Classic Warm-Weather Black Tie
The white jacket variation
of black tie began in the early 1930s as a way for well-heeled
vacationers to dress formally in the tropical heat without having to
endure the heavy and dark-colored fabrics that were standard for
evening wear at the time. While dinner suits have become much
more lightweight since then, the light-colored jacket has remained a
popular warm-weather alternative to its ebony progenitor.
However, without a proper
understanding of its form and function, the white dinner jacket
easily becomes a flashy gimmick. Subtlety and restraint are
the keys to the successful execution of this classic variation.
The white dinner jacket's
origin on cruises and at tropical resorts speaks to its specific
role as a less formal alternative to traditional black tie. It
is only appropriate at formal occasions in the tropics year round
and in America during the summer season, typically at open-air
social gatherings such as country club dances and yacht club
While summer in the southern
United States qualifies as being at least subtropical, the same
cannot be said for the more temperate northern states and Canada.
It is for this reason that numerous experts advise using discretion
north of the Mason-Dixon line in order to avoid dressing for effect
rather than for the occasion. Indeed, black-tie guests north
of the 49th parallel would be wise to heed the example of their
British cousins who do not consider the United Kingdom's temperate
climate to be appropriate for white formal wear at any time of the
year (with the notable exception of Last Night of the Proms).
And if a man is particularly
serious about formal convention, a white jacket should never be worn
in the city “unless one has a napkin over his arm or a saxophone up
to his lips” as Esquire once put it.
Don't forget that the white jacket is an alternative, not a
directive. The black jacket is perfectly acceptable in any
season and any locale and actually trumps the formality of the white version.
Model and Style
Single- or double-breasted
models are both correct and both offer distinct advantages for
warm-weather climates. The former allows the jacket to be worn
open while the latter permits the wearer to dispense with a waist
covering. While peaked lapels are perfectly acceptable, the
more casual effect of the shawl collar is ideally suited to this
less formal dinner jacket.
Although etiquette experts
generally refer to these alternative jackets as “white” and rental
shops are filled with brightly bleached polyester coats, sartorial
authorities deliberately prefer descriptors such as off-white,
ivory, cream or winter white instead. There are a number of
reasons for this:
white wool and other natural
fabrics take on a yellowish appearance over time
when worn in abundance pure
white is counterintuitive to the understated elegance that formal
wear is intended to convey
bright white is unflattering
to fair-skinned faces
Unlined, lightweight natural
fabrics are acceptable alternatives to the standard worsted wool.
This includes cotton, gabardine and linen.
Avoid synthetic fabrics as
they don’t breathe well (and usually don’t look very good either).
Traditionally, the lapels
are self facing meaning that they are covered in the same fabric as
the rest of the jacket.
The details of the pockets, vents and buttons are the same as for
the classic jacket.
Warm-weather trousers follow
the same rules as classic trousers including their black or midnight-blue coloring
and wool material. If choosing to have a pair purpose-tailored for
hot climes it stands to reason that they should be constructed of
lighter weight worsted than used for a year-round tuxedo.
The classic pleated-front
shirt with soft turndown collar is traditionally paired with the
light colored jacket due to its equally relaxed air.
The cummerbund is the
overlay of choice for tropical weather as it covers up less of the
torso than does the waistcoat, thereby keeping the wearer
cooler. It is worn only with single-breasted jackets not just
because of classic black-tie etiquette but also because adding an
unnecessary layer of clothing under a closed double-breasted model
would defeat the purpose of this warm-weather alternative. As
with the year-round ensemble, the cummerbund is traditionally made
of black silk in a grosgrain or satin finish but can be used as an
opportunity to inject a
color or pattern into one’s evening wear.
The same details apply as
per the classic bow tie including the matching of the tie's fabric –
but not its color – with the cummerbund.
While either type of classic
footwear is acceptable, the formal pump's more stylish appearance is
an ideal complement to the swank demeanor of warm-weather black tie.
White suspenders are a
prudent choice when wearing light-colored jackets constructed of
thin materials. A handkerchief of white silk is always natty
but this is a perfect chance to infuse the warm-weather ensemble
with a dash of tasteful color, particularly if not wearing a
boutonniere. In the heyday of the white dinner jacket stylish
men would also wear colorful cufflinks and shirt studs set with
precious stones that matched the cummerbund or pocket square – see Classic
Alternatives for more details.