A dinner jacket (a tuxedo for our American cousins) is an investment. Unlike our bespoke suits that are subject to the rough and tumble of everyday life, a dinner jacket is there to be worn only on the most formal of occasions and it is important that not only does it fit you perfectly, but that it stands the test of time. As a result, it is important to stick to the basics and resist the urge to differentiate in terms of style of colour. A fitted dinner jacket will make the statement that you need it to.
This is the centerpiece and it is surprising how many individuals get this wrong. A dinner jacket is either a one-button single-breasted jacket or a double-breasted jacket. It is never a two button jacket, unless you have rented it.
At its base, the dinner jacket is a tailess jacket made of black worsted wool with lapels that are "faced" (covered) in either black silk or grosgrain. Midnight blue dinner jackets do come in and out of fashion, but the thing to remember is that this will serve you for at least 10 years and it is best to stick on the side of tradition, rather than fashion.
- The Lapels — The most formal style of lapel is peaked, but a shawl collar is equally acceptable. In a shawl collar, the lapels are joined to the collar to make an unbroken loop around the shoulders and the back of the neck. Avoid notch lapels as they will make your dinner jacket look like a business suit.
- The Facing — Satin silk provides a smooth, high-luster surface that emphasizes the lapels. Grosgrain, with its ribbed texture, is subtler and less reflective. Remember, since your neckwear will match your lapels, be aware that a satin facing means a shinier bow tie as well.
- The Vents — For the slimmest silhouette and strictest formality, an unvented jacket is preferred.
- The Buttons — All the buttons should match, but they may be either plain black or covered in the same facing as the lapels. The sleeve should have four touching buttons, just like a suit jacket.
Black tie trousers are straightforward: they should be a perfect match to the jacket.
That means the base material is the same as the jacket. Please avoid the temptation to match a midnight blue dinner jacket (or any other colour for that matter) with a pair of black dinner jacket trousers. The only circumstance in which that is possible is when you are tailoring a velvet dinner jacket.
The trousers need to be high-waisted, so that the waist covering (either a waistcoat or cummerbund) can cover the waist fully. They will be worn with suspenders and should not have belt loops.
Beyond that, black tie trousers are simply minimal: they do not have cuffs, and the pockets are usually accessed by vertical slits at the back edge of the braid. Pleats are optional, but plain fronts will give the most elegant look.
Waistcoat or cummerbund?
Black tie calls for one of two equally acceptable waist coverings: a formal waistcoat or a cummerbund.
The formal waistcoat is the traditional option, and differs somewhat from the vest of a three-piece suit. It is cut low and wide, so as to show the front of the formal shirt underneath it, and has a small set of shawl lapels. Some are also backless, and fasten with a buckled or buttoning strap in the back. The vest is made from the same material as the jacket, and either the lapels or the entire vest can be faced in the same material as the jacket lapels. Both double-breasted and single-breasted vests are acceptable.
A cummerbund is a pleated sash that wraps horizontally around the waist. Traditionally, it is made from the same silk as the jacket lapel facings. The pleats face upward, like small pockets (which was actually their function, as early formal and semi-formal dress did not include trouser pockets). Some modern cummerbunds also have small hidden pockets on the inside.
Whichever waist covering you choose, it should conceal the waistband of your trousers all the way around. It may be tempting to inject a bit of colour into the cummberbund - some individuals have burgundy cummerbunds, but to maintain a classic look we would recommend sticking with black.
The Evening Shirt
Always plain white. Not Ivory. Not with a different coloured back.
It functions similarly to a regular dress shirt, but has a few unique features that set it apart:
- The Bosom – Evening shirts have a decorated rectangular panel that runs all the way up the front of the shirt. This is called the “bosom” or the “bib” of the shirt. The most common styles are pleated (where vertical pleats run up the shirt on both sides of the button placket) and piqué (where the front of the shirt is made from a stiffened piqué fabric, generally woven with a dimpled pattern called marcella). Both are equally appropriate, though piqué is considered slightly more formal. Pleated shirts are sometimes called soft-front, in contrast to piqué’s stiff-front. A starched soft-front is called semi-stiff.
- The Studs – Instead of buttons, some evening shirts have buttonholes on both edges, which are closed with decorative studs. The studs are widely spaced, usually with no more than four to a shirt. Traditionally, studs are used for stiff-front shirts, while soft-front shirts use mother-of-pearl buttons.
- The Cuffs – The French cuff is the standard for semi-formal evening shirts. These fasten with cufflinks. The studs and cufflinks should come from the same color family, however, and the two should complement each other reasonably seamlessly — you don’t want gold studs and silver cufflinks, or anything similarly mismatched.
- The Collar – You have your choice of two collar styles here: a wing collar or turndown collar. Wing collars are high, starched collars separate from the shirt, with small points that thrust outward beneath the chin. Some purists argue that the style is only meant for formal (white tie) attire, but it is worn with black tie often enough that you can get away with it. Alternatively, a simple point-style turndown collar is always acceptable.
The Bow Tie
There are several styles of tie that are acceptable, mostly distinguished by thickness and by whether the ends of the finished bow are pointed or rounded:
- Butterfly – Narrow at the center and wide at the ends, these are a timeless classic. It’s a good style for men with large, round faces.
- Semi-Butterfly – Also called a “thistle” because the smaller sides often show doubled corners, giving it a slightly pointy appearance. This is a more modern and slimmed-down version of the butterfly. It’s a neutral style, and works well with most faces.
- Straight-End – Also called the “batwing” and “club” style. A good option for small men and men with thinner necks and faces.
- Pointed – The ideal choice for men with sharp, angular features, and a natural complement to the points of peak lapels and wing collars as well.
There is only one real difference between dinner jackets - those that are tailored and those that are not - and it is very obvious during formal events which ones are and those that are not. To make sure that you fit into the correct category, click here to make an appointment.