Dude, Where’s My Jacket?


Stripping down at the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview.
(Black Tie Guide)

You know that guy at a formal party who takes off his jacket the first chance he gets?

Don’t be that guy.

At least not beyond high school.  Boys can be forgiven for doffing their coats at formal teenage parties, partly because it’s a practical choice when dancing up a storm and partly because it’s understood that at this age a suit is a largely foreign concept.  Teenage males typically fail to grasp that a suit’s jacket is an integral half of a two-piece outfit that visually connects the wearer’s lower and upper body into a unified whole, thus imparting a sense of stature and height.  Instead, they view it as an arbitrary formality like the necktie, one that simply provides protection against the elements on the way to and from an event.  In fact, they may well consider such a dressy garment as being inappropriate at a formal table where the messy activity of eating takes place.

But at some point you’ve got to grow up because the adolescent behaviour of your teen years isn’t quite so tolerable when you carry it into your 30s.   Just as you are reasonably expected to eat without soiling your clothes, you are also expected to realize that formal attire is  a skilfully integrated outfit, not a random assortment of individual pieces to be discarded at will.


A father of the bride speaking at a wedding.  Wearing only half of his suit suggests less of an esteemed patriarch and more of a waylaid waiter or prize-fight referee. (flckr)

Another mark of the passage into maturity is be the evolution from juvenile self-centeredness to adult consideration for others.  With this in mind, consider that the people hosting formal affairs go to great lengths and expense to create an exceptional evening for their guests.  Furthermore, guests attend the events – often at a significant cost – and dress in a befitting manner because they want to share in this specialness.  Therefore, when you decide to strip down like you were in some sort of formal locker room your actions disrespect the hosts and diminish the experience for the rest of the guests.

For example, imagine that a couple has spent hundreds of dollars for pair of tickets to a swank gala.  They arrive at the event to behold the dazzling sight of thousands of glamorously dressed guests sipping champagne and happily mingling about a ritzy venue.  Then they stumble across this guy:


This is the same man seen in the picture at the top of the page where he is perched conspicuously on a flight of stairs. (Detroit Free Press)

Presto: the sophisticated atmosphere has just been dialled down to the level of a college grad bash.

Or here’s another scenario: A person has paid handsomely for a cruise on an upscale line renowned for its elegance.  It may even be one of those cruise lines that goes so far as to explain to passengers that on designated formal nights they are expected to remain properly attired for the duration of the evening, not just until the dishes are cleared away.  On said formal night the person marvels at the beautifully decorated dining room with handsomely attired fellow guests enjoying professional service, fine wine, and delectable food.  Then these guys are spotted at the next table:


Cruise passengers on formal night, under the mistaken impression that “formal” is just “casual” with a bow tie. (flckr)

Voilà: the formal dinner now resembles more of a wait staff party.

Don’t be these guys.

Sure, your fellow guests may smile politely and pretend not to notice but the fact of the matter is that you you are the visual equivalent of fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard.

And for what purpose?  Short of providing the fairer sex with protection from excessive air-conditioning, or finding yourself on the verge of a heatstroke, there is no excuse for discarding your tuxedo jacket.  (Even in the case of the latter, there’s no reason you can’t step outside instead.)  After all, if comfort trumps consideration then why stop with the jacket?  You’ll feel even cooler with your tie undone and collar unbuttoned.  Has that good food got you feeling stuffed?  Go ahead and pop open that waistband.  Are your dogs barking?  Ditch the shoes.

And speaking of shoes, don’t think you’re off the hook, ladies.

Traditionally, the strongest argument for gentlemen to remain fully clothed at a formal function (as if there even needs to be an argument for such a thing) was to rise to the level of the ladies who were doing the same.  Recently, however, women have been negating that rationale by swapping their shoes for house slippers handed out at some black-tie events:


Lowering the bar at the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview. (Detroit Free Press)

Ta-da: the transition from adult soirée to teenage prom night is complete.

Clearly most of the blame for this particular trend lies with the hosts that offer this sartorial downgrade possible in the first place.  (They’d do better to offer private lounge areas instead.)  But the ladies receiving the offer have a choice of whether to take the high road or descend to the level of the jacketless frat boys.  If they’ve had the foresight to shop for comfortable dress shoes (and there’s plenty of options) then they’ll have no need to discard them in the first place.  If they insist on fashion over comfort then the onset of sore feet should not be a signal to start undressing.  Rather, it should be taken as a sign that it’s time to make your goodbyes and head home where you can dress down to your heart’s content.  This way you’ll enjoy maximum comfort while your fellow guests continue to enjoy maximum elegance.

Whether male or female, the principle is the same: show a little sophistication and consideration and everyone wins.


  1. Steve Harrison

    Excellent. I am NOT that guy!

  2. Duncan Pike

    This is precisely why we didn’t offer a basket of flip flops at our wedding. There was going to be grass, so we indicated this to our guests, and suggested flats as the best choice of ladies’ footwear. For those that would prefer choose fashion first, we also let them know that the grass could be avoided, if they wanted to wear heels. Of course, that would have been done at great personal sacrifice, as it turned out to prevent access to the gelato cart.

  3. wdwright77

    I will agree with you,Peter. Taking off your tuxedo jacket at an affair looks absolutely tacky. I was taught and have always believed that if a man leaves the house dressed up including a tie (or bow tie) he returns that way. In the case of a Black Tie affair, there is no excuse after you’re past 18 for taking off your jacket when in public, or loosening your bow tie and letting it hang loose. A man goes to a lot of work to get dressed up and he should enjoy the idea of being dressed up from the time he leaves for the event to the time he arrives back home, usually in the wee hours where he, upon closing his door, can untie his bow and do what he likes-usually getting ready to go to bed from a very nice affair-but until he’s back home, he should remain fully dressed, and that includes a tightly tied bow tie and tux jacket on him, not on a chair. It just looks tacky otherwise.

    1. CharlesM

      I fully agree. This posting has me wondering, however, why the exception for teenagers, or under 18s.

      I recall my high school prom, admittedly a half-century ago, which was looked upon as an essential rite of passage into the adult world, and consequently adult demeanor was expected. No one would have thought of removing their jackets, or anything else for that matter, male or female.

      It now seems the reverse is true, where an allegedly adult event is looked upon by some as an excuse to revert to teenage behavior (if in fact they ever grew out of it) and in some cases downright vulgarity.

      How did this state of affairs come about? How did expectations get turned on their heads?

      1. Peter Marshall

        I wonder that too. If fathers are acting like boys then who’s going teach their sons to act like men?

        1. wdwright77

          Peter, I don’t know about this generation’s fathers, but I believe ours were fairly firm about what they expected from us. In my own case, I know mine basically was the type that if I left the house dressed up, I’d darn well better return that way.
          Later on, as I got the Formal wear bug, he was sort of dismayed that I wanted to wear tuxedos all of the time, but he compromised and allowed me to wear my tuxedo shirts with regular suits. It worked, but I think what really got him was when I was in my late teens to my early 20’s I had the powder blue and ivory tuxedos, as well as the hideous tangerine one. He basically wrote me off as a fashion disaster, but it wasn’t until three years before he died that he actually took me at my best and bought a tuxedo of his own. He had to have sit for Lodge meetings as well as snooty dinner club meetings he and mom belonged to. I was shocked the first time, but it brought me down to earth, so much so I immediately invested in a Black tuxedo with all the proper accessories and have never looked back. Basically, I change when my body size changes and it’s only happened three times. After getting rid of the ruffled shirts and the colored tuxedos, I can say for sure that Black is the only color I truly will wear for a tuxedo unless it’s summer, then it’s white. But nothing else unless sit’s accessories related.

      2. wdwright77

        I also recall my Prom. I know I did a few things wrong, like asking the girl I wanted to go with at total last minute, and not giving her the ticket afterwards (for which she shamed me greatly in the school paper); but I did do a lot of things right, like taking her to dinner and above all, wearing a properly trimmed out BLACK velvet tuxedo with a properly tied bow tie of velvet and a satin cummerbund with proper tuxedo trousers. I also did not remove any of the outfit until I was again home. Training me in this was my father who would have shuddered at the idea of removing anything. Also, belonging to a Masonic youth group where tuxedos were required for our meetings helped a great deal, and you wouldn’t believe the number of guys that took their tux jackets off there. But not me. Despite being surrounded by color and wearing ruffled shirts (and yes I was guilty of it too) most times when formally dressing, Prom was the one event where I wore a proper studded French Cuff dress shirt starched heavy. The reaction was one of great shock and disbelief, especially from the jocks, who leaned heavily on colored tuxedos-powder blue being a favorite as well as lime green (ugh!)-as they had never expected to see me this well dressed. Faculty also was amazed and all night long the girl and I got a ton of complements. But the best part was the next Monday when I heard, “Why didn’t you wear your tux?

      3. wdwright77

        I suspect much has to do with the advent of ‘Hollywood Black Tie” many years ago. Seems that today’s student follows the lead of the Hollywood star, so hence the absence of the Bow Tie for many years and the donning of the long tie. Fortunately, like things that tend to be stylish one day and gone the next, the Bow Tie has regained its rightful place with Black Tie and a lot of male students love wearing them. The bow tie whether for a tux or not has always been the required piece of neck wear for me. Along with French Cuffs on my dress shirts. That said, I do believe the answer truly is that the fashionistas tell people what is hot and the rest of us (well not all of us) follow suit, Is it right? Only each of us in his way can answer that.

      4. Jared

        The opposite is now true. I graduated high school in 2000 and I can tell you that I was literally only one of a very few (if not the only one at one point!) that kept my jacket on. I kept my dinner jacket on the entire night and yet still managed to dance and have fun. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t now.

  4. CK Berntsen

    Even worse when it’s a white tie event. Putting your coat on the back of the chair also gives the floor a good sweeping, and is guaranteed to trip up a waiter or two.

    1. wdwright77

      I do so agree with you on this one! Owning a tail suit in addition to my tuxedos, I do wear it on several occasions and to be without the jacket seems like it would be a cardinal sin. After all, who wants to look at a bare back of white with a vest strap running at the waist. The extra length of the tail suit also will get dirty a lot faster. The best recourse if dressing this formally is to leave the tail suit on, thus keeping it clean. If you cannot do that, then you better ask yourself why you even came to the affair at all. I will guarantee though that the girlfriend or the wife will not be happy, or should it be the other way, your partner especially if like me he is a formal wear lover. Best advice: Put your sort and accessories on, put the suit on, leave it on until you come back home.

    2. Anonymous

      Being “white tie” basically an assembled attire will look even worse. So the only way to look awesome is to keep everything in place.
      BTW, with the permission of Peter, i would like to share my boards at pinterest (one of white tie). Follow them if you want:

  5. Peter Marshall

    (Post author)

    Just as removing your shoes would not be made more acceptable by keeping your socks on, the propriety of discarding your jacket has nothing to do with what’s worn beneath it.

    1. Arnianor

      Thanks for this answer to someone else’s question about the acceptableness of removing a jacket if you have a waiscoat. It might be “old”, but still very usefull.
      Could I suggest to have this precious information put somewhere more visible, such as the directly in the classic black-tie section ?
      The reason I make this suggestion is easy:
      for people like me, who never were taught those rules (I’ve seen company directors removing their jacket for comfort, at work or any other occasion, all my life, to illustrate the “how could I know better”), it is a really easy to do mistake; after all “I’m still dressed in more than just a shirt, and colour continuity is still here” sounds like a logical assessment. And I must say, for the people willing to learn the rules and having to do this by personnal research, this specific information is difficult to find, and maybe not made clear enough in more visible sections.

      1. Peter Marshall

        (Post author)

        I actually do mention it on the Classic Tuxedos page in a sidebar called “Formal Stripping”.


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