Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
If you’re unsure what to wear to a formal event, then look no further than our guide on what a dinner jacket is and how to wear it.
For many, an invite to a formal evening can send us into a cold sweat at the thought of having to ‘dress up’. It can mean having to move away from our usual style and out of our comfort zone but there’s no need to worry. We thought it was a good idea to give you a bit more information on what a dinner jacket is and how best to wear it.
The Dinner jacket
If the event you’ve been invited to doesn’t specify black tie, then the world truly is your oyster. That doesn’t mean though that you shouldn’t still look to dress to impress. There’s no better way to make an impact than to don the dinner jacket and the options are almost endless.
Midnight Blue Dinner Suit
Let’s put it this way, if the midnight blue dinner jacket is good enough for Edward VII, then it’s definitely good enough for us. If the dress code is a little more relaxed, feel free to play around with a more casual look and maybe pair with black trousers. It’s best to opt for either a waistcoat or lose the waist covering altogether if you’re attending a less formal event.
White Dinner Jacket
For a classic James bond look, pair up your white jacket with a black pair of trousers, add a black cummerbund and bow tie to create a white and black tuxedo look, which is smart but also striking. Alternatively, plump for white trousers and a neck scarf to create a far more modern look.
Black Velvet Dinner Jacket
Another modern take is to wear a black velvet dinner jacket with trousers made with an alternate fabric. If you really want to dress it down, you can even opt for jeans. To keep it relatively formal, pair with a different coloured trouser or check print trouser.
Double Breasted Dinner Jacket
Double breasted dinner jackets are back, not that they ever really went away! They represent something different to their stuffy banker, 1930s gangster reputation. A double breasted blazer can be paired with anything from smart trousers to jeans or even shorts and look great with a shirt and tie or a jumper and even a T-shirt. They’re so versatile you have to have one in your wardrobe.
Sport Coat vs Blazer
We’ve covered a number of ways to wear a blazer and some of the different types. There’s also the option of the sports coat. The main difference between a sports coat and a blazer is that the sports coat is less structured than a blazer, giving a looser fit and also comes in a wider range of patterns and colours. The sports coat would probably be well suited to a less formal occasion and is extremely comfortable and versatile, as well as being on the less expensive end of the spectrum, compared to a good blazer.
What Is a Dinner Jacket?
When we mention the dinner jacket today, the immediate thought is of high class formal events. However, the original version of the dinner jacket was intended as somewhat of an antidote to stuffy formal occasions, it was actually designed for a more casual option at social gatherings.
The first instances of the dinner jacket as we know it today began to become part of the uniform of polite society in the mid-19th century. As more Victorian era gents began to lead an active social life, the time came that the dress code for polite society required a bit of an update too. In the 1850s, tailors began producing men’s jackets in shorter and more comfortable styles and made from more luxurious materials than had previously been the case. These jackets originally became acceptable attire for indoor use and so the dinner jacket was born.
Royal Dinner Jackets
What added further legitimacy to the new evening attire came in 1865. The then Prince of Wales (who would later become King Edward VII) wanted a blue jacket that could be worn to social engagements. To help find the perfect garment, the expertise of the Saville Row tailor Henry Poole & Co were enlisted. The young prince commissioned the tailors to create a blue silk smoking jacket and matching trousers.
Men’s Evening Wear
By the end of the 1880s the dinner jacket became as much of a booming success as it had been on the other side of the Atlantic. When members of the prestigious Tuxedo Park Club began wearing their new shorter dinner jacket to social gatherings to restaurants and clubs in New York, quite a stir was created and questions around the new garment were asked. The nickname for this new item of clothing was founded in the fact that the first men to make a splash wearing the evening jacket in the US were from Tuxedo Park and the Tuxedo stuck.
So even though we now see the dinner jacket as something reserved for only very formal occasions, the truth is its roots lie in Victorian socialite society. If you’ve been invited to a smart social gathering this summer or you just want to be prepared for all sartorial eventualities, then be sure to check out our guide to the dinner jacket below.
What Does Black Tie Mean?
If you’re not a regular at swanky social events, then there’s every chance that an invite stipulating a black tie dress code might leave you concerned and confused. But if you stick to some very simple rules then there is absolutely nothing to fear when the time to smarten up comes. In truth, because black tie implies an expected and well-trodden dress code actually getting it right is very achievable. As long as you don’t try anything outlandish it can be a very flattering look. Simply follow a few simple rules below.
Keep It Simple
When you’re invited to any social occasion there is always a temptation to ‘jazz’ your outfit up a bit to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, some of us just don’t know quite where the line is though. When attending a black tie event, it’s good form to keep it traditional, in the case of black tie attire, going off-piste draws attention and very rarely goes down well.
Black Tie Attire Is Strictly Evening Wear
Now, this piece of advice is probably more appropriate for the inviter, rather than the invitee. Obviously, if you have been invited to a black tie event at 11am, then it would be extremely rude if you turned up in anything else citing this article as your defence. But, the truth is black tie attire is very much solely considered evening wear, hence the name.
Although we’ve said it’s important not to deviate from the traditional ‘uniform’ of black tie attire, this doesn’t mean that you can’t inject any of your own personality into your look. A great way to do this is to use the accessorise that you match with your outfit. There is a host of options that can elevate your black tie attire to the next level, think dress watch, cuff links, pocket square and boutonniere (a single flower in the blazer lapel). This is the opportunity to express yourself, but always try and keep it classy and match accessorise where possible.
Difference Between a Tuxedo and a Suit
As discussed earlier, the black tie suit is something that is fairly straightforward if you follow the rules and the great thing is, if you’re invited to a black tie event you simply stick to these rules. It’s also worth noting that you have a choice when it comes to black tie too. You can opt for a black tie suit or tuxedo.
Black Tie Suit
Generally speaking a black tie suit is a less lavish outfit than a tuxedo, more suitable for less flamboyant occasions, low key events or work related activities. In the case of a suit, the lapel will usually be made of the same fabric as the main body of the suit jacket and there is no embellishment on the trousers.
Another key feature of the suit is the shirt, unlike a tuxedo shirt, these are traditionally plain un-pleated shirts and a tie is the usual neck decoration, as opposed to a bow tie. It is perfectly acceptable to wear a waistcoat with a black tie suit.
What Is a Tuxedo?
Tuxedos are a slightly dressier outfit in comparison to a black tie suit and certainly more flamboyant. While a black tie suit would be suitable for work occasions, a tuxedo is only appropriate for evening semi-formal events.
In contrast to the black tie suit, the tuxedo’s lapel is usually made of satin and the dress trousers have a satin strip running along the outside. Tuxedo shirts often have a pleated chest, called a bib or bosom. It’s also worth taking note that pocket squares, cummerbunds and bow ties should only be worn with a tuxedo and not the suit.
How to Wear a Tuxedo?
When it comes to wearing a tuxedo, there’s a few key choices to be made, each choice will add to the individuality of the overall look you finally achieve, but are all accepted elements of the classic tuxedo standard.
There are two types of jacket, double or single breasted. Single breasted jackets with one button are the norm for tuxedos. Double breasted is more than acceptable and may help you stand out from the crowd. There are also two variants of the lapel peaked or shawl lapel, both are equally accepted, but the peaked lapel is considered to give a more formal appearance.
It goes without saying that a black shoe is required for this outfit and a suitable choice is either a formal pump shoe or a lace up oxford.
The Evening Shirt
The shirt worn with a tuxedo should always be white. An evening shirt differs from a regular shirt in that it’s usually pleated in the chest. Cuff links are used to close the cuffs, as opposed to buttons and the collar of the shirt is usually a wing collar.
Tuxedo trousers should be high waisted so they can be covered completely by the chosen waist accessory and the fabric should match exactly that of the jacket. They usually also have a strip of fabric running down the outside of the trouser, made from the same material as the lapel and while they can be pleated, the most streamline and elegant look sees them without pleats.
The Bow Tie
First and foremost, never, ever use a clip on bow tie. If you’re unsure how to tie a bow tie, then check out this video guide. This also might be obvious, but it’s worth stating, this is a black tie event, so make sure your tie is black.
The Waist Accessory
You have two options when it comes to what you choose to wear around your waist. There’s the cummerbund and the waistcoat. Both are perfectly acceptable items and in both cases should cover the waistband of your trousers and braces. Traditionally the material of the cummerbund should match that of the lapel on your jacket.
Get The Dinner Jacker Look
You’re always going to need a white shirt to complete the dinner jacket look. The simple black and white colour combination is so timeless you can be rest assured you’ll get your money’s worth over the years.
Your Quick Guide on How to Wear a Dinner Jacket
- Tuxedos are strictly evening wear, but if you’ve been invited to a black tie event, whatever the time of day, wear black tie attire.
- Dinner jackets are great for versatility, if the occasion isn’t black tie, a dinner jacket can be adapted to suit the event.
- Don’t mess with the rules of the tuxedo. Some rules are there to be broken, this isn’t one of them.
On That Note
With such a wide repertoire and stellar history and reputation, the dinner jacket looks set to reign for a long time yet. Just make sure that you make the most of yours and are on point with any big social events you’ve got coming up this summer.
Feature image from Pinterest