BESPOKE WHITE TIE
HENRY POOLE & CO.
It is with profound pleasure that I have noticed of late a renewed interest in that most delightful of our dress codes – white tie. Even younger gentlemen, of the better sort, are turning back towards it, and I salute them for doing so, for white tie is one of the pinnacles of sartorial excellence developed by Western civilization. I obtained my own first set of evening tails over forty years ago, so that I could attend the year’s May balls at Cambridge in the proper manner. But the four subsequent decades of Dom Pérignon and foie gras have, alas! not been entirely kind to your correspondent’s ageing frame. The recent evening on which I found it impossible to remove my tailcoat without assistance was the evening on which I realized that I needed new dress tails. And I knew immediately whither I should go: to number 15 Savile Row and to what is indisputably one of the finest tailoring firms in the world, Henry Poole & Co.
There I found the ever affable and expert Mr Alan Alexander (pictured), Director and Senior Cutter, whose skill and pursuit of perfection I have admired more than once over the years. White tie needs to be exactly right. But I knew that I could trust absolutely Mr Alexander’s kindly guidance.
Having a bespoke suit made does, of course, require a number of visits to the tailor’s premises. But, with Henry Poole & Co, each visit is a pleasure, for there is an atmosphere of tradition and excellence at Number Fifteen which invariably brings a smile to my face. There is always a copy of Country Life to occupy a few idle moments, as I sit in one of the leather armchairs, surrounded by the Warrants of the various Royal personages who – since the house was established in 1806 – have had the good sense to trust their tailoring to these fine craftsmen. And then there is always the possibility of a few words with the descendants of Henry Poole – Angus and Simon Cundey, father and son (pictured) – who still run the business.
The first decision was to choose the cloth. There are some who advocate midnight blue rather than black for the colour. In this, they follow the example of Edward VIII, Nazi sympathizer and King. I have never had any desire to follow his example, so I determined firmly on black. I wondered about a herringbone, but, as Mr Alexander was quick to point out, this would be suitable for morning tails, but not for evening tails. We settled upon a black barathea of 11 ounces.
The facings on the tailcoat would be in the black ribbed silk known as grosgrain. (On the rare occasions – it would certainly not happen at Henry Poole – when I encounter facings which have been made of black satin silk, I shudder.) Buttons covered with the same grosgrain silk are often used for the front, rear and cuffs of the coat, but I do not like them. Instead, Mr Alexander showed me buttons of polished black horn, which I judged would be altogether crisper and more defined. At each cuff there would be four buttons, all with working buttonholes, and the sleeves would be short enough to show the starched shirt cuffs, with glimpses of the cufflinks. The linings of the bottoms of the tails would accommodate pockets (for gloves).
The cut of the tailcoat is of immense importance. The tails should reach, or be just fractionally below, the bend of the knees. And the sides of the coat should be long enough either to obscure totally the white waistcoat (my preference) or to permit the sight of no more than a quarter of an inch of the waistcoat. This is a rule which is observed so often in the breach (even by Presidents of the United States) that I feel it my duty to offer to you a photograph of how the jacket should not sit, so that you can ensure that you do not commit this solecism. (I acknowledge the co-operation of the friend, whose badly-made coat is illustrated.)
The white waistcoat itself is usually made of the white cotton piqué material known as Marcella. I do not like this material for dress shirts and I do not like it for dress waistcoats. There is something about its puckered surface which irritates me. Instead, I opted for ivory satin silk. (Left to my own devices, I would have gone for white satin silk, but I was advised – correctly – that white would be rather brash.) A bow tie would be made of the same silk. The lapels would be cut square (rounded ends are popular among our Continental friends) and the waistcoat would have the normal back. (The backless version stands under same condemnation as the midnight blue cloth – having been popularized by the Duke of Windsor.) Mother of pearl shank buttons would be provided. These can be removed, if it is desired to use one’s own dress studs.
The trousers for white tie differ from those for black tie in one important respect. The black silk braid on the side seams is not one wide piece (as for black tie), but two narrow pieces sewn close together. My trousers would, of course, be made for braces; the side pockets would be straight; they would have a button fly; and, at the waistband, would be two carefully placed interior buttons – one to secure the loop at the bottom of the waistcoat and one to secure the loop at the bottom of the bib of the dress shirt.
It will be clear that the tailoring of white tie requires the utmost precision, to achieve exactly the right relationship between the tailcoat, the waistcoat and the trousers. I was therefore much impressed that, even at the first fitting (pictured), the balance was very nearly right. Note that, at this point, there is just the tiniest speck of waistcoat visible under the coat on the right of the picture.
After several further fittings, the ensemble having been subjected to various minor adjustments to bring it up to the exacting standards of Henry Poole & Co., I took my new togs off to Cambridge. It seemed only right that I should try them out at the place I first donned white tie. They are, as I hope you can see from the photographs, absolutely splendid. The whole effect is exactly right – see the picture of the back of the shoulders – and the wearing of the outfit is therefore supremely light and comfortable. Indeed, I had forgotten just how remarkably practical white tie is, when it fits perfectly, for a long dinner – far more practical, in fact, than black tie.
Of course, the finest tailoring mankind has to offer does not come cheap – and nor should it, considering the skill and expertise involved. But at £4,116 (including V.A.T. at 20%), I regard the price of this white tie as good value. The renewed interest in white tie is a most welcome development. The more often white tie is seen, the better we shall all be. And if it leads to many more gentlemen wearing white tie made by Henry Poole & Co., blessings will abound and solemn Te Deum will be sung by every sane person who cares about the sartorial wellbeing of the Western world.
HENRY POOLE & CO.
Two piece day suits from £3,175 (including V.A.T. at 20%)
Three piece day suits from £3,393 (including V.A.T.)
Two piece dinner suits from £3,512 (including V.A.T.)
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