Midnight Blue: “Blacker than Black”

Midnight_Blue_crop

(Courtesy of The Style Blogger)

Ten years ago I assumed, like pretty much every other North American under 60, that proper tuxedos had always been black.  It was only when I began researching my first tuxedo purchase that I discovered there had once been an alternative called midnight blue which was considered the ultimate in formal elegance.

Like the term “navy blue”, “midnight blue” is a somewhat arbitrary designation that can vary from one fabric manufacturer to another.  When it comes to formal wear the point is that it should be so dark that it best described as nearly black instead of obviously blue.  If you’ve ever seen dress socks labelled “blue” that you could swear were black until you held them up to actual black fabric, you’ll know what I mean.

The colour first appeared in fashion-forward evening wear in the 1920s then exploded in popularity in the 1930s, particularly for summer semi-formal wear. By the end of the decade tailors were selling as many midnight-blue tuxedos and tailcoats as they were black ones.   The swank hue remained fashionable throughout the 1940s and 1950s then faded away with the rise of coloured dinner jackets and tuxedos in the sixties and seventies.

The conservative renaissance of the 1980s restored much of black tie’s traditional styling but midnight blue remained a thing of the past, receiving only lip service in 1990s books on etiquette and classic men’s style. Today midnight-blue tuxedos are still unavailable from mainstream retailers but they appear to be making a comeback in upscale designer lines and men’s fashion magazines.  And with good reason.

In its heyday the colour was frequently described as “blacker than black” but it would be more accurate to say it’s darker and richer than black.  While black material absorbs the candlelight that illuminated nineteenth century evening functions it tends to reflect a greenish or greyish cast under artificial light.  A very dark blue, on the other hand, reflects a much more lush hue.

It also has the added advantage of looking attractive in the daylight when a man is on his way to an evening function whereas black looks drab and lifeless in such light (thus its association with funeral attire).

Although there is a historical precedent for midnight-blue lapel facings and bow ties, these tuxedos are more commonly enhanced with black trim and accessories (bow tie, waist covering).  This is likely due to the impracticality of finding silk of exactly the same hue as the suit material.  Socks, however, always match the trousers.  (Jacket buttons should also be blue.)

So if you find yourself in the fortunate position of ordering a custom tailored dinner suit you should seriously consider the midnight blue option.  It is a perfect method for imparting individual panache without compromising the understated refinement essential for truly elegant formal wear.

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Tip: Before judging the merits of midnight-blue tuxedo be sure to see the material in person.   Its actual hue is difficult to capture on film because the camera flash makes it look bluer than it would to the naked eye under dim evening light conditions.  This distortion is exaggerated even further in photos viewed on a bright computer screen.  The picture shown above is a rare example of a properly exposed depiction – click on it to see more examples.

20 Comments

  1. Peter Chong

    The biggest trouble I came across while trying to bespeak a midnight blue coat is the grosgrain is impossible to find in midnight npblue, and to these aging eyes, black grosgrain lapels don’t quite go with midnight blue coat.

    Reply
  2. Michael

    I’m considering a bespoked midnight blue tuxedo. What color should the lapel and button facings be? Should the bow tie and cummerbund match the facings?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Typically the lapel facings are black. All the other rules are the same as for black tuxedos: the bow tie and cummerbund should match the lapel facings and button coverings should be of the same material as the jacket.

      Reply
  3. Lax

    Hello, I have a question! I’m getting married in a few weeks, so time is limited. I am wearing a midnight blue, shawl collar tuxedo. The jacket is without vents. My fiancee insisted on buying me studs and cufflinks, and I have no idea what they look like (trust is a requirement of a successful marriage, and this is certainly testing that). I am now in a difficult position. I agree that an exposed waistband isn’t acceptable, especially with studs. I hesitate about wearing a cummerbund because the look seems outdated. A waistcoat does not seem to be viable as it is not part of the tuxedo I have. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      I’m not sure why you consider a cummerbund outdated but not a waistcoat as the former is actually a newer accessory than the latter. Your perception may be clouded by the tacky matching cummerbund/bow tie sets of the ’80s and ’90s. Check out The Black Tie Guide for lots of great examples of men looking very classy in proper black cummerbunds. You can always wear one just for the ceremony and photos then ditch it when the jacket comes off for dancing. It sure beats constantly worrying about whether your shirt navel is exposed every time you raise your arm slightly or tuck your hands in your pockets.

      Reply
      1. Lax

        Thank you for the advice! I’ll pursue the cummerbund. Is it important for the bowtie and cummerbund to be of the same cloth? I’m assuming that, aside from the tux itself, it may not be if both are black satin. Also, what is your opinion on diamond tipped bow ties? I did not see a mention of them on the Black Tie Guide. Are they are considered informal? Thank you sir!

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall

          The bow tie and cummerbund should have the same finish as the jacket lapels (e.g. satin) but certainly don’t have to be from the same piece of material. Pointed-end bow ties are discussed on the Classic Neckwear page in the Guide.

          Reply
          1. Lax

            Excellent, I appreciate the advice. Truly a great Guide you’ve put together, thank you for that.

  4. Lidia Nonn

    Just purchased the Burberry blue dinner suit (tux) for my hubby but what color dress do I wear? He hates it when we match (I love it). I’m blond . . ..

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      You should wear whatever colour flatters your complexion most. Then you’ll both look your best which is the whole point of dressing up.

      Reply
  5. Steve

    Hoping to get your thoughts on this particular style. I feel the blue lapel with the black trim is unique but I wanted to get your thoughts…thank you.

    http://www.indochino-review.com/2012/11/midnight-blue-tuxedo-review.html

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      I like the black-on-blue trim but the jacket’s two-button styling makes it too much like a suit jacket.

      Reply
      1. Steve

        Thanks for your thoughts. It is customizable and the one I will be getting is a single button, no vent jacket without the presence of the ticket (3rd) pocket.

        Reply
  6. Lax

    FYI I bought that exact tux (indochino) with similar style (except w. ticket pocket) based on Mr. Marshall’s suggestions. Love the tux.

    Reply
    1. Ben

      What is the color of the Indochino midnight blue like? I’m wanting to get it for my wedding in August, but am afraid to pull the trigger without actually seeing the color in person. I’m also having difficulty convincing my fiancee that midnight blue is just as timeless as black, and that the photos for our wedding won’t look ridiculous…

      Reply
      1. Lax

        Looks very much like the posts by Mr. Marshall, doesn’t look ridiculous at all. Definitely recommend it.

        Reply
  7. JK

    My wedding is a year away and I know that my finacee is going to make me match my tie and cummerbund to the wedding color. Right now she is pretty set on dark blue. I have a black Hickey Freeman made to order tux. If I go with a very dark blue tie and cummerbund, am I in the clear?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      The short answer is no. But while you’ll have many more opportunities to wear a tuxedo you’ll only have one chance to make your fiancée happy at her wedding. And she could have chosen a colour that was a lot worse . . .

      Reply
  8. chi

    Hi

    I’m wearing a slim fit midnight blue suit for my wedding, but having trouble on whether il use a bow tie or a neck tie. any hints? Thank you and more power!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      That all depends on whether you want to look like James Bond or an accountant. You can get a complete explanation of the differences between the two ties on the Contemporary Neckwear page of The Black Tie Guide.

      Reply

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