool is that! Chic, elegant, indulgent, dapper as hell and wonderfully extravagant.
David Niven, Tom Ford, Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire and even Marlene Dietrich have all worn white tie and tails to much acclaim, and one day, I too will join these Kings of Hollywood, old and new, in wearing such a truly magnificent outfit.