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Invitations come tie, white tie, etc. For most, this can be confusing. So I'd like to explain the difference.
What are we going to wear when a certain dress code is required?

The "black tie" dress code, which is less formal than "white tie", is the most common form of formal evening wear. It is mostly worn for dinners, both public and private, parties and balls. It is also called "dinner jackets", "DJs", "dress for dinner" or, as in America, "tuxedos". 

What should one wear?

  • A dinner jacket in wool (Barathea) or ultra-fine herringbone, single or double-breasted, without a split at the back.
    The collar is pointed or shawl-style, and lined with silk. The buttons are lined with the same fabric as the jacket. Normally the jacket is black, but in very warm climates a white version is also worn.  
  • The trousers are black, in a normal standard width, and finished with a single silk band on the outside of the legs.
  • A snow-white shirt, with a collar preferably in Marcella, a somewhat stiffer type of cotton. Single or double cuffs. The front button fastening is not visible, unless the shirt has removable studs. The studs are usually black, but can also be decorative.
  • A black hand-knotted bow tie. Always avoid the pre-knotted version. It goes without saying that the bow tie should be in proportion to the stature of the wearer. 
  • Shoes: black and shiny. Preferably patent leather. Finish with black silk stockings.
    No socks! 
  • Cumberbands are not essential but can be worn. A cumberband, assorted with the bow tie is also possible, but you are treading on thin ice with it. 
  • A waistcoat can be worn, but is rarely seen. Under no circumstances is it combined with a cumberbund. Never! 
  • A white handkerchief or pocket square in the breast pocket of the jacket is a classic detail. 

This is the classic black tie, the tuxedo or dinner jacket. If you follow these basic rules, you will never go wrong!

Variations on the theme:
At 'dinner parties' with neighbours, friends or family and specifically at your own residence, you can wear a velvet tuxedo jacket, usually dark blue, bordeaux or bottle green. Combine this with a black bow tie, trimmed trousers, and possibly 'evening' or Albert slippers'. While this is acceptable for the host, it is not advisable for the guests. The slippers, often embroidered with a monogram or coat of arms, are more likely to be seen in the countryside than in the city. Unless otherwise stated, follow the rule 'when in Rome'. In some cases, national dress is also acceptable, such as the Indian Nehru coat or Arab dress.

The 'white tie dress code', also called 'full dress', 'evening dress' or, informally 'tails' or 'skirt'. It is the most formal dress code, and not much used nowadays. Before the second world war it was standard for gentlemen on evenings, as you can often see in movies or series. Within the Dutch Freemasonry, white tie with a black jacket is the standard. In Scandinavia white tie is also worn.

Nowadays, it is worn in the evening at certain royal ceremonies and balls, state banquets, etc.
It is also worn at some weddings (evening party), and also at charity balls.
Unfortunately, it is no longer seen in the theatre or at the opera.   

If you are expected to show up in white tie, this will always be mentioned on the invitation. Usually, however, one speaks of 'white or black tie', because one knows that not everyone has such an outfit available.

What should one wear?
The basis is the skirt coat, the tailcoat in black wool (barathea) or in an ultra-fine herringbone. The collar is pointed and lined with silk. The jacket, or vest, is always worn open. The js is shorter at the front than the English morning coat.

  • The black trousers are the same as for black tie, except that the trouser legs now have two bands on the outside. 
  • A snow-white Marcella (cotton piqué) shirt with a starched removable collar. Of course, the shirt here always has double cuffs. 
  • Cuff links and studs. The studs are plain white or decorative. 
  • A low-cut white waistcoat or gilet. This can and may be double or single-breasted.
  • A thin elegant bow, always hand-knotted.
  • If you don't have black patent leather shoes, make sure your shoes have a high-gloss finish.
    Always combine with black silk stockings. 
  • In winter, a black overcoat and white silk scarf can be worn 

Variations on the theme
As with black tie, there may be regional or national encores in, for example, Indian, Chinese or Arabic traditions.
This is always mentioned on the invitation.

Certain societies or clubs have their own evening dress coats (usually coloured skirt coats in red, blue or green, with collars that may have been modified. They are worn with a white bow tie and waistcoat, and sometimes with ordinary black tie trousers. Non-members wear in this case, because they are not entitled to the club-coat, just black tie. 

If you are required to wear white tie and the event is of a royal nature, or a state affair, or a very formal event you will see on the invitation: 'Evening Dress, decorations'. At a charity ball, for example, this comes across as rather grotesque. 

When asked for decorations, knights and ladies, for example, wear only the decorations of the highest order instead of all the decorations they have. Ken-or decorations are always worn on the left side.
In some cases, a collarette can be worn around the neck, just below the bow.

In practice, ex-servicemen do know what and how to wear it, as do members of certain orders. If you are in doubt, you can always contact the palace or the secretary concerned. It also goes without saying that you should not appropriate any medals or decorations that you are not entitled to. 

White tie or dress suits can always be embellished with white gloves, a top hat, and possibly a sober walking stick! 

White tie and black tie cannot be combined. If you appear in black tie at a white tie event, people may mistake you for the waiter. Conversely, if you appear at a black tie event in a dress suit, people may think you are the pianist! Always make sure that the garments fit well.

Whether black tie or white tie, with a little preparation you can show your entourage that your presence and class allow you to be in the better circles of society. 

At a white tie event, behave more reserved than at a black tie event. If in doubt, behave like the other guests.
And as an extra reminder of how to tie that bow tie! 

Raphaël van den Poel, former fashion consultant of Scapa, Reinhard Frans and Atelier NA tailored suits,
writes our weekly blog on gentleman matters. He writes for MYX Magazine, a Flemish luxury lifestyle platform.
He also has his own blog which you can read here:

Raphaël van den Poel The Belgian Dandy

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Cufflinks were only designed to be worn on shirts with buttonholes on both sides of the cuff, but no buttons.
It is therefore a decorative fastener for sleeve ends, worn by both women and men on a dress shirt or blouse.

A brief history:
Although cufflinks, or rather cuff- cuff strings, remained popular well into the 19th century, it was during the reign of Louis the XIV that shirt sleeves were closed with 'boutons de manchette', or "sleeve-knots". Typically, these were identical pairs of coloured glass, connected by a short chain.
Around 1715, the polished glass gave way to pairs of two decoratively painted or decorated studs, often in diamonds, connected with decorated gold links. So this was the birth of the cuff-'button', whether in simple glass, or a worked (precious) metal button or jewel. 

The cuff itself can be either single or double in length. The double ones, called 'French cuffs' are, as the name suggests, folded in half. They are either 'kissing', with the ends pinched together, or 'barrel-style' where one piece overlaps the other.
The pinched version is usually preferred.

Nowadays we see many variants in design. The most simple consist of a bar or chain that connects two discs. Since we are now back to wearing elegant dress shirts, the double cuffs have also returned. And they need cufflinks!

Raphaël van den Poel, former fashion consultant for Scapa ,Reinhard Frans and Atelier NA tailored suits,
writes our weekly blog on gentleman matters. He writes for MYX Magazine, a Flemish luxury lifestyle platform.
He also has his own blog which you can read here:

Raphaël van den Poel The Belgian Dandy