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When purchasing a shirt you need to consider: size first and foremost, collar style, tailoring, and material.
Size and Fit
If the first chance you get, the first thing you do is open your collar button and loosen your tie, your shirt does not fit. A topical study by Cornell University shows that 70% of men wear their shirts to tight. You should not experience discomfort when wearing a shirt and tie.
All Choked Up
There are a few simple ways of avoiding that choked-up feeling. First, put on one of your shirts and button the collar. If you cannot put your two middle fingers between the collar and your neck without touching, your collar is too small. Buy a half size larger.
To be sure, put a tape measure around your neck at the Adam’s apple. Add one half size to that measurement. Shirts are sized in half inch increments: 14, 14 ½, 15. 15 ½, etc. So if your neck measures 15 inches, purchase a size 15 ½.
Sleeves That Fit Just Right
Getting the sleeve length right is important too. Usually, shirt sleeves are sized in ranges: 32/33, 34/35, etc. Ideally the end of the cuff should come ½ inch below the break in the wrist, i.e. where it bends. About ½ inch of cuff should extend beyond the end of the suit jacket cuff. To get your sleeve length, you will need some help. Using the tape, with your arm extended out to the side, have an accomplice take the measurement from the middle of your back, over your shoulder to your wrist.
The other thing to consider is the fit of the shirt. This information is usually on the packaging. Most men’s shirts are either tapered or fitted and full cut. Men with a slim build may prefer the fitted style, while the fuller cut would be a better choice for men who are stocky or have a larger build.
Pinned Collar Shirt
This is the same as the regular collar except that it is worn with a pin that goes through the collar, with collar bars that snap onto the collar, or with a bar that has a screw and ball that connect through eyelets. This style looks best on men with a medium to long neck
Spread Collar Shirt
This collar has medium spread and shorter points. It is a better choice for men with a short neck or who favour a full Windsor tie knot.
Button-down Collar Shirt
Similar to the straight point, but the ends of the collar are secured with buttons. Having no collar stays, this is a much softer and relaxed style but is still commonly worn for business wear. It can accommodate any type of knot and is the collar style to be worn with a bow tie.
Regular or Straight Point Collar Dress Shirt
This is the main stay of most men’s wardrobe and goes with just about any type of suit or sport coat. The length of the collar tends to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and with the dictates of fashion.
Tab Collar Dress Shirt
This style holds the tie in place by tabs attached to the collar and held together under the tie knot. Not all that common today.
Guide to White Tie Dress Code
Are you lucky enough to be invited to an event requiring a white tie dress? Consider yourself lucky! White tie is the most formal of all dress codes and typically associated with presidential dinners, royal affairs, as well as state dinners and formal balls. It is a dress code that leaves little room for personal interpretation. Thus, it is imperative you follow a strict dress guideline. Below is all the information you need to know that will insure your attire is up to par.
White Tie in Brief
In brief, white tie consists of a black tailcoat jacket, full white waistcoat, wing-tipped collared dress shirt, self-tied white bow tie, and patent leather dress shoes. Below I am discussing each clothing item in more detail, give tips on how to best wear it, and also discuss possible (if any) style variations you can choose from.
The Tailcoat Jacket
White tie requires men to be dressed in a tailcoat jacket that is more specifically called evening dress coat. Typically the jacket is solid black in color although midnight blue has been considered an acceptable alternative since the 1920s. The jacket appears to have a double breasted cut but it is actually tailored in a way that it cannot be buttoned. Thus, excellent fit is key – making a trip to a tailor (or, should your budget allow, a bespoke tailored jacket) imperative when shopping or a tailcoat.
A well tailored tailcoat fits well on the shoulders, snugly hugs your torso, has a sleeve length that shows about 1/4 inch on your dress shirt’s sleeves, rises up on your neck so that enough of the dress shirt’s collar is showing but at the same time does not reveal the band of the bow tie, has a front that is just long enough to cover the waistcoat but does not reach below the waist, and finally has two tails that reach down to the knees.
Traditionally the classic tailcoat is made from finest worsted wool. When shopping for a waistcoat, have a look at the label which should read Super100 wool or higher. The number refers to the length of the individual wool fiber. The longer the fiber, the finer, and more expensive the fabric will be. The classic tailcoat has notched lapels and 6 buttons – both faced in finest satin.
White Tie Trousers
Formal trousers must be made from the same fabric as the tailcoat. Because the front of the tailcoat has a higher rise it is important the trousers are cut with a high waistline. Formal trousers are never worn with belts but instead are held in place thanks to a perfectly tailored fit, adjustable concealed waistband, and back buttons used to attach suspenders.
Formal trousers can be straight cut or have pleated fronts – which style you choose is a question of personal preference although men with a larger waistline are advised to choose pleats that are more flattering to the larger body type. Finally white tie trousers have a silk trim that matches the lapel and button facings of the jacket. The trim consists of either one or two stripes that run along the outside to the trousers’ seam. Also, formal white tie trousers don’t have cuffs.
White Tie Waistcoats
While there is little room for interpretation on a white tie ensemble, the waistcoat does give you some choices to add your own personal touch. The most important thing is proper fit. The waistcoat should be long enough to cover the trousers’ waistline, but at the same time be short enough so that it does not reach below the tailcoat. In addition, the white tie waistcoat should have a deep V opening to reveal much of the formal dress shirt.
White tie waistcoats are typically white in color and made from cotton pique but off-white shades such as ivory and cream are also acceptable. You can choose between single and double breasted cuts. The single breasted waistcoat is secured with two buttons while the double breasted waistcoat uses four. Buttons are either faced in the same fabric as the waistcoat or made from mother of pearl. Most white tie waistcoats have an open back.
Formal White Tie Dress Shirts
The right formal dress shirt is just as important as the tailcoat. The formal white tie shirt is always white in color and most commonly made from fine broadcloth fabric. Unlike black tie dress shirts, the white tie shirt is minimal in decoration but it does have a bib-like (also known as bosom) front that has a stiffened cotton pique or fine linen facing.
The collar of the white tie shirt is a detachable wing-tip that has a rise ranging from 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 inches. (For more information on shirt collars I also suggest you read my dress shirt collar guide.) High quality shirts have a loop sown to the back of the collar that is meant to keep the bow tie loop in place. Most common is the formal barrel cuff that is secured with mother of pearl cufflinks matching the button studs at the front of the dress shirt.
The Right Bow Tie
The bow tie must be white in color and be made from cotton pique matching the fabric of the waistcoat. Only the self-tied bow tie is acceptable as pre-tied bow ties are considered tacky and insulting to the formal nature of white tie. Most common are batwing and butterfly bow ties. Keep in mind that the bow tie is worn outside of the wings of the collars. Need help in tying a bow tie? Then have a look at my tutorial about How to Tie a Bow Tie
Proper Dress Shoes
Only the finest and most elegant footwear is suited for formal white tie dress. Thus, pumps made from fine and shiny patent leather are preferred. Most formal pumps are decorated with a silk grosgrain bow. Also acceptable are patent leather oxford lace-ups.
Common White Tie Accessories
When dressing for a white tie invitation several accessory choices will be available to you. Below I am discussing all the popular white tie accessories.
Cufflinks & Studs
Cufflinks and studs are not optional but a must have accessory. Typically the cufflinks, shirt’s studs, and waistcoat buttons all match. Most popular are studs and cufflinks faced with genuine mother of pearl. Sterling silver, platinum, and white gold is the preferred metal. Yellow gold is almost never present on a white tie ensemble.
Another required accessory are suspenders that are worn under the waistcoat. Traditionally suspenders are made from white silk.
The top hat is either made from black silk or polished black beaver fur. You will be able to choose from a fixed as well as collapsible top hat. Most top hats are decorated with a silk grosgrain band running along the bottom of the brim.
The boutonniere is an optional accessory. Typically it is worn in place of a pocket square. Both, pocket square and boutonniere, are almost never worn on one outfit. The proper boutonniere must be white in color. Carnations and gardenias are the two acceptable choices.
The white linen pocket square is a popular formal accessory but it since most tailcoat jacket’s do not have a breast pocket might not be an option after all.
If you choose to wear a timepiece (some consider it a Faux Pas to be checking the time during formal occasions), then the only acceptable choice would be a silver, platinum, or white-gold pocket watch that is attached to your waistcoat.
White evening gloves have become rare at modern white tie functions. Should you choose to wear gloves with your white tie ensemble then make sure they are white in color and made from fine kidskin leather.
The correct evening scarf is the same as the one worn at black tie functions. It is white or ivory in color and either made from silk or fine cashmere. The formal opera scarf has tassels on each end. It is worn loosely hanging down over each shoulder and is intended to be offered to your date during the opera’s intermission.
Guide to Black Tie
Black tie refers to a formal evening dress code that typically requires men to be dressed in tuxedo and women in evening gown. Below is a basic guide on men’s black tie attire. It is my goal to make this black tie guide as concise and simple as possible.
The 30 Second Black Tie Guide
The classic black tie dress code consists of a black tuxedo, white dress shirt, black bow tie, and black dress shoes. These items make up the gold standard of a black tie ensemble. If you are interested to learn more then I discuss each clothing item in much more detail below. I hope you find my black tie guide helpful!
The Gold Standard
If you want to adhere to the classic black tie dress code then choose the traditional tuxedo pictured above. As you can see from the picture, the classic black tie tux is solid black in color, is single breasted, has one single button, has a peaked satin-faced lapel, does not have vents at the back, and is made from grosgrain fabric. If you don’t want to go with a standard look but still want to stick to the black tie dress code then read on. In the next few paragraphs I will cover acceptable tuxedo color, cut, and fabric options.
Acceptable Tuxedo Colors
As I had mentioned, black is the classic tuxedo color for black tie functions but a dark midnight blue is an acceptable, and equally suited alternative. Both, black and midnight blue, are acceptable black tie tux colors for evening wear. White dinner jackets worn with black pants are common for day time black tie functions. This type of dress code is commonly referred to “warm weather black tie”.
Tuxedo Cuts & Styles
Besides color there are several designs and cuts available when choosing a tuxedo. First, let’s talk about the cut. Most common is the single breasted tuxedo. The other choice available is a double breasted jacket. The single breasted style is traditional and more classic. The double breasted cut was introduced in the 1930s. While the single breasted tux is typically worn unbuttoned, the double breasted cut should be worn buttoned – making a waist covering unnecessary (see below for waistcoat and cummerbund options). If you want to keep it traditional then choose the single breasted style, if you want something slightly out of the ordinary then the double breasted jacket would be a suited alternative. Keep in mind that the double breasted cut can be slightly less comfortable when sitting down.
Next, let’s talk about lapel styles. Most classic is the peaked lapel. Slightly less common but equally formal is the shawl lapel. Even though notch lapels are more common nowadays they are considered to be slightly less formal. Typically the lapel has a shiny silk facing that matches the facing on the jacket’s buttons.
The classic tuxedo is made from a fabric that has a fine diagonal ribbed texture that is also known as grosgrain. Depending on the quality and price point, tuxedo fabrics range from silk (on the higher end) to a man made polyester (lowest cost). Most common is fine worsted wool. I suggest you choose a natural fiber such as wool. It is more carefree than silk and much more breathable and comfortable than a synthetic fiber. Choose a wool that is labeled “super 100” or higher. The higher the number, the finer, shinier, and more exclusive the fabric.
Rent vs. Buy
black tie functions are a once in a lifetime event for you then I suggest you go with a rental. Renting a complete black tie outfit will range from $60 to $120. Make sure to that you give yourself enough time for fitting and tailoring. Call a rental place ahead of time to see what is available. This can be especially tricky during prom or wedding season.
Buying a tux is a good choice if your body doesn’t change too much anymore, and if you plan on attending more than five black tie functions in your lifetime. The classic black tie outfit will not change and just five black tie events can offset the cost of buying your own ensemble. The cost is one of the factors to consider when choosing buying vs. renting. Other things to consider are design choices, custom tailoring, and quality. Even lower cost tuxedos will be of better quality than a rental. In addition, buying your own tux will allow you to tailor your garment for the perfect fit.
Black Tie Trousers
Classic Tuxedo Pants
Classic trousers are black in color and made from the same fabric as the jacket. The outer seems are hidden and covered by a silk band that matches the jacket’s lapels. Both pleated as well as straight cut trousers are acceptable. Which style you choose is a matter of personal preference and comfort. Tuxedo pants do not have belt loops as they are never worn with a belt. Instead, they are either tightened using adjustable side tabs or suspenders. The waistband of the pants is covered by either waistcoat or cummerbund.
Black Tie Dress Shirts
The Classic Black Tie Shirt
The picture on the left shows a classic shirt that is perfect for your black tie outfit. The classic shirt is bright white in color, has a turn-down spread collar, has a pleated front, and is French cuffed. Below is some more information on different black tie dress shirt options.
The turn-down collar is the most classic style. Best are wide-spread collars that will hide behind the jacket’s lapels creating a more simplistic and elegant look. Also popular, and actually more formal, is the wing-tip collar dress shirt. The wing-tip collared shirt was typically reserved for the most formal of all dress codes called “White Tie”. This formal dress shirt is now quite common for black tie ensembles. Finally there is the so-called mandarin collar – a shirt that is almost collarless and decorated with black stud rather than bow tie. Please keep in mind that the mandarin collared shirt must only be worn with so called oriental jacket rather than tuxedo.
Pleats or no Pleats
The classic black tie dress shirt has a pleated front that is spaced 1/2 to 3/4 inches apart. If you want to opt for a more simplistic style that does not compromise formality then you may also choose a plain front shirt whose buttons are replaced with black button studs. Regardless of the style you choose, black tie dress shirts never have a breast pocket.
Waistcoat or Cummerbund?
Classic Black Tie Waist Covering
Both, waistcoat as well as cummerbund, are acceptable waist coverings for black tie attire. Even though both are available in a wide range of colors, the classic choice is black – matching the jacket. The black tie aficionado will argue that the waistcoat is better suited for jackets with a peaked lapel while the simple lines of the cummerbund best harmonizes with the clean lines of the shawl collar jacket.
The Waistcoat in Detail
faced in shiny sateen silk to match the lapels of the jacket. Most formal are waistcoats with a low cut, showing as much of the shirt’s decorative pleats without hiding the waistcoat. Single as well as double breasted waistcoats are acceptable, and both styles come in full dress as well as open back style (the latter being more comfortable in warm weather). Traditionally the waistcoat has 3- buttons (4-buttons for double breasted) that are faced in sateen silk matching the lapels. Two so-called “welt pockets” are located at the lower front of the waistcoat and were intended to hold a pocket watch and/or ticket stubs.
The Cummerbund in Detail
The cummerbund is a decorative sash that originated in India during British colonialism. It was introduced as an acceptable black tie accessory during the 1930s. Traditionally the cummerbund is black in color has upward facing pleats and is made from shiny sateen silk or grosgrain. It is the consensus of black tie experts that the cummerbund is best suited for shawl collar jackets.
Proper Black Tie Neckwear
The Classic Black Bow Tie
The classic neckwear for a black tie function is a solid black bow tie that is self-tied. The fabric of the bow tie has to match the facing of the lapels. Sateen lapels are matched with sateen silk bow ties and grosgrain faced lapels are paired with finely ribbed or pique fabric bow ties.
Other Bow Tie Styles
The classic bow tie is a so-called butterfly bow tie. It has a spread of 2-2.5″. Also acceptable are narrow bow ties, called batwing, whose spread is 1-1.5 inches. Finally there are bow ties with pointed tips – a great alternative for those seeking a slightly different and more unique look.
When shopping for a black tie bow tie you can choose between a pre-tied and a self-tied bowtie. Pre-tied bows are acceptable for proms but are considered a black tie Faux Pas once you graduated high school. When buying a self-tied bow tie you can choose between a fixed length and an adjustable length bow. I recommend the fixed length bows that are typically available in Small (13.5 – 15 inch neck), Medium (15.5 – 17 inch neck), and Large Size (17.5 – 19.5 inch neck). The fixed length bow offers two advantages: First, the size of the bow will automatically be proportionate to your neck and face. Second, the lack of the adjustment clasp gives the bow tie much cleaner and formal look. If you need to learn to tie a bow then I suggest you view my guide on How to Tie a Bow Tie
Shoes for Black Tie Attire
Classic Black Tie Footwear
Black tie footwear is slim, minimal in decorations, and lightweight. Two styles are common for black tie attire: The formal pump, as well as formal lace-up (oxford). The pump is always made from high gloss patent leather while the formal lace-up (pictured) is also acceptable in polished calfskin.
Optional Black Tie Accessories
The opera scarf is a common evening accessory that is white in color, has 3-5 inch long tassels, and is either made from finest silk or cashmere. The opera scarf is never tied but instead worn loosely over the shoulders. Traditionally men wore the opera scarf so that they could offer it to their date to stay warm during the opera’s intermission.
Cufflinks & Studs
Cufflinks and studs are a must have accessory for black tie attire. The cufflinks have to match the decorative shirt button studs. Cufflinks and studs are usually made from gold, silver, platinum, onyx, or mother of pearl. The metal color has to match your wrist or pocket watch.
Another optional black tie accessory is a white pocket square. The type of pocket square fold you choose is personal preference. Formal pocket squares are either made from fine linen, cotton pique, or silk. Best are pocket squares with hand-rolled edges. I am currently compiling a guide with different ways to fold a pocket square. I will let you know as soon as it is finished.
Some black tie experts will argue that a wrist watch does not belong to a black tie outfit. They argue that “clock watching” does not pair with the celebratory nature of a black tie event. If you do choose a wrist watch, then keep the design simple, sleek, and unadorned. A model with classic black leather band and a thin body is best suited. Another great option is a pocket watch. When choosing a watch make sure that the metal matches the color of your cufflinks and button studs.
Tie Tips & Tricks
After getting into the habit of wearing ties on a more regular basis, you will probably notice that they somehow seem to “wear off” a little bit. That may be due to improper care or things beyond your reach, for example, getting food or beverages spilled on your favorite tie.
That is why I wanted to give you a few suggestions as to how to take care of your tie to make sure that you will be able to wear and preserve it for quite some time to come!
How to Properly Untie Your Tie
A very common mistake a beginner makes when learning how to tie a tie is that once you get that first knot done right, you would never even think about untying your tie at the end of the day. Instead, you would probably prefer to make the loop just big enough to pull your head out and hang the tied tie on a clothes hanger or over the back of a chair.
Unfortunately, that is the most damaging thing you could ever do to your tie. What you would rather want to do is to properly untie your tie.
However, this is where half the nation – yes, beginners and folks who have worn ties for quite some time alike – commit the second gravest sin when it comes to untying any tie. That is to just rip it off by the time you get home.
Paying a little attention is key here, though, as doing the opposite will definitely ruin your tie – rather sooner than later.
Instead of hastily tearing and yanking a tie from your neck, repeat all of the steps you followed to tie your tie but now do so in reverse order! Step #7 becomes #1, step #6 becomes #2 and so on…
While this process might not necessarily save you an extra minute each evening, it will definitely save you your precious tie and your hard-money that you would have to spend on new ties every couple of weeks.
Remember that as with all things precious, it is going the extra mile to make it last, to keep it coming, to keep happening!
How to Quickly Get Rid Of Tie Wrinkles
After untying your tie, especially when your tie is made of thick and heavy silk, you will probably notice that there are wrinkles that make it look very worn and used – even though you have only worn that tie for only a couple of hours.
However, there is something you can do to get rid of that problem overnight. Basically, all you do is to wrap the tie around your hand, then put it onto a table or into a drawer and let it rest for a while.
To help you understand I took some pictures with a digital camera. Here is what you would do:
1) Hold the narrow end of your tie with your thumb as shown on the picture above, while letting the wide end hang down to the floor.
2) Wrap the wide end around your hand several times.
3) Take the wrapped-up tie and place it on a flat surface.
You will see that after only a few hours all of the wrinkles will be gone and your tie looks as fresh and new as if you had just purchased it at a store!
By the way, wrapping up your ties is also great while on travel to prevent the ties from being damaged in a tightly-packed suitcase.
How to Treat Tie Stains
One of the moments every tie-wearing guy worries about is to get food or beverages spilled on your favorite tie.
That is because chances are 9 out of 10 that that stain permanently ruins your tie as the majority of ties is made of silk, a very unforgiving type of cloth when it comes into contact with coffee, Coke or ketchup!
As silk is a very delicate material, applying stain-removers will only make matters worse. The only thing that I recommend you do is to take your stained tie to your local dry cleaner and ask them for help.
While dry-cleaning will remove the stain in most every case, there is one major downside to it: The shiny look and feel of your tie will be gone, too!
Therefore, really make every effort to protect your tie during meals, e.g., by covering it using a large napkin or removing it if appropriate.
When you feel that your tie comes out just too short after you have tied your necktie’s knot, it might be that you are using regular length ties when extra-long ties might be a better choice.
The difference between a regular tie and an extra-long one is three to four inches. Regular-length ties are normally 58/59 inches, whereas extra-long ones are usually 61/62 inches long.
As a rule of thumb, take your height in inches, and add your necksize in inches to it. If the number exceeds 91 inches you are better off with XL neckties.
As a general rule for all tie knots, the widest part of your tie should hang roughly at the same height as the upper edge of your leather belt, with the tie’s tip extending slightly below it. The tip of the narrow end would then hang wherever it may.
If you run into problems trying to get the length right with either the Windsor Knot or the Half Windsor Knot, try to let the wide end hang down as far as possible in step 1 of the instructions for these knots, so that when you cross the wide end over the narrow end, you can barely hold on to the narrow end. That will give you more length once you have eventually tied the knot.
However, it might also be the case that you are using regular length ties when extra-long ties might be a better choice.