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Intangible cultural heritage

Traditions, knowledge, craftsmanship techniques  
Photo: © UNESCO/James Muriuki

The Custom Tailoring of Men’s Full Evening Dress
Traditional craftsmanship throughout Austria, inscribed 2021

In Europe, the custom tailoring of men’s full evening dress looks back upon 300 years of history. The origins of this style of formal attire can be found in England, where the ‘frock’ was first worn by the working classes before also being adopted by young noblemen for informal occasions from the 1730s onwards. The production of such an ensemble requires a great deal of knowledge and skill on the part of the master tailor, and it takes around 100 hours of master craftsmanship to complete one. This tailored evening dress has established itself as the most formal style of eveningwear for men, and it gives rise to a sense of community amongst its wearers.

Whilst it was originally worn on an everyday basis, from the mid-19th century onwards, this evening dress was generally only worn for special occasions. The complex production process requires a high level of experience and knowledge about anatomy, movement habits, cuts, material characteristics, and etiquette. Each element of this attire (blazer, trousers, waistcoat, etc.) has well-established design features and production processes. Its recognisable features include elements, such as a blazer with knee-length ‘dovetails’ at the back, which is shortened to the waste at the front, and is usually not buttoned up. The blazer alone consists of eleven individual elements. The tailor requires a great deal of finesse, which is acquired through years of experience (for example, in cutting techniques or complicated hand sewing techniques, etc.) or by working in a relevant workshop.

The production process usually involves exchange with the future wearer, who returns to the workshop up to three times until the evening dress fits properly. This clothing is also often passed on from one generation to the next, or even the one after, and adapted for its new owner. As it can be changed and altered over and over again, it is a particularly durable and sustainable item of clothing. An experienced evening dress wearer usually schedules at least 15 minutes to get dressed. As an evening suit, it is still worn to festivities, primarily those which take place after 6pm, and for special occasions. In addition, this evening dress is the working garment of conductors and is also an integral feature in riding and dancing.

There are but few workshops and tailors left who still produce this elaborately worked clothing by hand. The existing businesses are, however, attempting to safeguard the knowledge concerning its production and the etiquette connected therewith by way of lectures at universities, guided workshop tours, and specific training courses for tailors.


Rudolf und Dr. Claudia Niedersüß
1010 Wien



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