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A Short Guide to Formal Wear Dress Code in the UK from Frasers


The Formal Dress Code

The Classic or Traditional Formal Dress Code is as follows:

1. White Tie or Full Evening Dress – formal evening wear which is generally kept for State Occasions, The Mansion House Banquet, Hunt Balls and some Oxford and Cambridge May and Commem Balls.

2. Black Tie, DJ or Dinner Jacket – semi-formal evening wear: for private and public dinner parties, The Last Night of the Proms, dances and school proms. It has also supplanted white tie in some instances such as at Diplomatic Balls.

3. Morning Dress or formal daytime wear is worn by male members of a wedding party and at special occasions such as Royal Ascot.

4. Lounge Suits – informal dress.


Black Tie. The semi-formal dress for after 6.0 pm


 Black dinner jacket with ribbed silk or satin lapels, single breasted & with single button.

 Black trousers with silk braid down each leg.

 Black silk bow tie.

 Black waistcoat or cummerbund

 White dress shirt – pleated or Marcella.

 Black silk socks 

 Black patent leather shoes 

Accessories include a white silk/cotton/linen breast pocket handkerchief.


Ladies Black Tie

When invited to a ‘do’ which requires black tie for the men ladies are often uncertain what is required of them. There is a certain amount of latitude now and disagreement over what’s permissible. 

For a drinks party between the hours of 6.0 pm and 8.0 pm a black cocktail dress on or below the knee is considered ideal. If a drinks party is followed by dinner and dancing as happens with most 21st birthday parties the ladies should dress up for the more formal occasion by wearing a long dress or ball gown; and, of course, wear some ‘drippers’ but not too much. No tiaras!

Jennie Warner of Good Housekeeping says “ Never wear full length to a 'black tie' do - save that, and the gloves, lots of sparkly jewellery and tiara for when you get a 'white tie' invitation” With some white tie ‘do’s changing to black ties with long dresses the demarcation between the two stages of formal dress are blurring.

If you are in doubt about the dress code for the evening ask your hostess what she expects.

Hostesses should make their dress code absolutely clear on the invitation. 

Black Tie Optional means, men, please try and come in a black tie but failing that in a dark lounge suit with buttoned collar and tie, and ladies in a cocktail dress or equivalent. Debrett’s give this example: ‘Good hostesses could follow the lead of a well-known duchess who sends a written invitation to friends that includes a few short lines dispelling dress confusion: ‘Saturday night is black tie but palazzo pants will be absolutely fine’.

Black Tie Scottish Highland Dress comprises: 


Black jacket – Prince Charlie and Argyll are two of the most popular. 

Black waistcoat 


White shirt 

Black bow tie 

Black ghillie brogues 

Kilt hose 



Scottish Highland Dress is worn commonly at both black tie and white tie events as well as ceilidhs and Scottish reels. Scottish Highland Dress is also seen at the increasingly ubiquitous kilt party all over the world, even in China where a recent Christmas ‘do’ had Orange Boy with his electronic bagpipes, hip hop, Chinese Folk Rock and Electro and Old School Beats from Portugal.


Morning Dress: the standard dress for events before 5.0 pm is as follows: 


Morning coat, tails, in black for the most formal occasions; light colours e.g. grey for weddings and less formal events 

Grey striped trousers 

Black waistcoat (most formal i.e. funerals), grey, buff and white for weddings. 

Stiff white turn-down collar 

Long tie (or cravat with winged collar) 

White shirt or coloured / striped shirt with white collar and cuffs. 

Oxford black shoes; jodhpur boots are acceptable at equestrian events. 

Black or grey silk top hat – occasionally. 

Formal gloves e.g. chamois leather – occasionally


White Tie: full evening dress for after 6.0pm


Black Tails (tail coat) with satin or ribbed facings.

Black trousers with two satin stripes.

White stiff-fronted cotton shirt.

White wing collar.

White bow tie.

White waistcoat.

Black stockings.

Black patent leather shoes.

Medals, decorations and sashes are also worn. 

Background and history behind the Black Tie Tuxedo tradition






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