“Since the culmination of the dinner jacket’s final format in the late 1930s, nothing has improved upon the genius of its line or the refined aesthetics of its component furnishings. This does not mean that to own a dine tuxedo, one must have it cut or even tailored like those from the tuxedo’s heyday. It does mean that its modeling and detailing must respect the exquisite relationship of form and function that were worked out through collaboration of English tailors and shirtmakers with their fastidiously dressed customers of that stylish era.”

— Alan Flusser[1]

 

“‘For me, a tuxedo is a way of life.’”

—Frank Sinatra[2]

There are several styles of dinner jackets (as they’re called in England) or tuxedos (as they’re known in the US) that are considered classically elegant—no matter the occasion, no matter the year, no matter the season. A classic dinner jacket depends on the right combination of myriad elements: its construction, meaning whether it is single- or double-breasted, the number of buttons it uses, the style of its lapels, and the presence/number/type of vents included; the color of the jacket; and even the jacket’s most minute details, including the type and number of buttons on its sleeves, the style and placement of its pockets, and its lapel buttonhole. Finally, though no less importantly, we must consider the way the jacket is combined with other elements (for example, the harmony between your jacket’s lapels and your chosen waist covering) in order to create a complete formal look. Each of these elements is crucial to the overall appearance of a classically tailored dinner jacket, so each will be discussed individually in turn.

Construction

Buttons

According to most experts today, classic dinner jackets are acceptable in single- or double-breasted models[3]; however, some contend that single-breasted dinner jackets are more formal (e.g., Chenoune) or more acceptable altogether (e.g., Jones). Of course, many issues in the realm of formalwear “correctness” are contentious—perhaps surprisingly so! Given the majority opinion, I feel comfortable agreeing that either double- or single-breasted tuxedos are acceptable classic styles. The number of buttons deemed classically acceptable depends, of course, on whether you’ve chosen a single- or double-breasted jacket. For a single-breasted jacket, a single-button model is considered by many to be the most attractive style available, though two-buttoned single-breasted jackets can be equally elegant.[4] Please note that when wearing a single-breasted jacket with two buttons, the second button should be left undone. Single-breasted jackets with three buttons are also acceptable, and are worth considering especially for taller men. In this case as well, the last button should be left undone. Classic double-breasted tuxedo jackets have four buttons—two on each side.[5] In almost all cases, a double-breasted dinner jacket should not have more buttons than the classic four: the more buttons there are, the larger the expanse of double-layered fabric beneath, causing an appearance of excessive bulkiness. In addition, buttons that creep higher up the jacket can compromise the elegant deep-V appearance of a classic tuxedo jacket.[6] Remember that unlike single-breasted jackets, double-breasted models are meant to be kept buttoned at all times.[7] When deciding between these tried and tested classic models, it’s probably most important to base your decision on the type of jacket and number of buttons that looks best on you. (For more information on how to pick out the perfect dinner jacket for your body type, please see the “Sizing and Tailoring” section of our “How-To Guides.”)

Lapels

There are three main lapel styles for a dinner jacket: peaked lapels, notched lapels, or a shawl collar. Again, several traditionalists (e.g., Boyer, Bridges, Flusser, Gross) insist that notched lapels, with their business-suit origins, are unfit for formal attire. To quote Flusser, “A dinner jacket with notch lapels is a sartorial oxymoron […] Not only does this sportier coat lapel design lack the aesthetic logic and refinement required by formal wear, its casualness makes the rest of the ensemble look common and less dignified.”[8] However, others point to the notched lapel’s classic origins: the style came to prominence during the 1920s, and though it’s gone in and out of favor since then, its historical precedent during one of the US and Britain’s most stylish eras certainly gives the notched lapel some grounds for consideration. Dylan Jones, longtime editor of GQ, insists that the notch lapel is as stylish—and as classic—as either the peak lapel or the shawl collar.[9] Inspired by the collar of the more formal tailcoat, the peaked lapel is generally considered to be the most formal style of lapel available. For a classic look, peaked lapels can complement either a single- or double-breasted jacket, and they are always faced in silk—either satin for the emphasis of sheen, or grosgrain (a textured, matte silk) for a more subtle appearance.[10] Peaked lapels (on a single-breasted jacket, of course) naturally tend to go well with a waistcoat rather than a cummerbund, as the vest’s lower points echo the upper points of the lapel.[11] [caption id="attachment_202" align="aligncenter" width="243"]Bradley_Cooper_at_the_2013_Golden_Globe_Awards_(cropped) Bradley Cooper in Peak Lapel Tuxedo (photo credits to jdeeringdavis)[/caption] The shawl collar tends to portray a slightly more laid-back appearance, though it’s certainly no less classic or stylish than the peak—for example, this is the type of lapel traditionally used in the construction of the off-white dinner jackets popular in summer, on cruises, in warmer climes.[12] Like peaked lapels, shawl collars may be faced in satin or grosgrain silk and worn on single- or double-breasted jackets. On single-breasted jackets, shawl collars tend to go best with a cummerbund rather than a vest, as the curved design of both the collar and the cummerbund harmonize naturally.[13] [caption id="attachment_203" align="aligncenter" width="190"]shawl_lapel Hugh Jackman favors a shawl lapel tuxedo. (Photo credits to Eva Rinaldi)[/caption]

Vents

Generally, vents are discouraged on formal jackets: the original tuxedo was ventless, and the smooth, unbroken ventless design tends to be extremely slimming.[14] Though a single vent in back was customary in the dinner jacket’s equestrian-based inspiration, its sporting heritage can “compromise the intended formality of the tuxedo”: a single vent can cause the jacket to open up in back when you put your hands in your pockets, exposing trousers, waist covering (or lack thereof!), and even a bit of dress shirt.[15] Thus, back vents are only considered acceptable—though not typically recommended—on a classic single-breasted dinner jacket. Side vents, on the other hand, can be more comfortable when sitting; they also allow for more convenient access to one’s pockets. Still, side vents can add some bulk to the sides of the jacket that would be minimized by eliminating vents. Despite Alan Flusser’s general anti-vent stance, though, Dylan Jones advocates a small, single vent on a single-breasted tuxedo.[16] History cannot settle this issue, since the dinner jacket originated in vented equestrian apparel. Thus, like so many other formal wear questions, when it comes down to buying a vented or ventless garment, the deciding factor must be you. Determine how a vented vs. ventless dinner jacket looks on your body and how it goes with the rest of your apparel. Due to both sides’ extensive history and well-respected supporters, either way, the classicism and taste of your decision will not be questioned. Finally, please note that classic dinner jackets are constructed of barathea wool, generally with a silk lining.[17]

Colors

When putting together a contemporary look that best exhibits a man’s own personal style and aesthetic, you have more choices as far as color—even where the color of your dinner jacket itself is concerned. However, for a truly classic look, there are really only two dinner jacket colors that are acceptable: black (with black facings and accents) or midnight blue (usually with black facings and accents as well).[18] It’s interesting to note that even midnight blue jackets used to be controversial. They were originally popularized by the Duke of Windsor due to their vastly improved appearance under artificial light. Though true black fabric tends to look washed out under artificial light—even coming across as slightly sickly green in tone—midnight blue fabric remains rich in hue and is otherwise barely distinguishable from black.[19] Since it is difficult to find silk or grosgrain to perfectly match the barathea wool of your midnight blue jacket, however, black lapel facings, button covers, trouser stripes, and so on are usually the go-to even with midnight blue jackets.[20] Some midnight blue dinner jackets even have additional black accents—e.g., piping around the lapels—for emphasis.

Details

Finally, even if every major component just discussed is perfect, the details of your classic dinner jacket can truly make or break your ensemble. Elements such as buttons, trim, trouser piping, etc., should always use the same fabric as your lapels’ facing (or a similar fabric—something with sheen for satin lapels; something matte for grosgrain lapels).[21] In addition to the buttons on the front of your jacket (discussed previously), your classic dinner jacket should have exactly four buttons along the end of each sleeve before your shirt’s cuff[22]—these buttons, too, should be covered in the relevant fabric. Your dinner jacket should have besom pockets and no flaps,[23] creating the smoothest, sleekest, slimmest line available. (Besom describes a style of pocket that has been cut into the garment rather than adding on additional fabric and creating unwanted bulk.) Finally, your dinner jacket should come with a working lapel buttonhole (assuming peak or notch lapels, that is, as shawl collars tend not to have buttonholes).[24] This detail ensures that you’ll be able to wear a boutonniere correctly: inserting the flower into the buttonhole (maybe, even, into a small vase of water hidden behind the working buttonhole to keep your flower fresh all night long[25]). After all, every expert agrees that pinning a buttonhole flower to the outside of your jacket is downright sophomoric—not elegant, and certainly not classic.[26] [caption id="attachment_201" align="aligncenter" width="261"]398px-Tom_Ford_2009_-_2 (1) Tom Ford at 2009 Venice Film Festival by Nicogenin[/caption]   When putting together your classic black tie attire, keep in mind that, “While leaving some room for judicious experimentation, the dinner jacket, or tuxedo, is actually a uniform, and if one observes a few ground rules, the look is difficult to screw up (although plenty of guys manage to do so).”[27] As long as you follow the above ground rules, you’ll have no trouble deciding on a timeless dinner jacket that a) exudes classic elegance regardless of season or time period, and b) looks best on you, transforming you into a sophisticated gentleman—for a few hours, at the very least! [1] Quoted in Chenoune, 302. [2] Quoted in Gross. [3] Boyer, Bridges, Flusser (2002, 1996, 1985); Gross. [4] Jones, 200. [5] Flusser (2002). [6] Chenoune. [7] Flusser (1985). [8] Flusser (1996), 76-77. [9] Jones, 200. [10] Gross, 179. [11] Flusser (1996), 80. [12] Gross, 186. [13] Flusser (1996), 79. [14] Flusser (1996), 77-78. [15] Ibid., 78. [16] Jones, 200. [17] Ibid. [18] Boyer, Bridges, Flusser, Gross. [19] Flusser (1996), 76. [20] Flusser; Gross. [21] Boyer; Bridges; Flusser (2002). [22] Flusser. [23] Boyer; Flusser. [24] Angeloni. [25] Ibid. [26] Angeloni, Boyer, Bridges, Chenoune, Flusser, Gross, Laver. [27] Gross, 178.