Contemporary Tuxedos (Dinner Suits)
Jacket Model and Style
jackets can be single- or double-breasted
one button is traditional for single-breasted models but two
buttons are becoming acceptable
The single-breasted model
remains the most popular type of tuxedo jacket and its classic
one-button interpretation is still the most formal. A
modern variation is the two-button version based on business suit
constructed with traditional detailing and paired with conventional
accessories it can be fairly successful at mimicking the classic
dinner jacket. Conversely, dressing it down with notched
lapels (the most common lapel on two-button models), flap pockets, a
long tie and exposed waist will draw attention to the style's
The rule for fastening
the bottom button of contemporary dinner jackets is the same as for
standard suit jackets: leave it undone.
This turn-of-the-millennium fad is a great way to ruin a tuxedo.
See Contemporary Alternatives for
all the morbid details.
Four buttons is the classic standard for double-breasted jackets
but the six-button variation has been
the contemporary standard since the 1980s. The buttons can be arranged in
informalwear’s traditional keystone pattern (the top pair further
apart than the other pairs) usually fastening with the middle and/or
bottom buttons, or in a trapezoid pattern (converging vertical rows)
first popularized in the eighties and always buttoning at the
bottom. Most often paired with a peaked lapel, the
double-breasted model remains an essentially classic look, albeit
slightly busier than its four-button predecessor.
double-breasted dinner jacket has made sporadic appearances ever since the 1920s. It provides much the same look as six- or four-button
models that close with the bottom button but without the extra
clutter of those more traditional choices.
shawl and peaked
lapels are the most traditional
notched lapel is most
The notch lapel gained
widespread popularity in the 1980s and is now the most common option on
(single-breasted) dinner jackets.
It has been endorsed by reputable dressers such as George
Clooney and Prince Philip and is offered by some of the most
conservative menswear designers including the esteemed Brooks
Brothers. Despite all this, it is incongruous with evening wear.
Unlike the peak lapel which
imports the tailcoat’s formality and the shawl collar which channels
the smoking jacket’s relaxed elegance, the notch lapel originated on
the common day suit and brings nothing to the dinner jacket but a
functional banality. In
fact, it is this very blandness that makes the notch so appealing to
inexperienced young men as a 2008 GQ endorsement of the lapel
inadvertently reveals: “When in doubt, go with a notch lapel.
Less of a statement than a shawl or a peak, it essentially
mimics a conventional suit jacket and looks right on just about
anyone.” In other words,
if you are unfamiliar with proper formal wear and too timid to try
it out then this tepid alternative will keep you in your comfort
zone. Advice such as this
fosters the mistaken impression among young men that a tuxedo is
simply a black suit with shiny lapels and explains why the notch is
so often found on two-button jackets and paired with an
ordinary style of necktie.
The notch lapel’s aesthetics
don’t fare much better especially in light of their pronounced
effect thanks to their shiny facing.
Whereas the peak lapel creates an unbroken line that sweeps
the eye up from the jacket’s narrow waist to its broad shoulders,
the notch interrupts that line and leaves the eye stranded at
mid-chest. Worse still, on wide lapels it draws the eye down
towards the side, suggesting stooped shoulders.
black wool is the norm
midnight blue is equally
To paraphrase Henry Ford,
contemporary dinner suits are acceptable in any color you want as
long as it’s black. While rental shops offer all-white tuxedos
as well as jackets of various other hues, they are the exclusive
domain of weddings and proms and are very rarely seen at grown-up
functions. The same goes for patterned suits, even if the
pattern is black-on-black.
High-end designers have been
offering wool and cashmere blends since the 1980s and mohair blends
since the ‘50s, both of which are soigné enough to honor black tie's
basic principles. Even classicist Alan Flusser advocates the
dulled sheen of baby mohair and fine worsted wool as “one of the few
tasteful exceptions to the rule that normally consigns shiny clothes
to the parvenu side of the tracks."
lapels have satin or grosgrain facings
Lapels are typically faced
entirely in silk but there is a legitimate precedent for some swank
variations. When facings
first began appearing on tailcoats in the nineteenth century, they
would often extend only as far as the buttonhole so that they were
framed by a band of the coat’s material. This style remained a
legitimate option for full dress up until the 1930s. Fancy
lapels returned to formal wear in the 1960s but this time on dinner
jackets instead of tailcoats and with a reversed pattern: only the
edges were trimmed in silk while the rest of the lapels were
self-faced. This flourish was a very popular trend until the
return of social and sartorial conservatism in the mid seventies.
Today both the self-trim and
silk-trim lapels can once again be found on fashion-forward tuxedos.
The velvet lapel variation of the
‘50s and ‘60s also continues
to pop up from time to time as do the faced sleeve cuffs of that
era. Provided that all of these alternatives are executed in a
black-on-black motif they will remain sound options for a man
seeking to add personal style while remaining true to black tie’s
pockets should not have
Flap pockets are appearing
on dinner jackets offered by even the most traditional designers
today. Just as with the notched lapel, this style of pocket
denigrates the formal suit to the level of a common business suit.
Fortunately, the edges of these pockets are usually besomed which
means that the flap can be tucked in or removed altogether in order
to create the more formal look deserving of a dinner jacket.
same material as jacket
single braid along outside
seams to match lapel facings
cut for suspenders (braces)
no cuffs (turnups)
The popularity of pleats
comes and goes with the popularity of fuller trouser cuts.
Currently the vogue is for fitted suits which means that
flat-front trousers are the favored style.
Ultimately this issue is a matter of comfort and personal
preference and does not impact a dinner suit’s formality. See
Suit Basics for
Modern designer trousers
also often feature waistbands finished in satin and intended to
eliminate the need for a cummerbund or vest. Rather than
enhancing the elegance of black tie this innovation is more like "a
formal version of the Sansabelt," as GQ once stated, "and another
dour nod to the age of convenience."
The pitfalls of forgoing a traditional waist covering are
discussed on the following page.