Saturday, March 26, 2011

White Tie Variations in Downton Abbey

Formal dining in Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey was released on the North American continent earlier this year, and was an absolute treat to watch! This is the first installment of posts about the series. In this post, I'm noticing some interesting items of men's white-tie formal wear.

The back of Lord Grantham's tailcoat

The outfit prescribed for those who have the opportunity of wearing white-tie would appear to be fairly strict if one reads almost any legitimate guide on men's formal wear. The recipe is as follows: black (or midnight blue) tailcoat with matching trousers (silk stripe to cover side seams), pique formal shirt (preferably with hard starched front...note: this shirt does NOT have pleats) with wing collar (preferably removable), pique bow tie (self-tie), pique waistcoat, formal braces (belts are never appropriate!), silk hose, and dress pumps (or patent lace-ups if all else fails).

Notice Lord Grantham's braces... as a man of good taste he knows not to use a belt with his formalwear. Additionally, they are worn under his waistcoat as they are technically underwear.

Notice how Lord Grantham's shirt does not rest flat as he sits. This is due to the rigidness of the shirt and the fact that the shirt is being pushed up at the waist based on how he is sitting.

Close up image of shirt cuff made of pique fabric

For those who are curious as to what pique fabric happens to be: pique is made from cotton, is white, and has a diamond crisscross pattern raised above the rest of the material. The cloth essentially has a three dimensional feel to it. I have a dress shirt made of this material, and it is impossible to keep unwrinkled in my experience. This is why the front of the formal shirt is thicker and starched.

Lord Grantham wearing white on white

What I observed in Downton Abbey, is that the men alternated between what a person wearing white tie would wear, and a different bow tie/waistcoat combination. The normal ones being white pique cotton and the alternate appearing to be some sort of cream/ivory colored silk. I though this was interesting... did anyone else notice this? I rather like both looks, but I was surprised when I first saw it. Both Lord Grantham and Matthew Crawley wear the cream colored ensemble at times, so I would imagine it does not denote rank.

Matthew Crawley wearing cream on white

Another example of the color difference

Matthew Crawley's cream colored waistcoat

Matthew Crawley's waistcoat close up

Back of Matthew Crawley's waistcoat

Additionally, I have noticed that they also are using two different collars... a straight-up collar and a wing collar. One should remember that as the collars would have been detachable, they could have alternated at will without requiring different shirts. Note the differences in the screen captures below.

Lord Grantham wearing the straight-up collar

Matthew Crawley wearing the wing collar

All images from Downton Abbey are the property of Carnival Films/iTV/PBS Masterpiece and are used here for descriptive purposes. Closeup image of pique fabric is an original photograph taken by Justin Gist Preuninger.


  1. Looks great and looks a ton of compliments at work after wearing this shirt. It feels very comfortable and its sturdy and light at the same time so you wont be too hot in the sun. I will be buying Harvard Square HS110 100% Heavy Cotton Pique Sport Shirt

  2. I assembled a vintage white full tie outfit a few years ago. It was pricey and difficult to get all the different pieces exactly in my size, everything including an antique silk top hat and antique leather wrapped silver topped cane.
    But I ended up with way too many of those starched front pique shirts, waistcoats, and detachable collars! The whole ensemble looks great but it takes forever to get it all on and it's very uncomfortable to wear for any length of time.

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