FOR ladies, a smart dress (such as a cocktail dress) is appropriate. It can be long or short, as long as it's not tooshort. It need not be black.
BLACK tie is sometimes referred to as 'dinner jackets', 'dress for dinner' and 'cravate noir' or, in America, as 'tuxedos.'
Traditional black tie for men consists of:
- Black wool dinner jacket. Single-breasted with no vents, silk peaked lapels (or a shawl collar) and covered buttons.
- Black trousers - slightly tapered - with a single row of braid down each outside leg.
- White marcella evening shirt with a soft turn-down collar, worn with cufflinks and studs.
- Black bow tie must be hand tied; avoid novelty ties or colours.
- Highly polished or patent black lace-up shoes.
- Black silk socks, long enough to ensure that no leg will show between the trouser leg and sock when seated.
- A white silk scarf is an optional but traditional accessory.
Top Tip #1: cummerbunds or low cut black evening waistcoats are rarely worn nowadays.
WHITE tie is the most formal, and rare, of dress codes, worn in the evening for royal ceremonies and balls. It may also be specified for formal evening weddings.
White tie is sometimes referred to as 'full evening dress' or 'cravate blanche'.
FOR ladies, a long (never short), formal evening gown should be worn. Evening gloves are no longer compulsory.
TRADITIONAL white tie for men consists of:
- Black single-breasted tail coat with silk lapels, worn unbuttoned (never to be confused with a morning coat).
- Black trousers to match the tail coat, with two lines of braid down each outside leg.
- White marcella shirt, worn with a detachable wing collar, cufflinks and studs.
- Thin, white, hand-tied marcella bow-tie.
- White marcella evening waistcoat - double or single-breasted.
- Black patent lace-up shoes and black silk socks.
- In Winter, a black overcoat and white silk scarf can be worn.
Top Tip: nowadays, it is rare to wear a top hat and many see it as a pointless exercise as it is only worn en route to the event, and therefore generally goes unnoticed.
MORNING dress (or 'formal day dress') is the traditional dress for weddings and formal daytime events in the presence of The Queen, such as Royal Ascot and Trooping the Colour.
The morning coat has curved front edges sloping back at the sides into long tails. It is single-breasted with one button, and usually has peaked lapels. Black or grey morning coats are nowadays considered equally acceptable.
Although grey is the traditional colour for a waistcoat under a black morning coat, patterned or coloured waistcoats are also acceptable. Brocade is a common choice, although silk might be more comfortable at a hot reception. Single-breasted waistcoats should be worn with the bottom button undone. If the waistcoat is double-breasted, all buttons should be fastened. Avoid backless waistcoats as you will not be able remove your morning coat.
Trousers should be grey with a grey morning coat, or grey and black striped (or grey houndstooth) with a black coat. One pleat down the centre of each leg is traditional and flattering for slim men. Flat fronted trousers are therefore more suited to heavier men.
Morning dress should be worn with a plain shirt (traditionally white with a stiff turned down detachable collar), although cream, pale blue or pink is equally acceptable. It should be double-cuffed, with appropriate cufflinks. The tie or cravat is traditionally of heavy woven silk. Black or silver is traditional, but non-garish pastels are frequently worn.
Formal black shoes should be laced-up and highly polished, worn with black socks. Grey felt top hats are easier to come by than black silk ones. These are largely optional at weddings (except for the groom and his men). For the Royal Enclosure at Ascot they are obligatory and must be worn at all times.
Top Tip: at weddings, top hats should be carried rather than worn inside the church or in official photographs.
THE dress code for an evening occasion will usually be specified as white tie, black tie or, less frequently, lounge suits.
White tie is the most glamorous and formal of eveningwear, and is usually reserved for official official functions such as state banquets and ambassadorial functions. Ladies would usually be expected to wear a ball gown.
Black tie can be used to describe formal evening dress generally, but it requires a black dinner suit with a white dress shirt and black bow tie. For ladies, a cocktail dress (long or short) is appropriate.
Lounge suits are worn where formal dress is not necessary, and generally a suit, shirt and tie are still expected.
A dress code of smart casual requires that you look smart but not overly formal.
Men should wear a jacket or blazer and flannels or chinos, not jeans.
A shirt and tie can be worn but an open collar is also acceptable.
Women should aim to be smart in a dress or skirt and top with a jacket or smart cover-up.
Avoid sportswear and wear smart shoes, never trainers. Equally don't be too formal; hats and evening gowns will look out of place.
LOUNGE suits are normal business suits, worn for semi-formal occasions with a shirt and tie.
The equivalent for women is a skirt or trouser suit, cocktail dress or evening gown depending on the time of day and the occasion.
A hat is also appropriate, but not essential, for women at such occasions as a wedding or the races.
If 'lounge suits' are stipulated on an invitation, it is fine to ask your host if you need a little more clarification.
HATS are compulsory at a diminishing number of social occasions.
WOMEN should wear a hat to Royal Ascot and smart race meetings; hats are traditional, but by no means compulsory, at weddings, and a matter of personal choice for christenings and funerals.
It is notoriously difficult to socially kiss while wearing a wide-brimmed hat. There is a knack to tilting the head at a suitable angle, but two ladies both in wide brimmed hats should avoid such an 'intimate' greeting.
NOWADAYS, gentlemen rarely wear hats except for morning dress, when grey felt top hats are de rigueur for the wedding party. They should be worn on the front of the head or carried under the arm, but should not be worn indoors or in the formal photographs.
For the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, however, they are obligatory and must be worn at all times. It's also important to perfect 'doffing' a top hat - raising it above the head to greet guests with real panache.