When Formal Attire is Required
The invitation might have read: “You’re invited to dinner this evening at our home. It will be small group of family and friends, so one of your dinner jackets will be sufficient attire.” Really? Yep! Believe it or not, it wasn’t so long ago, just four generations or less, when a man of some means and class would have been considered too casually dressed to be seen in public after 6pm (or when it got dark) if he were merely wearing what we call a Tuxedo or Dinner Jacket. Shoot, these days you barely need a jacket of any sort at most places. Culture has caved!
Up through the Edwardian age, proper men wore tailcoats all the time and especially for evening dress. The exceptions would have been settings or for events which were considered informal, such as dinner at home with family and friends. The “tail” didn’t really come off coat as a norm, regardless of the setting, until after WWI when a new wave of democratization and a greater appreciation for comfort began to take hold. According to Vogue’s Book of Etiquette from 1925 (thank you Black Tie Guide), A dinner-jacket used to be the sign of extreme informality in the evening. A man might put it on for dinner at home and change it for a dress-coat if he went to the opera or a dance afterward. Now it has become so usual an evening garment that, except on most ceremonious occasions, most young men wear it habitually.
Admittedly…..for better or worse (mostly better in my estimation)….the world has changed more than just a little since that era. Today, full formal dress is exceedingly rare and Tuxedos and Dinner Jackets are mostly worn for specific and special occasions. A few settings and occasions still require one to abide by a strict set of rules. If you’ve been invited to such an event, you will either know it by instinct or the invitation will be explicitly clear. Beyond that, why not put your own personal spin on “getting all dressed up?”
What style of formal jacket should you choose or do you prefer? The elegant, long lines of a peak lapel? The jaunty, rakish, and less formal shawl lapel? Or perhaps the more conventional notch lapel? They all have their place.
What color tuxedo? Traditional black? Can’t go wrong with that. Sophisticated Midnight navy? Great choice for you guys who are under the lights, on camera.
Once you have the fundamentals of formal covered, consider innovative formal options such as a velvet (velour) jacket or a white dinner jacket. Both styles are on the rise again. The White Dinner Jacket is a classic alternative to the more standard tuxedo for HOT weather – summertime in the southern United States (south of the Mason Dixon) – especially in settings like country clubs and yacht clubs, and the Tropics most anytime. It is among the least formal of formal options, so it was historically worn on cruises and as resort wear dating back to the 1930’s. Bogart wore an iconic version in Casablanca and James Bond has worn it in most every Bond film, so what’s stopping you?
Note: A white dinner jacket is not formal wear for the City. It has it’s time and place.
The velvet jacket is a great choice for holiday season alternative formal, especially for formal entertaining at home, or for wearing out to private parties or for dinner and drinks. Whether paired with formal slacks or your favorite dark jeans, give this one a try this season.
Dress Up to Go Up!