When you have managed to perfect your bodycoat and trousers in a white tie ensemble, when you have obtained a boiled fronted shirt that has the bib at the correct length and a starched detachable wing collar with a sized white bowtie, with black silk socks and correct evening shoes, it could all be spoilt by a bad judgement in what waistcoat you decide to wear. Indeed, a waistcoat more or less makes or breaks white tie.
The correct waistcoat to wear for white tie is either a black or white one and it must be cut low to show off the bib and studs of the shirt. It is deliberately left with little information to allow for variation and individualism. I won’t talk about the black version as that would be the very same kind that is worn for black tie so I will concentrate on the white tie version, also known as the full dress waistcoat.
This version can be made of silk satin, silk grosgrain, cotton marcella (which can be starched stiff but some varieties are already stiff enough), textured fabric, etc and in shades of white, ivory, off-white and even very light cream. The cut, however, is very much where one can run riot with their imagination.
The opening can be V, semi-U, full-U, even squared! You can have no lapels, shawl revers (which could be square, slanted or rounded), peak lapels, notched lapels, etc which could be faced or even piped at the edges. The hem can be straight, single pointed, double pointed, double rounded, etc. It can be single or double breasted. You can have two, three, four, five or six studs for closing (in a variety of arrangements). Pockets could be welted or besom. Full back, half-back or backless.
Even with such a wide range of design choices at one’s disposal, you would be forgiven for noting that you could not find anything other than a backless white marcella, V opening, single breasted, shawl revered with squared ends and two pointed hem in the shops.
The reason for this is because this is the basic pattern that has stuck into the minds of the hire wear companies and retailers. It is easier to churn out many of the exact same cut than to create different styles. Unfortunately, this means that anyone who wears this exact same cut of waistcoat looks like they’ve hired their white tie rather than bought it or had one made. It is so common and boring that it makes you look like you haven’t bothered, even though you may own an ensemble that fits or indeed have had it made specially for you. It is everywhere and not unique and when everyone in the same rooms wears the exact same waistcoat it is just dull, dull, dull.
Therefore, my advice is that you should avoid the above pattern waistcoat like the plague and at least invest in getting a uniquely cut full dress waistcoat made. It elevates the white tie to another level and it shows that you haven’t just got your waistcoat from eBay or a hire wear company for a few pounds but instead shows you have an eye for detail and have made some effort in possibly getting a waistcoat made for yourself. Another good thing is that a tailored waistcoat would fit you exactly and be in the correct proportion and cut that agrees with the coat and trousers (to avoid the waistcoat peekage that shows the waistcoat was grabbed off someone taller than you).
I would also suggest a full back one as that fits better on the body than a backless one which cannot be anchored to the body in the same way: the longer seams at the sides and shoulders help hold the fronts taut on the body so it would be less likely for it to ride up or bellow out to a greater degree. This is also the same for day waistcoats and I really do not buy into the whole argument that a backless waistcoat keeps you cooler. In fact, it would be better to simply cut out a big hole at the back whilst retaining as much of the backing as possible at the seams so the fronts are secured onto the body than be left to have freedom to move and shift about as you move around and sit down, etc.
Here are some ideas to wet your taste buds:
There are some examples here in the Black Tie Guide: http://www.blacktieguide.com/Vintage/Vintage_Waist.htm
Here’s one I made earlier:
Now, as they say, go forth and multiply…