Classic Tuxedos (Dinner Suits)
The dinner jacket is the
foundation of the black-tie ensemble. The model, style and
facings chosen for the jacket set the tone for the formality and
swank of the remaining attire. It also embodies the refined
minimalism that sets evening wear above a simple suit through the
clever concealment of each garment’s working parts.
Jacket Model and Style
The original and most formal model of dinner jacket is the single-breasted model.
Unlike regular suits it has only one button which allows the
front to be cut in a deep “V” shape that mimics the ideal male
torso. Because the
single-breasted model is often worn unbuttoned (see sidebar) it
requires that the trousers’ exposed waistband be covered by a
cummerbund or waistcoat. This in turn provides more
opportunities for versatility in a man's formal ensemble.
The double-breasted model
became accepted as an informal alternative to the single-breasted in
the 1930s and is now considered equally correct.
This model looks better
buttoned when the wearer is standing so there is no need for any
sort of waist covering. However,
because men usually prefer to unbutton their jacket when seated the
double-breasted option could be considered less convenient. This type of jacket
traditionally has four buttons and fastens with either the bottom
row (known as 4-on-1 style) or both rows (4-on-2) depending on the
The peaked lapel and shawl collar are
equally authentic and correct.
The peaked lapel is derived
from the tailcoat and for that reason it is considered the more
formal of the two styles. The upward and outward sweep of
this style also serve to emphasize height and shoulder width.
The shawl collar, on the
other hand, is influenced by the smoking jacket and conveys a softer
image than its angular counterpart. Considered less formal due
to its origins, it nonetheless appeals to urbane dressers due to its
after-six exclusivity. The shawl collar is also the style most
popular on warm-weather
jackets and other
Although the notched lapel
is by far the most popular style today and proponents point out that
it has made occasional appearances since Victorian times, the
style’s derivation from the common lounge suit has traditionally
limited it to a fashion-forward alternative. It was not until
the late 1970s that etiquette and style experts began to consider it
to be correct for formal attire and even then its acceptance was
limited. Therefore this style is covered in the
The original dinner jackets
were made without vents then later offered with side vents. While
side vents provide easier access to trouser pockets and are more
comfortable to sit in, they can also make the jacket less slimming
and somewhat compromise the intended formality of the tuxedo.
The center (aka single) vent
is unacceptable not only because of its sporty pedigree (it is a
horseback adaptation much less refined than the tailcoat's) but also because it opens up when a
man reaches into his trouser pockets thus exposing the seat of his
pants and often a white patch of shirt to boot. Despite its
inappropriateness, the single vent is becoming more common on dinner
jackets as mainstream manufacturers save money by patterning their
tuxedos on standard suit styles. Fortunately, a good tailor
can convert these jackets into ventless models by closing the vent.
Ever since the British perfected the process of making and
tailoring cloth, refined dressers have harmonized their clothing with
their environment. This is seen in the customary association
of of dark finished worsteds with urban settings, earth-tone coarse
tweeds with the countryside and pale lightweight fabrics with the
summer months. Thus it is only logical that the darkest and
most refined materials would be reserved for after-dark socializing.
Besides its natural association with night, the deliberate use of black
for traditional evening wear has two distinct aesthetic advantages.
First, it imbues the wearer with an aura of dominance and
power. Second, when worn with a white shirt and
accessories the juxtaposition of black's complete lack of color
against white's complete spectrum of color creates the greatest
“If the topic was printing rather than formal dress,”
observed the author of The Aesthetics of the Tuxedo, “classic black
tie would be the equivalent of putting words in bold.”
While black is the norm,
midnight blue is also a classic. This extremely dark hue of
navy blue achieved its popularity in the 1930s due to its ability to
retain its richness under artificial light whereas black fabric is
generally more reflective and can sometimes give off a greenish or
grayish cast, particularly if the cloth is not brand new. For
this reason midnight blue is frequently described as being "blacker
than black" although "richer than black" would be a more
definition. Similarly, midnight blue has the upper hand at
parties that start prior to sunset because black has a tendency to
appear dull and lifeless in daylight.
Sadly, such a garment is rarely offered in the ready-to-wear
world and usually has to be obtained on a made-to-measure basis.
A white dinner jacket may be
worn in warm weather but only under certain conditions. See
Warm-Weather Black Tie
for complete details.
Formal suits are typically
made from finished or unfinished worsted wool (a type of yarn that
produces a firm, napless fabric). Because tuxedos are worn far
less frequently than business suits and don’t have to stand up to
the same amount of wear and tear over time they can be made of a
much finer wool than their everyday counterparts.
In his book Dressing the
Man, classic couturier Alan Flusser provides sage advice on the
benefits of discretion when choosing a fabric finish:
Like the tailcoat, dinner
clothes are trimmed in facings of varying degrees of luster;
therefore, so as not to overstate the sheen quotient, the dinner
jacket’s base cloth should be in a dulled or matte finish.
Subtle textured weave effects such as baratheas and
mini-herringbones, or quiet variegated effects avoid affectation
while adding surface interest to the formal ensemble.
This recommendation applies
more to North Americans as British tailors generally consider
barathea to be the norm for eveningwear wools and silks.
Despite what some
salespeople will claim, there is no such thing as a year-round
weight for suit material.
However, since formal affairs almost invariably take place in
climate-controlled environments, experts concur that a 9-10 ounce
fabric (300-340 grams/square metre) is the most practical choice.
One of the most distinctive
traits of a tuxedo jacket is the decorative covering on the lapels
known as facing. This
not only provides a jacket with an elegant flair but also emphasizes
the “V” effect created by peaked lapels.
The best facings are made of pure silk, while less expensive
ones contain a synthetic component. The silk can take the form
of smooth satin or the dulled ribbed texture of grosgrain.
Although the former is much more common in North America
particularly well suited to the shawl collar
– the latter, according
to Flusser, is preferred in England due to its association with
Be aware that the facing
chosen for the lapels will determine the type of material used for
the bow tie and cummerbund and possibly the waistcoat. Here too,
grosgrain may be seen as preferable because it permits some
in textures for the bow tie while satin facings require the neckwear
to match which may result in an affected look.
With a midnight-blue dinner
suit facings are typically black.
Classic sartorial pundits
strongly recommend that all dinner jackets have a working buttonhole
on the left lapel for a boutonniere (buttonhole in UK
literal translation of the French term). Ready-to-wear jackets may have to be taken to a
qualified tailor who will know where to locate the hole and how to
skillfully add it to the silk-faced lapel. Custom-made formal
jackets will also sometimes have a stem holder on the reverse side of the
lapel. This is typically a small cord that keeps the stem in
place so that the flower does not fall out of one's lapel over the
course of an evening of dining and dancing.
The double-besomed jetted
(slit) hip pocket is the only style understated enough to compliment
the dressy dinner jacket. Flap pockets are not appropriate for
formal attire’s refined minimalism due to their busier and bulkier
design and are simply an attempt by tuxedo manufacturers to save
money by using standard suit patterns (although sometimes they will trim the edges of a flap pocket
so that the flap can be tucked in or removed if desired).
Besom welts can be of self
fabric or trimmed with the lapel’s silk facing, though classic
menswear scholar Nicholas Antongiavanni suggests that for the
English this latter touch “is a sure sign of hired clothes”.
The dinner jacket should also have a welt
breast pocket to hold a pocket handkerchief. Ticket pockets
are for functional day suits and would only create unnecessary
clutter on a dinner jacket.
The jacket’s sleeves should
be finished with four buttons with their edges touching, just like
the sleeves on the tailcoat and better business suits.
All of the jacket’s buttons
can be plain black or covered in the lapel’s facing.
Black-tie trousers are made
of the same fabric as the jacket.
The waistband is meant to be
covered either by a cummerbund, waistcoat or closed double-breasted
jacket so it is essential that it sits high enough to remain hidden
throughout the evening.
Men with a trim waistline and an expert tailor can accomplish
this by means of custom-made trousers with adjustable side tabs.
Everyone else will require trousers cut for suspenders
(braces in the UK).
Belts are out of the question as they add bulk to the waistline and
will invariably become exposed as the trouser waist gradually creeps
A trimmed waistband is a relatively recent
invention designed to replace the cummerbund
but its inability to cover the shirt's waist makes it a poor
The side seams of formal
trousers are also covered.
Employing a technique common to military dress uniforms, they
are concealed by a single band of facing that is either satin or
grosgrain to match the jacket’s lapels. In the past braid was
also used for this purpose but today the term is often used
generically to refer to the more common silk stripe.
This elegant detail also
serves to emphasize the suit’s vertical lines thus enhancing the
The formal trouser’s
minimalism is rounded out by strategically placed side pockets and
the absence of cuffs.
Side pockets are usually cut on the trouser’s side seam making them
virtually invisible and more easily accessible, particularly when
wearing a cummerbund or waistcoat. Trouser legs are always
plain because cuffs (turn-ups in UK) are too casual (they originated
as a mudguard) and would interfere with the side braid.
The absence or presence of
pleats is a matter of comfort and personal preference and does not
impact a dinner suit’s formality.
For further information see