Late Victorian (1880s, '90s)
1903 portrait of three successive heirs.
Edward VII (center) reigned from 1901 until 1910 although the
eponymous era generally extends to 1914 and the start of WWI. He was succeeded by his son
George V (left) then by his grandson the future Duke of Windsor (right).
Edwardian Open Jackets
As in Victorian times, dinner
jackets were invariably depicted as being worn
open during the early Edwardian period and many models were actually constructed
without buttons. By the teens it
was common for them to be fastened.
Advent of Evening Weddings
During this era references to evening weddings first began to appear in etiquette books
which mandated full evening dress for the groom
and male guests.
► Key Chains
Key chains were often used to carry pocket
watches. They were long, fine chains of
gold or platinum attached to the suspenders and tucked
into the trouser pocket with the watch.
Edwardian Era: Patrician Protocols
For men the proper costume for late dinner (at six o'clock or after)
is regulation evening dress. At stag dinners and small informal
occasions the dinner-jacket replaces the swallow-tail coat and is
accompanied by a plain black-silk tie.
Good Form for All Occasions (1914)
Edward VII’s affinity for wine and women loosened the moral
strictures of his mother’s reign and the rise of the automobile
shifted the focus of social life from the private home to more
public places of entertainment. Despite these changes, dress codes
generally retained their Victorian stringency thanks the new king’s
taste for fine fashions and extravagant entertaining which the
aristocracy eagerly adopted.
At the beginning of Edward’s reign evening etiquette was the same
two-tier system introduced in his mother’s era. The formal tailcoat
ensemble remained de rigueur for an evening out in public alongside
ladies’ elaborate evening gowns while the “dinner coat” or “Tuxedo
coat” was largely confined to a man’s home, club or stag parties.
Warm weather also exempted men from the full-dress rule, making the
alternative jacket ever more popular at upscale holiday getaways on
both sides of the Atlantic.
As the new century progressed the dinner jacket exceptions
increased, at least according to American etiquette manuals. Added
to the list were standard evening entertainments in the country,
very informal dinners among relatives or friends and dining in
restaurants. Visits to the theater were acceptable under specific
conditions: at first, only when a gentleman was not part of a
theater party then even when he was, provided the party was small
and was not occupying a box. With the increased popularity of the
alternative jacket came an increased acknowledgement of its unique
accessories as mandated by etiquette authorities. By the advent of
The Great War the public had finally embraced the two distinctive
evening dress codes which remain in effect to this day.
Edwardian Evening Dress
Evening suits in turn-of-the-century America differed from the
common “lounge” or “sack” suit in that they were shapelier than
their heavily padded and loose-fitting daytime cousins. One of the
few traits that both had in common was the heavy fabric that weighed
up to twenty ounces to the yard – twice the weight of the average
modern suit. In this era comfort was not expected in men’s clothing,
night or day. While the following trends are based on American
sources the fact that the United States so closely mimicked English
sartorial trends up until World War II makes it likely they were the
same in both countries.
The evening tailcoat was still referred to as a dress coat or swallow-tail
coat during this period, and sometimes a claw-hammer coat. The
collar option became increasingly rare and disappeared altogether
during World War I. At the same time, the
fronts of the coat (and accompanying waistcoat) began to angle
upward towards the tails rather than being cut parallel to the waist. Three buttons on either side of the coat front
became the norm by the teens. If present, side braid on trousers now
took the form of either a single or double stripe.
The English preference for white piqué waistcoats caught on in
America and by the end of World War I black waistcoats were
becoming relegated solely to informal evening dress.
had become as popular as single-breasted and both
began to develop points at the bottom as their fronts followed the
lines of the newly angled tailcoat fronts. The U-shape
remained the favorite style.
The evening dress shirt still featured a stiff bosom of piqué or
plain material and the number of studs ranged from one to three
throughout the period. The shirt’s collar could be attached or
detached with the wing collar gradually supplanting poke as the most
popular style. Cuffs, conversely, were always to be attached when
worn with evening dress. By 1913 a new trend had emerged which would
prove permanent: the material of the shirt’s bosom, collar, and
cuffs was to match that of the accompanying bow tie and waistcoat.
Also appearing during this era were soft pleated dress shirts with
French cuffs which were at first appropriate only with the dinner
jacket but then became accepted by mavericks with the
Patent leather shoes eventually replaced dress boots of a like
material, and even began to encroach on the popularity of pumps.
Outdoors the silk hat continued to be standard for formal evening
dress. The opera hat was still acceptable for theatre or opera but
it was increasingly considered old fashioned.
As for accessories, white or pearl kid dress gloves were still
prescribed, especially for the opera and evening balls. Pearl,
mother-of-pearl and moonstone were the most popular options for
studs and links which conduct manuals typically suggested be of a
matching set. Watch chains worn across the waistcoat were no longer
in fashion ("surely not in the evening" sniffed Vanity Fair);
instead, time pieces were hidden at the hip and attached to the
familiar watch fob or the newly popular key chain. White
boutonnieres were popular at Edwardian balls and according to
Handbook of English Costume in the Twentieth Century, “a red silk
handkerchief was often worn as an ornament protruding from the bosom
of the waistcoat”.
Informal Evening Dress
The most popular style of dinner jacket was still single-breasted
peak lapel or shawl collar in black vicuna. Edwardian dandies also
favored oxford gray, dark blue or double breasted models. As long as
the trousers matched the jacket it did not necessarily matter if
they had braid on the outseams.
The prescribed accoutrements for the jacket continued to be in flux
during this period and were often the same as those worn with full
dress. As in Victorian times, the waistcoat could match the jacket
or it could be the white piqué style borrowed from formal evening
dress. And the choice of a black or white bow tie remained largely
arbitrary despite etiquette authors insisting that only the former
was appropriate for informal evening attire. However, the black
waistcoat and black bow tie would become the norm for tuxedos by the
end of the first decade, establishing the basics of today’s Black
Tie dress code. Other traditions premiering during this era were the
practice of matching facings on jacket lapels, bow tie and trouser
stripes as well as the wearing of low-crowned hats in place of the
silk top hat.
The Great War: End of an Era
The rigid class
system which defined Edwardian
England came to a close with the
advent of World War I. While the
monarchy would survive the
struggles that brought an end to a number of its European
its aristocracy would never be the same. The ability
to host the lavish social affairs of previous times was greatly
impacted by the tremendous cost of the war and by former household
staff’s unwillingness to return to servitude after having fought
shoulder to shoulder with their previous employers.
and heavy attire that
formal day and evening wear
was now unappealing to
of all classes
who had become used to the
popularized by military uniforms.
As a consequence of these shifts in social
norms the tailcoat’s glory days as predominant after-dark attire
would draw to a close.
Conversely, the dinner jacket’s adroit balance of traditional elegance and
contemporary comfort would elevate it from a mere dress-coat
alternative to the new
Wearing a black waistcoat with a tailcoat fell
out of fashion by World War I (source) . . .
. . . while the matching of a white
waistcoat with a dinner jacket remained a
natty alternative for decades to come.
1904 US formal and informal
evening dress. Note double-breasted waistcoat. Click to see
outerwear and early wing collar.
1901 dinner jacket worn with full
dress accessories: white bow tie, white double-breasted waistcoat,
1906 U.S. dress coat worn with
watch fob (L) and dinner jacket worn with matching fancy waistcoat and
bow tie (R).
loose fitting, heavily padded styles from a
New York haberdasher catalog.
1912 U.S. menswear ad depicting fitted profiles.