Mr Shan Menswear: on White Tie

Mr Shan looks ahead to the summer balls and offers some tips on getting the perfect White Tie at the cheapest price.

Summer is a time of joy and relaxation, where the mood is livened by rays of sunshine and work is delayed by slothing around on the lawns. It is also the time for commemoration balls, all of which adopt White Tie as the dress code. White Tie is an alien term for most students; it is an outdated dress code adopted by those who are equally as outdated. That said, sipping wine donning the full attire does make you look like someone from Downton Abbey. So live dish out the cash and live the dream. Have a read below for some handy tips on securing that White Tie as cheaply as possible.


Never Buy: For most of us it is never quite worth investing in a set of White Tie, given how rarely suitable occasions present themselves. Indeed, it does seem expensive to rent out a set every time such a ball takes place. However, if you consider the hugely disproportionate ratio of Oxford White Tie events and those outside the bubble, chances are the White Tie would be left to gather dust in the wardrobe once Oxford life is complete. A full White Tie hire costs £84.99 while a single tailcoat from Ede and Ravenscroft costs £695. The entire outfit amounts to a crippling £1480 (including tail coat, shirt, bow tie, waistcoat and shoes).


Outfit: The jacket is a double-breasted black or midnight blue wool Tailcoat, the front of which should end above your waist. The Shirt should have wing-collars and a starched front; this simply means that the front part is made from a tougher material (cotton piqué or Marcella) and feels different from the rest of the shirt. The front could take one or two studs, the number depending on personal preference. The Bowtie must be white and is made from the same Marcella material as the shirtfront; black bowties are reserved for butlers and waiters. The Waistcoat is constructed from the same Marcella cotton; the cut is low and resembles a sharp V that covers the waistband and finishes at the same length as the tailcoat at the front (in contrast to the Morning Coat waistcoat, which looks more like a standard suit waistcoat). The Trousers ought to be of the same fabric and colour as the tailcoat, with a higher waistline. Shoes should be Opera Pumps, which are black patent leather dress shoes decorated by a silk bow on the front. According to’s guide on White Tie, black patent Oxford lace-ups are also accepted, though inferior to Opera Pumps.


Mix and Match: Having already had to pay around £200 for a ball ticket, even the £85 hire seems like an awful lot of money. Yet not the full outfit is necessary; and you can often find pieces in your own wardrobe to substitute items in the set. Shoes are the most obvious example: anyone relatively well stocked in Black Tie outfits would own a pair of black patent leather shoes. Whilst these might upset the white tie prudes out there, who prefer the Opera Pumps, there is simply no point to buy a pair just for the occasion. The same can be said for the trousers: whilst they might not match the exact fabric of the tailcoat, most modern black tie trousers are made from similar types of wool and should pass off as being part of the same outfit in the night under artificial light. The shirt is slightly more difficult as it requires a starched front with wing collar, but some might already be using a similar model for the Black Tie. If you are really short for money, however, you could perhaps use the sub-fusc white bowtie as a replacement. It is incredibly tacky but hopefully everyone would be too drunk to notice or care. If alternatives are used for shoes, shirt and bowtie, you would only need to pay for the tailcoat and waistcoat, which amounts to a slightly more manageable price of £64.99. This is, of course, still a large sum for a student; but guess what, you’ve already signed up for the ball, you might as well look brilliant for it.


Fast or Furious: Get the White Tie reserved from the shop as soon as possible. Common sizes like 44, 46 or 48 run out extremely quickly; I myself took the last size 44 tailcoat from Ballroom a month ago. Deal with it swiftly or face being denied entry for not meeting the dress code.


Check out Shepherd and Woodward and Walters Oxford online for princes and orders. Pop down to Ballroom Emporium near Magdalen to have a look at their selection.