A-Z of British Etiquette
The dress code we all know and love as Black Tie is more correctly termed Evening Dress, not to be confused with Full Evening Dress, which is the grander White Tie.
The origin of Black Tie is hotly debated. The Americans will argue that it was first seen at the Tuxedo Club in New York, and was the doing of Pierre Lorillard and his son Griswold. Apparently the latter became rather bored of the faff that was White Tie. He turned up one evening to the club in a bastardised version of full evening dress and after the initial cries of shock had died down, men decided they rather liked the idea of something less fussy and so the idea spread.
We Brits say that it was the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, who first wore a similar outfit to an event in Monte Carlo. The jury is out and a definite answer will probably never be found.
Men wear a black or midnight blue dinner jacket (single or double-breasted is fine) with white turndown collar dress shirt, trousers matching the material and colour of the jacket but with one piece of braid running down them, black waistcoats or cummerbunds (pleats facing upwards) patent leather pumps and a black bow tie. Injecting colour, such as a red bowtie, is never wise and may leave you ostracised, and rightly so.
Women have more of a problem with black tie and should take their lead from the invitation and what style of event it is. A drinks party can cope with the LBD, a sit-down dinner will need a grander dress.
William Hanson is the Etiquette and Protocol Consultant for The English Manner. He works with VIP households, diplomats, businessmen, schools and colleges and has advised multinational brands. He is regularly asked by global media to comment on modern manners and social mores.