A Casual Alternative to Top Hat ‘n’ Tails
With Riddle’s photo shoot for the month focusing on evening wear, we look at the epitome of evening style, the dinner jacket – “tux” to our Trans-Atlantic cousins – to find it was originally tailored for casual dining
Article by Marion Graham
Black tie is seen today as the pinnacle of evening style although ironically the dinner jacket was conceived as a casual garment in 1865. The then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, commissioned his tailor, Savile Row’s Henry Poole, to make a more laid-back tailcoat for relaxing at Sandringham. The style became quickly famous in 1886, when New York millionaire James Potter brought the dinner suit home with him to the Tuxedo Park Club, a newly established residential country club for the city’s elite. The coat style was then adopted by New York’s society when Griswold Lorillard, son of one of the Tuxedo Park founders, wore it to the wealthy enclave’s 1886 Autumn Ball. The “tuxedo” became its name since the Tuxedo Park Club’s members began to wear the jacket in public and onlookers came to associate the jacket with the club’s name.
Today, the terms dinner jacket (DJ) or tux are variously used in different parts of the world. Tux is most used in North America where it is increasingly used to refer to any type of formal coat including an evening tailcoat and cutaway. Brits sometimes to refer to the white version of the suit jacket as a tux. Conversely, this white jacket is generally known as a dinner jacket in North America. .
Although the smoking jacket’s shawl collar was the original collar of the tuxedo jacket, the peaked lapel taken from the tailcoat had become equally popular by the turn of the 20th century. By this time, the jacket was invariably a one-button single-breasted model with no vents. Trousers matched the jacket which was most commonly black although Edwardian dandies often opted for Oxford gray or a very dark blue. By the 1930s the double-breasted and white jackets became acceptable for formal evenings. Following World War II the dinner jacket began to take on traits that deviated from the strict black-and-white interpretation maintained by the black tie dress code. Colour, texture and pattern became increasingly popular in warm-weather jackets to the point where Americans associated the term dinner jacket solely with these separates rather than as a general synonym for tuxedo. In the 1980s dinner jackets increasingly took on traits of the business suit such as two- and three-button styling, flap pockets and center vents. Most notably, the notch lapel had become the most common lapel style by the turn of the millennium, but is still not accepted by traditionalists.
Chatting with Simon Cundy of Henry Poole, he still sees the dinner jacket as, “the most elegant opportunity for a gentleman to be dressed”. People will always want to dress up, so long as women desire couture and the chance to dress elegantly in the evening, the dinner jacket’s survival is assured. Simon also feels there, “has been a renaissance in dinner wear”. The house has seen a 30 per cent increase in orders for their traditional three piece dinner suit as well as a lot of interest in the past couple of years for smoking jackets – both single and double breasted – as a stylish and rakish alternative. Evening wear and the “tux” continue to evolve.
Enquiries: Henry Poole, 15 Savile Row, Mayfair, London W1S 3PJ / 0207 7345985 / https://henrypoole.com/