First Class men and women dressed up nightly for formal dinners on the Titanic. Gentlemen attending the Titanic Memorial Cruise will want to don their best for the Historic Dinner night. Here is a guide on how to dress for the formal affair as well as some options for less formality.
Gentlemen’s ‘White Tie’ formal wear consisted of a black tailcoat jacket and pants, white waistcoat, silk top hat, and white bow tie. Unlike modern suits the wool fabric was very thick and heavy. This kept the shape very stiff and fitted meeting social requirements for pomp sophistication. The cut of the tailcoat was very fitted to the body, emphasizing a waist line at jackets edge. Special undergarments helped shape a man’s belly much like corsets did for women. The jacket featured pointed collars instead of shawl collars like in the previous decade. The edge of the jacket bottom pointed downward a bit rather then straight across. Although the jacket never buttoned close there were three buttons placed on each side of the jacket opening.
Matching wool weight trousers sat high on the waist (above bellybutton level) and tapered down to top of the ankle. Pockets were not necessary for formal wear and usually left out. There was a sharp pressed crease down both the front and back of the pant legs. Sometimes a single or double stripe of silk fabric ran along the side legs. This stripe is what has remained on modern Tuxedo pants today.
Where to Find Tailcoats
Unless you get a custom made tailcoat in the Edwardian style then you probably will have to settle for wearing modern versions of the suit. Thankfully modern tailcoats are made of much lighter fabrics and fit a little looser for your comfort. Usually a suit rental store for weddings will either carry a modern tailcoat suit or be able to order one for you. Here are a few online sources to purchase your own:
Jos. A Bank Has a very nice black coat in a very Edwardian style. About $200
MensUSA – Has another good Tailcoat with matching pants. less then $200.
Uniformwearhouse – Has several options in various prices.
gentlemansemporium.com - Has a slightly earlier version of the tailcoat. Under $200
Cutaway Coats were a semi formal coat option. Cutaway coats, also called morning coats in their less formal fashion, feature long rounded jacket fronts that button with one button for closure. They could be worn for day wear or for a semi formal dinner party. On the Titanic Memorial Cruise this coat will look dashing on you as an alternative to the standard Tuxedo. Here are some options to purchase a cutaway coat. Renting them may be a lot more difficult.
www.gentlemansemporium.com Mens Edwardian Cutaway Coat
www.tuxedosonline.com Black Cutaway Coat
www.tuxedosonline.com - Grey Cutaway Coat
www.alphillipsformalwear.com – High End Cutaway Coat
www.aurorahistoryboutique.com Wild west style brown cutaway coat
Oliver Brown (UK) carries an all wool black morning coat.
If you want to wear your cutaway coat for informal day wear consider wearing them with striped trousers. This style was very common in Europe although it didn’t catch on in America. Any other solid colored pants could be worn as well. Add a cane, ascot tie, and bowler hat and you’ll look handsome strolling Titanic’s Deck.
Dinner Jacket and Tuxedo Coats
The third coat option for formal/semi formal occasions is the Dinner Jacket or it’s similar modern cousin the Tuxedo jacket. In 1912 these coat styles might have been worn at home or for very informal family occasions. By the late teens they were acceptable in public occasions but only if it didn’t require you demonstrating your status- such as at the theater in your private box. However by the 1920′s the dinner jacket was an acceptable alternative to formal tailcoats.
While not totally historically accurate for 1912 it’s ok to stretch fashion history a bit for the Titanic Cruise. Plus it will be a lot easier and affordable to find and buy a dinner jacket then a formal tux suit.
The Tuxedo coat is a formal sack coat with either a rounded shawl collar or pointed peaked lapel. The shawl collar went out of fashion with WW1 (1914-1918) so for a 1912 event its would still be acceptable to wear. Usually the collar was made of silk. Today they are more often made of satin. In the 1940′s velvet dinner jackets were all the rage (popularized by the movie Casablanca.) Avoid velvets for the Edwardian era if possible. A dark tie was somewhat acceptable to wear instead of the formal white bow tie.
If you are the type of person to make a fashion statement then consider the dress of the Edwardian Dandy. Dandy’s wore double breasted medium grey or dark blue coats and pants.
www.oliverbrown.org.uk/ High End Shawl collar black Dinner jacket.
Regardless of what jacket you choose the rest of the formal clothing remains the same. A white “bib” or button down starched skirt with tall wingtip collar was always worn for formal occasions. Most modern Tuxedo shirts come with a wingtip collar. The modern Tuxedo pleated shirt is historically incorrect but may be your only option to find a wingtip collar locally.
The other collar style was a tall standing collar with rounded edges. These were dreadfully uncomfortable because the stiffness of the collar prevented the head from turning and often bruised a mans neck. They were appropriately called “poke” collars. You can still by these as detachable collards and wear them on a collarless shirt.
Brooksbrothers – Carries a very nice detachable shirt with wingtip collar.
gentlemansemporium.com – Carries detachable wingtip collar and shirt. Tall “Poke” collars and club collars also available. If you wear the wingtip be sure to detach the tips from the shirt so they point out.
www.ushist.com - Carries a better detachable wingtip collar and stand up collar then the above store. The shirts themselves are too early for a 1912 event.
Oliver Brown (Uk) Carries quality detachable collars and shirts.
The standard cufflink for Edwardian formal occasion was inlaid pearl. Mother of pearl and pearl link gems called Moonstone were also common. Gold or gold plated brass were more common for day wear. Both round and square shape cufflinks existed. You will need a french cuff or double cuff shirt to wear cufflinks.
Waistcoat (UK) or Vest (USA)
The formal waistcoat was always white. Black vests were only suitable for day or semi formal occasions. They were usually collarless and shaped in a U pattern exposing the formal shirt underneath. The collarless variety had a shawl collar- a round collar all the way around the U opening. The vest was very low cut and came to either a rounded bottom or two points. They could either be single breasted or double breasted. Double breasted is the most formal.
The Waistcoat/ vest is going to be the trickiest item to find. I have been looking for two years and have yet to find the correct shape, color and material. I haven’t even found a pattern to make one. Here are the few that are the closest online options:.
www.i-ties.co.uk/ – This one is a long V shape with flat square collar. I’ve seen in worn on men and they look very nice in it.
www.uniformalwearhouse.com – Similar to above. Be sure to get the full back option.
A gentlemen always wore gloves. Colored gloves of black or grey were acceptable for day wear while white, or off-white cream colored gloves were a must for formal wear. They were usually made of kid leather and had a mid arm length. Today its’ hard to find kid gloves so standard white wrist length or longer fabric gloves would be acceptable.
Tip: Wear gloves at all times. The only time gloves would not be worn is while food is going into the body or coming out of the body : )
www.leatherglovesonline.com Basic Lambskin white leather gloves.
www.alwyngloves.com (UK) Look for the Mens formal white leather gloves.
www.florentinegloves.com/mens.html V cut wrist instead of a button closure.
www.debutantegloves.com/order.html Quality leather and cotton white gloves.
They are not just for magicians with white rabbits! The mandatory hat for formal events was the silk top hat. You might be surprised that these hats were collapsible- meaning they could be pressed down into a almost flat shape for transportation. They were made of silk. Today you mostly see them made of satin. On a budget a wool felt top hat will work. The hats were rather tall but not quite as tall as Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat.
Edwardian Mens Shop- Collapsible Silk Top Hats and Wool Top Hats. Cheap Costume satin hats.
Formal mens shoes consisted of black oxford style dress shoes or tall narrow dress boots. Dress boots were either solid matte black which buttoned up the sides, or black boots with white spat leather built into the top half.
Dress shoes would have been lace up and worn with white leather spat shoe coverings. The toe design was know as “toe cap”. Read more about Edwardian shoe options.
The final touch on your formal suit is the white pocket square. This is not to be used as your handkerchief. Pocket squares were for decoration only. They were folded into a triangle and placed inside the front heart pocket with the pointy end facing up. Usually they were made of silk.
This completes you formal clothes for the Titanic Memorial Cruise or other Edwardian evening events. Leave your questions and comments below.