Formal wedding do’s and don’ts

Q. Help, I need your advice quickly. I have my wedding in 3 weeks and, after looking at the formal wear on the news last week in London, I’m not sure whether my vest and shirt lengths are correct. How much, if any, is supposed to show below the jacket? I don’t want to be cringing as I look at pictures for the next 50 years.

A. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage! Your concern and attention to details is a good sign. I pulled up an image of our first family and I understand your question. Power and position have their privileges, and so the President’s wearing a too-long waistcoat and a jacket with too-long sleeves probably does not affect his negotiations with the Queen and the Prime Minister. But looking your best is always an excellent idea.

If your look is similar to theirs, that is, white-tie-and-tails attire, then the vest you will be wearing is usually referred to as a waistcoat. In either case, whether you are wearing a daytime vest or a formal dress waistcoat, plus any type of jacket, it should not be longer than the front of the jacket and the shirt’s sleeves should be visible, extending anywhere from ¼ inch to ¾ inch beyond the jacket.

Here are a few more points about white-tie and wedding attire for a man. Of the two types of formal dressing—white tie and black tie—the dress code for white tie is the most formal; it is not flexible. It consists of a very strict list of do’s and don’ts (unrelated to politics).


· Wear a black formal swallow-tail coat (short in front and long in the back)

· Wear matching trousers

· Wear a white cotton waistcoat that is not longer than the front of the tailcoat

· Wear a white cotton formal (non-pleated) shirt with a wing collar

· Wear studs and cufflinks

· Wear a white cotton bowtie

· Wear trousers that rest on the shoe with a slight break

· Wear black patent leather or highly polished calf shoes

· Wear black silk over-the-calf socks

· Wear a small fresh flower as a boutonniere, if you like (be sure the stem goes through the lapel’s buttonhole and is hidden in the back, with no pin showing)

Do Not:

· Wear a regular formal “tuxedo” jacket (at a white-tie wedding, this is for the waiters)

· Wear a waistcoat that extends longer than the bottom of the jacket (this accents they were not tailored correctly for you, and/or well)

· Wear a cummerbund (also for the waiters) or belt (for no one in formal attire)

· Wear a black bowtie (that would be “black-tie attire”)

· Wear cuffs on your trousers (this is a major formal no-no)

· Wear shoes with a cap-toe or any form of perforations, such as wingtips (optimal boardroom outfitting, but wrong wedding wear)

· Wear a wristwatch (a pocket watch is fine, if you have one . . . but don’t be late!)

Insiders’ tip that most guys don’t know: If you are the bridegroom, your boutonniere should be a single flower that matches/repeats – and, thus, appears to have been plucked from – the bride’s bouquet.

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