Dressing For The Occasion: Black Tie – Part One
Tuxedo, dinner suit, black tie, cravat noir… Call it what you will, this formal code of dress is probably the smartest ensemble most modern men are expected to don during their sartorial career.
With a lack of regular occasions to wear black tie nowadays, many younger gents may be unfamiliar with the art of effectively executing the look.
In the United Kingdom, the tailored component of a black tie ensemble is known as a dinner suit. The name is self-explanatory; it was your uniform at the dinner table, and evolved as a more casual alternative to white tie (tailcoats and all).
Black tie was exclusively an evening dress code, and remains so. Six o’clock or when darkness fell (whichever occurred first) was your cue to don your dinner suit.
We’re all familiar with the look of a tuxedo (US vernacular) from black and white films, but how do you put this look together and what are the finer details of its component parts?
With party season upon us, we examine how today’s gent can approach this distinct area of formal wear, and how this traditional form of dress has evolved to cement its place in the menswear wardrobe of today…
The first item to begin with is the jacket. This should be made from pure wool and is traditionally jet-black. Midnight blue also looks rather fetching and is ideal for gents who are more inclined to make a statement; this tone appears ‘blacker than black’ under artificial light, and was particularly favoured by the always dapper Duke of Windsor in the thirties.
Burgundy has also made a return to the black tie sphere, with a number of design-led brands utilising the rich shade in recent collections, including Swedish label Acne and British stalwart Reiss. Whilst this may be stepping into smoking jacket territory, this modern twist on black tie is most definitely worth considering.
The white dinner jacket was created for tropical climes, and as such, should remain there – it looks distinctly out of place in the damp and dark surrounds of Europe.
Single-Breasted vs Double-Breasted
The most common dinner jacket in use today is the black, single-breasted variety, finished with satin lapels. Double-breasted, first made popular in the twenties and thirties, has begun to make a return to the wardrobe spotlight along with velvet, which made a louche mark on black tie dressing during the 1970s.
Both double-breasted and velvet jackets offer a plush alternative to standard black wool single-breasted jackets, and can look refreshingly modern if executed correctly.
For gents inclined to pay tribute to tradition, try a jacket with barathea silk lapels instead of standard silk or satin. This matte, textured silk was the traditional material used to finish lapels up until the 1960s, when synthetic satins and lustrous silks began to take precedence.
If you really want to go the whole hog on the heritage route, you could also source a pre-1960s dinner jacket, and have a reputable tailor alter it for a more contemporary fit. These should be easily sourced from vintage suppliers in major cities or online.
Peak lapels are the most traditional style of collar for dinner jackets. More formal than the everyday notch lapel, it culminates in a high, distinguished point. Shawl collars are also a polished alternative and will make you stand out at a black tie function amongst a sea of peak lapels.
Some great labels to explore for dinner jackets include Reiss, The Darcy Clothing Company, Hackett, Ede and Ravenscroft, Richard James and Austin Reed, which offer a wide range of cuts and colours to suit every discerning dresser:
- AUSTIN REED SLIM FIT NAVY TUXEDO JACKET
- REISS MAYFAIR PEAK LAPEL DINNER SUIT BLACK
- ALLSAINTS ARDMORE TUXEDO JACKET
- MOSS BROS REGULAR FIT SATIN SHAWL COLLAR DINNER/TUXEDO JACKET BLACK
- SAVILE ROW INSPIRED PURE NEW WOOL 1 BUTTON EVENING SUIT
- AUSTIN REED NAVY DOUBLE BREASTED DRESSWEAR JACKET
- SLIM FIT DINNER SUIT JACKET
- SIGNATURE BLACK TAILORED FIT TUXEDO SUIT: JACKET
- BLACK WOOL DOUBLE BREASTED DINNER JACKET
- ALEXANDER MCQUEEN NAVY VELVET SLIM-FIT TUXEDO JACKET
- ACNE GRANT SLIM-FIT VELVET TUXEDO JACKET
- RICHARD JAMES BURGUNDY WOOL AND MOHAIR-BLEND TUXEDO