By this, we mean an ensemble in which the jacket and trousers differ. Often, a navy blue blazer and a pair of light-coloured, fine-quality trousers are appropriate. The shirt may be of a solid colour; white, blue, beige, green or oxblood, or even patterned in fil-á-fil, millrayé, checked or striped. A classic collar or button down is recommended. For the lady, this dress alternative usually implies a smart pair of trousers or skirt accompanied by a festive top or party blouse.
Black tie (in America, tuxedo or simply “tux”) is the comfortable formalwear alternative for many occasions. It can be worn throughout the day and long into the night until the party ends. There are several models: single or double-breasted, with or without silk stripes and in colours black, midnight blue or grey. The fabric may have a silver-gloss or fine velvet finish.
The shirt should have a wing collar, double cuffs (French cuffs) with cufflinks, and preferably narrow pleats and concealed buttoning. Etiquette dictates that the bow tie should be black or dark blue, but nowadays, other colours are acceptable. A cummerbund to match the bow tie completes the ensemble. For the ladies, an evening gown, full-length dress or even a more daring, décolleté (low-cut), very short evening dress is quite appropriate.
The white dinner jacket presents an air of elegant relaxation. It is worn mainly during the warm summer months for weddings and cocktail parties. With black trousers, a white or champagne tuxedo shirt and black bow tie, the contrast is stunning. Remember: cufflinks and black socks and shoes are a must.
The morning coat is worn mainly for very formal daytime events before 3 o’clock p.m., such as morning weddings, garden parties and diplomatic or royal receptions. The coat (with wide rounded tail and front cut away below the waist) may be black or grey with a coordinating waistcoat in silver-grey silk. The shirt must be classic white, either a classic model or a tuxedo shirt. A formal wing-collar dress shirt or ruffled shirt is also acceptable.
A grey or black-and-white striped tie is customary, although an ascot may also be worn for a very elegant effect. The trousers are normally grey or black with dark or navy-blue stripes. A grey or black hat in a matching colour is quite appropriate for larger official events. Black, highly polished shoes and black or grey socks are essential. If the morning coat is to be worn by a bridegroom, a boutonnière to match the bridal bouquet may be worn in the buttonhole. The lady’s attire should be in keeping with the type of event in question. See black tie or white tie.
White tie and tails are accompanied by trousers with single stripes on the outside of each leg, a white waistcoat or cummerbund. A white or champagne evening dress shirt with single starched cuffs is worn together with a white bow tie and white handkerchief (which should protrude only slightly from the breast pocket). Black socks and black patent leather shoes are essential. The shirt may also be non-patterned or with a piqué front.
White tie and tails are worn on academic occasions, for weddings, gala dinners and at concerts and balls. When the invitation reads “white tie” or “evening dress”, gentlemen are expected to wear white tie and tails. There is some debate as to whether the waistcoat or cummerbund should be visible or not. Many are of the opinion that it looks much smarter if a couple of centimetres are showing, thus providing a contrast with the predominating black. Don’t forget to remove your wristwatch – or wear a pocket watch instead.
Some invitations may indicate that formal evening dress is to be worn with orders of chivalry and other honours, or with academic honours. In the case of the latter, only academic honours are to be worn, not military or other orders, etc. When the invitation reads “white tie” or “evening dress”, the lady should wear a full-length dress, with décolletage or strapless. Long silk or satin gloves that cover the elbows should be worn. Jewellery should match the dress in an elegant way. The wristwatch should be relegated to the lady’s dainty evening bag. On academic occasions, the dress should be long-sleeved and not low-cut. Gloves should cover the wrist.