Contemporary Tuxedos (Dinner Suits)

President Obama in a notched lapel, two button tuxedo

 Jacket Model and Style

The Rules:

  • jackets can be single- or double-breasted
  • one button is traditional for single-breasted models but two buttons are becoming acceptable
Casey Affleck in a Louis Vuitton 2 button peaked lapel tuxedo

Casey Affleck in a Louis Vuitton 2 button peaked lapel tuxedo

Two-Button Single-Breasted

The single-breasted model remains the most popular type of tuxedo jacket and its classic one-button interpretation is still the most formal.  A modern variation is the two-button version based on business suit styling.  When constructed with traditional detailing and paired with conventional accessories it can be somewhat successful at mimicking the classic dinner jacket.  Conversely, dressing it down with notched lapels (the most common lapel on two-button models), flap pockets, a long tie, and exposed waist will draw attention to the style’s pedestrian pedigree.

The rule for fastening the bottom button of contemporary dinner jackets is the same as for standard suit jackets: leave it undone.

A 3 button notch lapel tuxedo makes you look like a peasant

A 3 button notch lapel tuxedo makes you look like a peasant

Three-Button Single-Breasted

This turn-of-the-millennium fad is a great way to ruin a tuxedo.  See Contemporary Alternatives for all the morbid details.

Ralph Lauren Black Label 6x2 dinner jacket in velvet

Ralph Lauren Black Label 6×2 dinner jacket in velvet

Six-Button Double-Breasted

A 4×1 button configuration, meaning 4 buttons with one that is actually buttoned, is a classic standard for double-breasted jackets but the six-button variation has been the contemporary standard since the 1980s.  It comes as a 6×2 version with two closing buttons or the 6×1 version which works particularly well for evening wear because it exposes more of the tuxedo shirt front. At the same time it created a longer lapel line an it makes the lapel appear bigger.

Ralph Lauren in his 6x1 double breasted tuxedo with huge peaked lapels

Ralph Lauren in his 6×1 double breasted tuxedo with huge peaked lapels

The buttons can be arranged in informal wear’s traditional keystone pattern (the top pair further apart than the other pairs) usually fastening with the middle and/or bottom buttons, or in a trapezoid pattern (converging vertical rows) first popularized in the eighties and always buttoning at the bottom.  Most often paired with a peaked lapel, the double-breasted 6 button model remains an essentially classic look, albeit slightly busier than its four-button predecessor.

Two button DB navy velvet dinner jacket with shawl collar by Zaremba bespoke

Two button DB navy velvet dinner jacket with shawl collar by Zaremba bespoke

Two-Button Double-Breasted

The two-button double-breasted dinner jacket has made sporadic appearances ever since the 1920s.  It provides much the same look as six- or four-button models that close with the bottom button but without the extra clutter of those more traditional choices.

Notched Lapels – Better Reserved For Suits

The Rules:

  • shawl and peaked lapels are the most traditional
  • notched lapel tuxedos make you look very pedestrian

David Letterman, Garry Shandling, Jay Leno, Johnny Carson all in notched lapel tuxedos in 1988

The notch lapel gained widespread popularity in the 1980s and is now the most common option on (single-breasted) dinner jackets.  It has been endorsed by reputable dressers such as George Clooney and is offered by some of the most conservative menswear designers including the esteemed Brooks Brothers. Despite all this, it is incongruous with evening wear.

Unlike the peak lapel which imports the tailcoat’s formality and the shawl collar which channels the smoking jacket’s relaxed elegance, the notch lapel originated on the common day suit and brings nothing to the dinner jacket but a functional banality.

Denis Villeneuve with notched lapel 2 button tuxedo and no cummerbund but nice bow tie and interesting oxfords

Denis Villeneuve with notched lapel 2 button tuxedo and no cummerbund but nice bow tie and interesting oxfords

In fact, it is this very blandness that makes the notch so appealing to inexperienced young men as a 2008 GQ endorsement of the lapel inadvertently reveals: “When in doubt, go with a notch lapel.  Less of a statement than a shawl or a peak, it essentially mimics a conventional suit jacket and looks right on just about anyone.”  In other words, if you are unfamiliar with proper formal wear and too timid to try it out then this dreadful alternative will keep you in your comfort zone but you might as well just wear a regular suit.  Advice such as this fosters the mistaken impression among young men that a tuxedo is simply a black suit with shiny lapels and explains why the notch is so often found on two-button jackets and paired with an ordinary style of a necktie.

Navy dinner jacket with notched lapels and no cummerbund - avoid

Navy dinner jacket with notched lapels and no cummerbund – avoid

The notch lapel’s aesthetics don’t fare much better especially in light of their pronounced effect thanks to their shiny facing.  Whereas the peak lapel creates an unbroken line that sweeps the eye up from the jacket’s narrow waist to its broad shoulders, the notch interrupts that line and leaves the eye stranded at mid-chest.  Worse still, on wide lapels it draws the eye down towards the side, suggesting stooped shoulders.

This midnight blue jacket features lapels faced in black grosgrain silk.

This midnight blue jacket features lapels faced in black grosgrain silk.

Jacket Fabric

The Rules:

  • black wool is the norm
  • midnight blue is equally correct

To paraphrase Henry Ford, contemporary dinner suits are acceptable in any color you want as long as it’s black.  While rental shops offer all-white tuxedos as well as jackets of various other hues, they are the exclusive domain of weddings and proms and are very rarely seen at grown-up functions.  The same goes for patterned suits, even if the pattern is black-on-black.

Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in Mohair Blend Tuxedo

Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in Mohair Blend Tuxedo

High-end designers have been offering wool and cashmere blends since the 1980s and mohair blends since the ‘50s, both of which are soigné enough to honor black tie’s basic principles.  Even classicist Alan Flusser advocates the dulled sheen of baby mohair and fine worsted wool as “one of the few tasteful exceptions to the rule that normally consigns shiny clothes to the parvenu side of the tracks.”

Jacket Finishes

Fancy Trimming

The Rules:

  • lapels have satin or grosgrain facings

Lapels are typically faced entirely in silk but there is a legitimate precedent for some swank variations.  When facings first began appearing on tailcoats in the nineteenth century, they would often extend only as far as the buttonhole so that they were framed by a band of the coat’s material.  This style remained a legitimate option for full dress up until the 1930s.  Fancy lapels returned to formal wear in the 1960s but this time on dinner jackets instead of tailcoats and with a reversed pattern: only the edges were trimmed in silk while the rest of the lapels were self-faced.  This flourish was a very popular trend until the return of social and sartorial conservatism in the mid-seventies.

John Travolta at the Emmys in the 70s with huge velvet bow tie, and piped notch lapels

17th May 1976: American actors and siblings John Travolta and Ellen Travolta arrive at the 28th Annual Emmy Awards, Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)

Today both the self-trim and silk-trim lapels can once again be found on fashion-forward tuxedos.  The velvet lapel variation of the ‘50s and ‘60s also continues to pop up from time to time as do the faced sleeve cuffs of that era.  Provided that all of these alternatives are executed in a black-on-black motif they will remain sound options for a man seeking to add personal style while remaining true to black tie’s fundamental principles.

Ryan Gosling in 70s inspired ruffled shirt without a cummerbund and flap pockets as well as patent leather shoes

Ryan Gosling in 70s inspired ruffled shirt without a cummerbund and flap pockets as well as patent leather shoes

Flap Pockets

The Rules:

  • pockets should jetted and not have flaps
DB shawl collar jackets - US 1930s in midnight blue unfinished worsted wool with jetted pockets and 3 cuff buttons

DB shawl collar jackets – US 1930s in midnight blue unfinished worsted wool with jetted pockets and 3 cuff buttons

Flap pockets are appearing on dinner jackets offered by even the most traditional designers today.  Just as with the notched lapel, this style of pocket denigrates the formal suit to the level of a common business suit.  Fortunately, the edges of these pockets are usually besomed which means that the flap can be tucked in or removed altogether in order to create the more formal look deserving of a dinner jacket.

A proper tuxedo shirt should be buttoned onto the pants

Contemporary Trousers

The Rules:

  • same material as the jacket
  • single braid or strip along outside, that may match lapel facings
  • cut for suspenders (braces)
  • no cuffs (turnups)
Side braid along the pants of an evening black tie tuxedo ensemble

Side braid was an important detail of late Victorian evening attire that still works today

The popularity of pleats comes and goes with the popularity of fuller trouser cuts. Currently, the vogue is for fitted suits which means that flat-front trousers are the favored style.  Ultimately this issue is a matter of comfort and personal preference and does not impact a dinner suit’s formality.  See Suit Basics for further information.

Angled Hem Tuxedo Pants with burgundy and off white shadow stripe socks by Fort Belvedere and Opera Pumps watermarked

Angled Hem Tuxedo Pants with burgundy and off white shadow stripe socks by Fort Belvedere and Opera Pumps watermarked

Modern designer trousers also often feature waistbands finished in satin and intended to eliminate the need for a cummerbund or vest.  Rather than enhancing the elegance of black tie this innovation is more like “a formal version of the Sansabelt,” as GQ once stated, “and another dour nod to the age of convenience.”  The pitfalls of forgoing a traditional waist covering are discussed on the following page.

 Cut and Fit

The cut of a dinner jacket tends to follow the same trends as regular suits. Currently the vogue in American designer suits is for a trim fit which does not flatter many men.  See Style Basics to find out which suit silhouette is right for you.

The Notched Lapel

This scene from Ocean's 13 is a great comparison of the notch lapel with its classic cousins.

This scene from Ocean’s 13 is a great comparison of the notch lapel with its classic cousins.

Part of the notch’s popularity is likely due to the fact that manufacturers save money by using the same pattern for both suits and tuxedos and that rental companies can rely on it to hold up better than the delicate points of peaked lapels during repeated wear and cleaning.

Fancy Trimming

Hugh Laurie brought the trimmed lapel back into the spotlight after a 30-year hiatus when he wore this dinner suit to the 2006 Golden Globe awards.

British actor Hugh Laurie brought the trimmed lapel back into the spotlight after a 30-year hiatus when he wore this dinner suit to the 2006 Golden Globe awards.

Summary
Article Name
Contemporary Tuxedo & Black Tie Dinner Jackets
Description
Learn all about contemporary alternatives to the classic tuxedo dinner jacket, flap pockets, notched lapels 2 or 3 buttons etc.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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