I've received several inquiries about what's the difference between a black tie and white tie event. It's a fascinating topic and there's an interesting history involved if you have a couple of minutes this evening.
A while back Miss Helen sent an article from The Wall Street Journal entitled "Style and the Man" by Jamie Johnson in the Saturday/Sunday edition, April 30, 2011. Johnson was writing about the planned celebration of the disputed 125th anniversary of the modern dinner jacket first being introduced in 1886 at a posh resort on Lake Tuxedo in Orange County, New York.
But apparently the Prince of Wales, some twenty years earlier in 1865, had asked his tailor Henry Poole & Company in London to design a tail-less dinner jacket. And thus the dispute over dates began.
You see, in former decades (make that centuries) dinner jackets had tails both in front and back to guard against the cold. They were split in the middle on both sides to make it easier to walk. And this eventually evolved into the front tails being cut away to make it easier to ride a horse, leaving only the back tails - which survives to this day in certain circles.
But when a group of young friends (complaining that the long tails in back interfered with sitting, dining and dancing) showed up at the renowned Tuxedo Park Resort in 1886 with the back tails cut away, it created a shock and scandal not unlike Janet Jackson's famous wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl!
But the tail-less fashion took hold, both in America and in Europe. It still employed the white tie, cummerbund (original spelling) and silk or satin lapels - just no tails. But in time the white bow tie gave way to the black bow tie. And this is the currently recommended (not necessarily demanded) attire for a Black Tie event.
However, White Tie events are still very much alive. Often called 'Top Hat and Tails' it is the most formal dress code in Western fashion - and employs the original dinner jacket with back tails and a white bow tie. You'll see this mostly at state dinners and in diplomatic circles, both in America and in Europe. In a private home it can be considered extremely pretentious and is rarely seen - unless of course Regina herself and Prince Philip are stopping by for dinner.
By comparison, Black Tie events are almost informal nowadays. You'll see some gents in dinner jackets and black bow tie, and others in dark suits, even business suits.
The terms dinner jacket and tuxedo, by the way, are interchangeable these days. And there's barely a dispute that the name came from the Tuxedo Park Resort. In some uppity old-guard circles, however, the term tuxedo or tux is decidedly eschewed in favor of the original designation dinner jacket.
Of curious note, in America we have Tuxedo rental shops where you can rent a dinner jacket for just one evening. This would be for weddings and other reckless events, and it's a cultural phenomena for which I make no apologies. It's just how we are.
As always, thanks for dropping by,