When an invitation reads Black Tie, Black Tie Optional, Evening Wear or Dinner Jacket, that means you wear a tuxedo. Traditionally that means a black or midnight blue tuxedo, and to help you look your best in a tuxedo, we created a 60+ page Tuxedo & Black Tie Guide and Video.
However, you also have the option to wear a contrasting Dinner jacket. In this guide, you will learn the differences, the options you have, the mistakes you should avoid and anything else you want to know about the dinner jacket, so you’ll look awesome in your next evening event.
When an invitation reads black tie, formal attire, or evening attire, usually that means you wear a tuxedo and black tie. Black tie means black bow tie, never black necktie. To learn more about the general dress codes, please check out our in-depth dress code primer . If you want to stand out in a stylish way, the dinner jacket is the perfect way to go.
What is a Dinner Jacket?
Basically, in Great Britain a dinner jacket is a matching or non-matching jacket worn with black tie. I can be black, midnight blue or any other color.
However, this terminology can be quite confusing as it refers to a regular tuxedo as well as contrasting jackets. Therefore, we refer to a dinner jacket as a non-black or non-midnight blue jacket, it can be off-white or burgundy or it can have different patterns. Of course, other colors such as blue, bottle green, or purple work as well. The sky is the limit.
What isn’t a Dinner Jacket?
The smoking jacket was invented because men after dinner, would wear it on top of their tuxedo or dinner jacket and they would go to the smoking lounge and smoke. The smoking jacket was supposed to keep the smoke from the evening wear that you would wear every day. Today, smoking jackets are often used as house jackets. They usually have frog toggle closures, they’re cut a little longer and roomier because they go on top of the jacket.
While it’s a great garment to be worn at home, it’s not a substitute for a dinner jacket.
This has origins from the body coat or an evening tail coat, but it doesn’t have the tails. Just like a tailcoat, it has a double-breasted silhouette, it’s open, it’s not buttoned, and the back usually has a pointed middle end. You hardly see those anymore today, and usually, they’re only a part of a circus costume or maybe aboard a cruise ship but even then, it’s usually worn by the crew or the entertainment team, not by the guests.
Dinner Jacket Options
Off-white/Egg shell/Ecru Dinner Jacket
It is usually worn in hotter tropical climates or aboard a cruise ship. It’s never pure white because you want a slight contrast to the dress shirt which is in fact, white. While this jacket is double-breasted, you can also have it single- breasted, however, the defining feature is that, it has a shawl collar. Every once in a while, you find off-white dinner jackets with a peak lapel. Usually, those are cheaper versions that are not very refined, and I would stay clear of them.
Also, never wear a notched lapel with a dinner jacket because it’s contrary to the formal character of this garment. Unlike a regular tuxedo jacket, the lapels are not faced with silk.. they’re simply made out of the same material. Sometimes, you can find off-white dinner jacket with black faced satin lapels, I would not get those because it’s simply historically incorrect to wear that.
The only dinner jacket that I’ve ever seen with lapel facings that looked actually good or historically correct was the one from Harry S. Truman, it had kind of a beige champagne colored silk, and it was with peak lapels. Now, those are only found from bespoke tailors today, and you cannot find those off the rack really. If you want to stay on the safe side, opt for a shawl collar.
Because these off-white dinner jackets are worn in hot, tropical climates, they’re oftentimes made from a tropical, worsted wool or sometimes a linen or silk blend, something that’s airy with an open weave and lightweight. Often, they also don’t have a lining, and they can be quite see-through. Since you pair them with regular black tuxedo pants with the side galon, I suggest you check out if it shows through, otherwise, it’s not a good garment to buy because if you see it through, it’s not elegant.
Unlike most double-breasted suits which have 6 buttons, 2 of which can be buttoned, a dinner jacket usually has 4 buttons. Classically, it features no vents for a slim look, and it has jetted pockets because it’s more elegant than flap pockets. You also want a buttonhole in the shawl collar so you can add a boutonniere which looks particularly dapper.
In terms of the trimmings, you want to go with mother of pearl buttons because they have a nice sheen to them and sometimes you can find turn-ups or cuffs. Apart from that, you wear the dinner jacket with all the same accessories and things you would your regular tuxedo. That means, you have a tuxedo shirt with a pleated front, you can have studs just like the way I do, or you can have a hidden fly just like here.
For single-breasted dinner jackets, you wear a cummerbund but never a vest or a waistcoat because they’re meant for hot climates and the extra layer will just make you overheat.
You want to go with a pocket square, however, skip the plain white one as it’s just too close but not the same color and so go for something a little more contrasting.
For your pants, you want that side galon, they can be black, they can be midnight blue, and then you want opera pumps in patent leather or capless black oxfords.
Because you don’t have a faced lapel, you can really play with textures of your bow ties. You can go for a wide ribbed grosgrain, a barathea, or you can have satin, or regular grosgrain, or moire. To learn more about black bow ties, and what you can choose, please check out our guide here.
Velvet Dinner Jacket
Dinner jackets are usually made of silk velvet which was plush and very nice. Today, most jackets are made of cotton velvet, but they can still be very nice. It can be single or double-breasted.
In terms of color, I suggest you stick with darker colors because as it stands, a dinner jacket is different from the norm and it’s brighter so if you go really bright, you can be seen from a hundred yards away. As you know, being elegant doesn’t always mean being the most flashy person in a room.
If you get the single breasted velvet dinner jacket, you can opt for a shawl collar or a peak lapel, never a notched lapel because it’s too informal. For the same reason, you want to avoid 2 or 3 buttons as well as flap pockets. It also has no vents, and you want to avoid a center vent because again, it’s too informal.
Maybe you want to have side vents if you stand a lot and have your hands in your pocket otherwise, go without vents.
Instead of mother of pearl buttons that are dark or gray, you can also go with cloth covered buttons just like here. The one I’m wearing here right now is a mix of burgundy and brown. I opted for mother of pearl buttons as well as turn ups, and I made it a little fun by choosing a lining in a turquoise color. It actually goes quite well with my wallet.
In terms of accessories and shoes, everything we discussed to choose for the off-white dinner jacket also applies to the velvet dinner jacket. However, some people wear velvet Albert slippers with their velvet dinner jacket, I suggest you only do that when you’re at home because it’s more casual and it’s perfect within your own four walls but not really when you’re at a public event.
Sometimes, if you want to mix it up and don’t want to go with a black bow tie, people also go with something in burgundy, or maybe a yellow or buff, while that’s okay for casual events, I wouldn’t suggest wearing it when the event is specifically black tie.
if you want to add a touch of color, add a boutonniere, or a pocket square that’s contrasting.
Brocade Dinner Jacket
It is the same thing as a jacquard weave which means a woven pattern. It’s somewhat subtle but because of its color, it really stands out and it’s very close to an off-white dinner jacket. However, because it’s not, it has dark faced silk lapels and buttons with a shawl collar and of course, jetted pockets.
You can see here the pockets are contrasting just to create an additional contrast and to create something different. Instead of buttons, you sometimes see them with frog toggles . However, I think those are better suited to smoking jackets and I would stick with buttons.
Tartan Dinner Jacket
It can be a black watch tartan which is navy and green, or sometimes you find it with red, black, green, and yellow, especially during Christmas time, and usually you find them from Ralph Lauren.
They also come with black silk facing and overall, they’re very bold and maybe if you are from Scotland or if you have some relation to tartan it makes sense, otherwise it’s a very special, unique item that you probably won’t get too much wear out of.
Boldly Patterned Dinner Jacket
In my opinion, they are over the top because they are literally outstanding and in this case, they also have a navy blue facing which is made out of cotton, and it is less shiny than silk, but the problem is, now you need to find a bow tie that matches the lapel otherwise, you have black. Black and navy blue are not a good combination.They’re simply too similar but not the same, and it just looks odd.
If you wear this jacket for a party, or for a creative black tie, it’s totally fine and probably perfect because it stands out. For regular black tie events, it’s a little too loud.
Vintage Dinner Jackets
The difficulty with buying vintage dinner jackets is that oftentimes, they’re stained especially when they’re off-white, and the cuts are sometimes also quite interesting and different than what you usually see. So, you have to try it on to figure out if it fits you or not. Be cautious when buying online vintage dinner jackets.
Where should you buy dinner jackets?
Basically, that’s up to you but you can find them at bespoke tailors or custom tailors, they’ll be able to make you one. of course, that’ ll cost a little more. Alternatively, places like Ralph Lauren are known to have them every once in a while, especially, during the holiday season. Otherwise, I found that the company Gagliardi from Malta has dinner jackets on regular occasions. Usually, they switch them out every year, you may never find the exact same one, so if you find something you like, get it! They’re usually quite affordable so even if you wear them just a few times, the cost per wear is not extremely high.