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Downton Etiquette Explained - Series 3, Episode 6

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A somewhat more subdued episode this week, which was just as well as some of us still haven't recovered from the drama of the last episode.

I was glad to see that Matthew has been reading my missives - in particular the one from two weeks ago - as this time around he had the bottom button of his waistcoat unfastened (as is correct).

Putting on my top hat...
Interesting to note that the family reverted to dining in White Tie when entertaining the local clergy. I have said before how Black Tie was quickly becoming the go-to outfit for dinners in historic houses around that era, and we did have another dining scene later in the episode where they wore Black Tie.

Today, White Tie is really only the reserve of Royal and diplomatic functions. The average man will never wear it, which is a shame as it is so elegant. The cast of Downton excel in their White Tie dress and to date have not put a sartorial foot wrong.

But what should White Tie correctly be?

Working from top to bottom, the gentleman should wear...

Top hat Black and often collapsible (so men could store them under their seats at the opera). Never worn inside and now rarely seen

Bow tie The clue is in the title of the dress code - a white bow tie (hand-tied) is correct. Make sure your hands (or the hands of your valet!) are spotless before tying as the brilliant white of the tie will show every mark unforgivingly

Shirt A white, winged collar (detachable from the shirt) should adorn the top of the dress shirt, which should be fastened with studs. White mother of pearl studs always looks good for such an occasion. Cuffs should be double-cuffed (i.e. cufflinks)

Jacket The black (sometimes midnight blue) tailcoat is double-breasted although never fastened and should just show a hint of the white waistcoat beneath. In the Downton era these tailcoats were far heavier than they are today: one of the reasons men started preferring the much lighter jacket that came with Black Tie

Decorations These may be worn if the invitation decrees - always on the wearer's left lapel. We have not seen any White Tie event with decorations (medals) in this series but there were quite a few in Series 2 due to the ongoing war

Waistcoat This is white and low-cut, made from a pique cotton

Trousers Black and tapered with two pieces of braid running down the side of each leg (unlike Black Tie trousers, which should have just one). They should be held in place with the aid of braces, not a belt

Socks Long black silk evening socks are preferable, although merino wool is an acceptable modern alternative

Shoes Patent black and Oxford-style

Ladies have some rules to follow, although the design, patterns and materials of their gowns will change with the fashions of the age. Dresses should be sweeping and to the floor, but hair should not be. This should be restrained to avoid knocking out dancing partners. Long white gloves should be worn at all times, except when dining. Tiaras may be worn if the occasion warrants them and (as has been previously mentioned in past blogs) only if one is a married women.

Table talk
Whilst White Tie, the most formal of dress codes, may have been worn for the dinner with Travers last night, the talk at table was very free and easy - some would say too informal for the time (even the roaring '20s). Strictly speaking (and this really still applies today in formal dining) one does not talk across the table. Tables used to be much wider than they are now today and so it wouldn't have been possible to have much of a conversation with the chap opposite! Women would have talked to the man on their left for the first course, and then the man on their right for the second, and switched with each course. A little far fetched you may think but it did mean everyone got spoken to!

Soup!
Mrs Crawley drank her soup perfectly! It amazes me how many people today still cannot manage this. The spoon (held in the right hand) is scooped away from you, and then brought to the mouth (you may lean in slightly) and tipped in using the nearest side of the spoon (the side that didn't go into the hot soup). When just a small bit remains then you may tip the soup plate away from you and continue the scooping motion until finished. But no... you simply cannot dunk your bread!