Feeds:
Posts
Comments

My most recent project was to make a black evening dress waistcoat, suitable for black tie and white tie.

It is of black pure silk faille (grosgrain), SB, four corded buttons, two welt pockets, rounded revers, full-U opening, double-pointed hem, etc. The backing is of heavy cotton-backed rayon twill and the lining is of cream bemberg-rayon twill.

The pattern is based on two black waistcoats I own: the revers are based on those of a Huntsman backless model.

The interesting thing is that the dart extends all the way to the arm syce, essentially creating a separate panel. This ensures the dart does not end in the middle of nowhere and also shapes the waistcoat better, especially for this kind of material which doesn’t stretch well with an iron.

It is mostly hand-sewn but some seams are machine-stitched where possible.

I’ve also commissioned a new pad for the buttonhole cutter so it can cut a shorter buttonhole. My buttonhole sewing has reached professional standard now and I can sew one much quicker than before.

Here are some photos of it.

 

 

 

 

Finished waistcoat.

Details of buttoning.

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.

*Yawn*

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.

If one must have some form of backless waistcoat then simply have one with a full back but with a massive hole included. This will ensure the full seams at the sides and shoulders are attached firmly to the body and not just 1″ of here and there.

Here are some ideas to wet your taste buds:

DB, full-U opening, rounded shawl revers, besom pockets, four studs, straight hem.

DB, semi-U opening, broad shawl revers, welt pockets, four studs, double pointed hem.

SB, V opening, angled shawl revers with slightly roundec orners faced with satin, welt pockets, four studs, double pointed hem.

DB, squared opening, no lapels, welt pockets, four studs, straight hem.

DB half-back, semi-U opening, shawl revers with square ends, besom pockets, four studs, double pointed hem.

There are some examples here in the Black Tie Guide: http://www.blacktieguide.com/Vintage/Vintage_Waist.htm

Here’s one I made earlier:

C. H. Wolfenbloode’s first attempt at a full dress waistcoat.

CHW ivory silk satin waistcoat with shawl revers. With matching bow tie.

Now, as they say, go forth and multiply…

Ascots or formal cravats were once de rigueur for formal dress (frock coat and morning dress) but since the Edwardian period has fallen out of use and in its place the necktie is worn. However, Ascots were to certain degrees still retained by some people. Unfortunately in recent years, the Ascot was further downgraded due to the hire wear companies producing Ascots of the wrong pattern (i.e. the pattern for an informal day cravat which is meant to be worn under the open collar of a shirt and has a pleated rather than plain neckband) and of the clip-on variety. This coupled with an attached wing collar that is floppy and unsubstantial as a proper stiff starched detachable one created a very sloppy and inelegant look. Since this look was done so badly and to death, Gentlemen began to edge away swiftly from wearing the Ascot. Nowadays, no one but a handful of tailors, including myself, actually know what the correct pattern an Ascot ought to be and the correct way to tie one.

Ascot tie made by Messrs Andrews & Pygott

The Ascot (or the incorrect version of it) has been tolerated by high society, until now. Royal Ascot has issued what essentially is a decree that effectively abolishes its use as far as Ascot is concerned but the wider implications means it cannot be worn for proper formal and official events.

http://www.ascot.co.uk/pdf/RoyalAscotDressCodeChanges2012.pdf

Royal Enclosure – Gentlemen:

“Gentlemen are kindly reminded that it is a requirement to wear either black or grey morning dress which must include a waistcoat and tie (no cravats), a black or grey top hat and black shoes.”

This clarifies that cravats are not acceptable and that black shoes should be worn with morning dress.

Cravats here not only mean the incorrect type but also the proper ones. I am guessing that the look had been done to death for far too long that they have clamped down on its use. Unfortunately, that also means those who actual own and wear the proper stuff now cannot wear theirs.

In the 2011 dress code, there is no mention of the cravat or tie for that matter. The interesting thing is that the 2012 code does not mention bow ties (or indeed used the word ‘neck ties’) so it would be interesting if it would be allowed, afterall it hasn’t be explicitly proscribed like the cravat has been. This is, of course, in the Royal Enclosure so one would be able to wear one in the Grandstand, etc but then again, the Grandstand dress code is pretty informal itself…

So, it now seems that officially, the Ascot is no longer acceptable.

UPDATE 1

I’ve received clarification from Ascot that bow ties are forbidden in the RE so that’s that then. They said that I’m the first person to ask about this and if more people ask they would consider making this clearer in their code.

UPDATE 2

I attended Royal Ascot in 2013 and noticed in the Royal Enclosure someone wearing an Ascot tie of all things (the proper kind from what I glimpsed)! Either he slipped passed the stewards (who TBF were probably too busy concentrating on spotting the entry badges rather that dress) or the dress code wasn’t strictly enforced. Of course, it does sound ridiculous that the person in question doesn’t seem to have actually read the dress code. He’s not the only one: I spotted several guys wearing toppers with feathers or whatnot sticking out of the hatband which was proscribed in the code. Tut tut, Royal Enclosure! Either enforce the new dress code strictly or return to pre-2012 conditions!

UPDATE 3

2015: The rules now specifically say ‘no bow ties’ so there you go.

In my pursuit to learn tailoring (and hopefully apply for a Savile Row apprenticeship, Heaven willing), I have now attempted the double-breasted waistcoat. I’ve made one before in the form of the DB full dress marcella waistcoat but that was from pure guess work. For this one, I read the tailoring books and made it using pure bespoke methods of hand-sewing and pattern drafting, etc like I did for my morning dress trousers.

I initially decided on using a navy linen but it was too dark so I opted for the powder blue Irish linen (at £3 a metre, it was a steal). The backs were going to be cream rayon twill but I changed to blue cotton sateen as the former was too see through to take the striped linings. The pattern was based on the vintage grey one with some modifications. The result is pleasing though there is room for improvement: in particular, I should have selected a canvas and linen hollard that is more complimentary to the outer fabric to avoid the colour showing through to some extent.

Here are some images of the progress and end result.

Cloth chalked, mark stitched and cut.

Pocket installed.

Canvas inserted, facings and edges serged on, lapels installed.

Backs and lining installed.

Finished garment.

The hem is slightly higher with a more pronounced V shape. I also included a hidden buttonhole on the central seam for the Albert chain’s T-bar to go through to create a more balanced look when wearing it.

There has been much explanation written about the exact details of black and white tie and all its various components but when it comes to hoisery (i.e. socks) there is only sometimes a glancing mention and with no other explanation or rationale, though there are some information in the Black Tie Guide. Here I would briefly explain what sort of socks are appropriate for evening wear.

Silk hose with court shoes

Firstly, as all will know, evening dress is rooted in Brummell’s stipulation for simple elegance and a simple monochromatic colour scheme of black and white, but sometimes with a subtle hint of colour that is in harmony with everything. Thus, our black tie and white tie dress codes are essentially based on these principles. In the day, we wear every colour under the sun, at night we wear simple yet elegant colours letting the superior cut and details of the coats speak for themselves. We will be mostly indoors so our attentions are to be focused above the waistline and this is why white in these ensembles is restricted to the shirt (and waistcoat and tie), the upper half of the body, and everything else is black. The studs would be often of silver or gold or MOP and these are on the said white shirt (and/or waistcoat; hence why you never see studs on black waistcoats). The buttonhole flower is often a white carnation but could be red or other coloured flowers and it is the only item where colour (other than white, gold or black) is permissible; linking sartorialism and nature.  One of the reasoning for this is that the men should not outshine the ladies who would be in fabulous and colourful gowns. It is the yin-and-yang of sartorial courtship.

So, it is therefore required that the socks be black (or mid-night blue if the coat and trousers are of that same colour) in order for them to blend in and be inconspicuous. This is also why one should not wear spats (which are outdoor garments anyway) with evening dress, especially white ones, nor two toned shoes with coloured galoshes with them. It draws attention to the feet when one should be focusing above. Not only that, it creates an unsightliness with the trouser hem moving about creating various shapes of colour.

Very attention drawing…

One could be forgiven for wearing coloured socks with black tie as it is informal (by my standards at least!), but it is highly inappropriate for white tie as it is the most formal dress code for civilians (almost uniform) and high formality requires uniform precision and so it must be black (or mid-night blue) and nothing else. Wearing coloured socks for white is like wearing coloured socks for a full dress military uniform; it is out of place and not in harmony with the scheme. And it is especially silly if one wears coloured socks with court shoes!

So, what kind of black socks one could wear?

Tradition says it should be silk but there is some leeway here. Given the black would make them inconspicuous, the material would not make much of a point of importance since the primary objective is already achieved. Thus, silk, cotton (which could be mercerised , even wool would be appropriate depending on the climate and needs. They could be plain, ribbed or clocked.

Wool and cotton socks (of whatever length to suit tastes) are fairly easily to come by so I will not go further into this. The only thing I would advise (and this is relevant to all socks) is to have a ‘hand-linked toe’ which basically means the toe cap seam is hand seamed so it is flat and without the excess nobbily protrusion across the top of the toes inside the sock itself which often causes discomfort.

Silk, however, is much more difficult to obtain. There are various sources which I will now highlight.

Half hose

Half hose refers to the length being below the knee. These would be mid-calf length or calf length. Mid-calf length ones require the wearing of sock garters to avoid them slipping down.

Patra stocks mid-calf  length ones in two lengths (the long version isn’t long enough to not use a sock garter with). They are of a good weight being rather thick and are long lasting. At £10.50, they are very reasonable. They are pure silk but with some nylon on the band.

Silk socks from Patra

Another place you may get a sheerer pair of these is at Austin Reed (and some other high-end London shops). They are priced at £14.

For calf length socks, there is Gieves & Hawkes. Theirs are much more sheerer than the Patra ones; very light and feel very comfortable, but they don’t last very long if you wear them excessively (one of my friends wore a hole in them after one night!)

Gieves & Hawkes silk socks.

At £25 a pop, they would probably be best reserved for a very special event. They exist in the black and the navy/mid-night blue versions. They are 100% pure silk with no nylon on the band. Foster & Son also stock a thicker pair at the same rice but they are mid-calf length version: I don’t know if they stock the calf length version.

For those in the US, there are Brooks Brothers and Ben Silver.

If you’re not too fussed about the socks being 100% pure silk, BLEUFORÊT of Paris stock a silk-cotton version in both short and long versions. They are not as sheer as the G&H ones with them being thicker and thus would last longer given the cotton content.

Bleuforet silk-cotton socks.

Full hose

Full hose refers to above knee hose and includes stockings and ‘tights’. These are not necessary for you normal black or white tie but are if you wear breeches for white tie (i.e. alternative court dress). However, in such a case, very long half hose may be long enough to be worn with breeches (such as the very long Bleuforet ones, see above) as long as the bottoms of the breeches cover the ribbed banding at the opening of the socks. (Dress breeches are often made to end just above the calf.)

As far as stockings are concerned, these are extremely hard to come by as no one save those who wear court dress would need to wear them. They need a garter belt to hold them up as they end around a few inches above the knee and so are likely to slip down. Of course, if the breeches are tight enough at the straps they would be held up naturally.

Silk hose, garter belt and court shoes for court dress

The only place I have found that sells silk stockings for men online is James Townsend & Son in America but they exist in grey and off-white versions meaning you’ll have to dye them black.

James Townsend silk stockings

If you’re not fussed about getting a vintage used pair, Hobbyswood Militaria have some from time to time (under Non-Military > Clothing, Shoes & Jewellery). Note that they might be a bit worn and have a hole or two that need darning.

Vintage silk stockings

As for tights, these can be had via a few places. Ede & Ravenscroft stock some but they are cotton-nylon ones which will not do.

The only other place I have found is UK Tights which make a pair for men but not in 100% silk. These are opaque enough for use with breeches.

Breeches, silk stockings and court shoes with bows.

I also imagine that Henry Poole would stock silk stockings and/or tights but they probably won’t sell you a pair unless you buy a full court suit from them. I phoned them up once and got no where so I probably have to visit them in person and ask very nicely if they sell any court dress accessories, etc.

Care

To wash silk socks, you have to note that it must be done gently. The more you wash it the drier the silk strands would be. You should hand-wash it carefully and dry it naturally rather than bunging it in a washing machine, especially for very sheer socks. Silk socks with a blend of cotton or the thicker varieties tend to wash better than the thinner ones.

Tip

A tip I’ve heard from someone: if the hose are too sheer to the point that it is not black enough and one can see flesh, one might wear ski leggings underneath so it would look jet black. However, this may make one overheat in the summer months so it is best advised to do this in winter.

I will now describe the various shoes and boots that are suitable to be worn for morning dress (or indeed, formal day wear if one wants to). The main rule is that it must be black (the vamp I mean; though the uppers may be of a different colour; this will be explained later). Brown shoes or boots will not do, nor any other colour under the sun. They must also be well polished to an almost patent-like shine. Dull and scruffy footwear shows that one has not put effort into it. The leather should be box calf. Patent is really for evening wear though they were standard in the past.

Oxfords

Typically, these are the most common sort of footwear for morning dress and are readily available on the high-street as ready-to-wear in a range of different qualities and prices.

Oxfords with toe-caps.

Essentially, they have closed-lacing rather than open (as is the case for the Derby and these are not suitable as they are more associated with the Country). There is the option to have one with or without the toe-cap. Sometimes for those with a toe-cap, a fine line of broguing may be added onto the seam. This is acceptable.

Oxfords with a line of tooling at the toe-cap seam

Extremely versatile, they can be worn for normal everyday business and also evening wear for those on a tight budget.

These also exist in a form where the uppers are in a contrasting material/colour (see button boots below for more info) but they are not available in a ready-to-wear form. Also called ‘two-tone’ shoes.

Oxfords with galoshes

Chelseas

Moving up the scale, another less obvious choice is the Chelsea boot.

Black Chelsea boots

Typically, it is whole cut with side elastic to make putting them on easier. These are still versatile enough to be worn for everyday wear and can still be bought on the high street.

Balmoral boots

Now we are entering the more exciting range of boots. The Balmoral boot (or ‘Oxford boot’) is essentially like an Oxford but in boot form. Typically, it has a line of broguing on the toe-cap seam and sometimes around the vamp seam.

Balmorals in black cordovan

They can be made entirely of the same leather but may have the uppers/galoshes in another contrasting material and/or colour. This is often grey suede. The effect is like having spats on but in a more elegant manner.

Balmorals with a contrasting upper

These are much dressier, especially if you have contrasting uppers. Ordinary ones can be found on high-end shoe shops but the ones with contrasting uppers can only be had as a special order.

Button boots

The ultimate form of footwear for morning dress is the button boot. These are known by various names, including ‘galosh-top(ped) button boots’, etc.

Button boots

The pattern is more or less the same as that of the Balmorals but the uppers are not laced and instead button at the side. The uppers are almost always made of contrasting material which include suede, box calf, boxcloth (thick wool felt) and canvas. Colours could be black, grey, yellow/buff, white, etc.

Button boots with yellow galoshes

The buttons could be horn, domed-metal, mother-of-pearl, etc. The way these are put on is with a button hook. Some are made with non-working buttons and with a zip at the back; these are to be avoided (if you’re going to spend all that money buying a pair, you might as well get a proper working pair or don’t bother at all).

Instructions on how to button-up button boots.

These boots cannot be bought ready-to-wear and must be made-to-order or via bespoke means making them very rare and elusive.

UPDATE 2014: You can now order the button boots from several sources, including Alder Shoes of the UK and Skoaktiebolaget of Sweden made by Enzo Bonafé. They are, of course, rather expensive compared to normal boots.

Other sorts of shoes worth considering

Wholecuts

Derbies

Other kinds of plain ankle boots

Inappropriate shoes for morning dress

Loafers/slip-ons

Slippers/pumps

Monks (the ones that have buckles)

Norwegian (with a fringe at the front)

Half and full brogue shoes

Shoes in any colour other than black

Suede (i.e. the whole shoe, not just the galosh), reptile skin, etc shoes (only plain calf or cordovan is appropriate)

Riding boots, wellies, etc

Scruffy shoes

Shoes with extra seaming going round the toe area, etc.

Notes on evening shoes

The above shoes could be used for evening wear provided they are of patent leather (yes, even the button boots!) Of course, with the Balmorals and button boots, the uppers should be of a dark colour (such as grey, black of midnight blue) and for the button boots, the buttons should be dark domed-metal or covered in black silk.

Another good idea is to get satin/silk ribbon laces for Oxfords and the like which will mark it out as different from a day shoe.

Oxfords with satin ribbon laces.

Sources

Your average Oxford and Chelsea boots can be easily obtained through high-street or high-end retailers. The customised Balmorals and bespoke button boots may be obtained from the bespoke shoe/bootmakers which includes:

John Lobb, St James’s Street, London (bespoke)

Henry Maxwell, Jermyn Street, London (bespoke)

G. J. Cleverley, Royal Arcade, London (bespoke)

Gaziano & Girling, Kettering and Norwich (bespoke)

Rakuten, Japan (does a line of button boots for around £570, MTO in standard sizes)

Justin Fitzpatrick, c/o Gieves & Hawkes, Savile Row, London (RTW, MTO, etc as well as selling satin ribbon and flat woven laces)

This is my first ever pair of trousers that I have made.

The cloth was sent to me by Mikael Sjölund of Sweden as a present so it was the perfect opportunity to make my first pair.

After many hours of research I have gained enough knowledge to draft the pattern and make them.

Trouser draft.

Chalked, mark stitched and cut from cloth.

Topsides prepped. Fly prepared for buttonholes.

Fly buttonholes hand worked.

Waistband seamed.

Leg seam sewn up.

Seat seam sewn. Waistband lining installed. Fly buttons sewn on.

Detail of the top closure.

The finished pair, pressed.

The whole process took around 6 weeks or so, mainly because it was all hand sewn (a sewing machine never touched it). It is not 100% perfect given it is my first ever pair that I made but now I am able to make them from scratch.