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When it comes to black tie, the rules are pretty set. Yes, there are different lapels and varying types of pleated shirt front but at the end of the day it all boils down to a black tuxedo and a bow tie…. Or does it?
The often overlooked white dinner jacket is enjoying a resurgence of late and is the perfect way to stand out when the dress code stipulates everything but. Historically worn for formal events that took place during the warmer months, white dinner jackets have been cropping up on red carpets with increasing frequency recently. And while this classic piece skews towards the more formal end of black tie dressing, when worn correctly it can be the epitome of old world elegance and class.
Here, we explain the proper way to wear and style this statement piece so that it feels contemporary and decidedly you.
While we’re not sticklers for tradition, there are certain occasions where a white dinner jacket is better suited than others. Traditionally, white was worn in place of a traditional black suit to deflect heat. This made it the perfect alternative for black-tie events that were held in the afternoon, during the Summer or at sea. Today though, there’s more flexibility and a white dinner jacket can be worn comfortably to evening black tie events.
The trick lies in understanding that it is a true statement piece. This means that it should be worn sparingly, swapped with the traditional black or dark navy jacket once or twice per year. Given a white dinner jacket contrasts dramatically with the usual darker hues of black tie, it’s best suited to occasions that allow for some flamboyance - not just any old dinner that demands a tuxedo be worn. It’s also advisable to steer clear of wearing a white dinner jacket to a wedding (unless it’s your own or you’re making a conscious effort to show up the bride.)
When it comes to styling a white dinner jacket, go for a classic black-tie look. A plain plissé front shirt, black satin bow tie, black tuxedo trousers and patent black dinner shoes will make for the perfect foundation. Add the white dinner jacket for a final sartorial flourish.
You can break up the white shirt and jacket by adding onyx studs to your outfit. These are a classic accessory that can be worn both with a white dinner jacket and your classic black or navy tuxedo.
When wearing a white dinner jacket. steer away from patterned accessories or a white bow-tie. This starts dabbling in the territory of white-tie which is a separate dress-code and the most formal in Western dress.
When it comes to pairing trousers with your white dinner jacket, go for a traditional black or dark navy pair - the kind you would normally wear as part of a dinner suit. For added style, opt for a design that has a satin stripe down the leg. To ensure your look stays contemporary, ensure that the trousers are well fitted with the cuff grazing the top of your dinner shoes.
Don’t be tempted by a matching pair of white trousers. This makes for a terrific costume - not a terrific dinner suit.
White dinner jackets tend to have a lighter construction than regular dinner jackets and also come in a range of fabrics beyond your standard wools. What does this mean for the average punter though? How and where you plan to wear your jacket will ultimately dictate the corresponding fabric type you choose.
If you’re wanting to wear your jacket for a daytime event or during high Summer, opting for a silk-linen blend is a great way to remain cool while still sticking to a formal dress code. Often made without the satin lapel, this style of white dinner jacket is normally half-lined and can even appear slightly sheer. Don’t be concerned by this - it’s part of the style and adds a lightness fitting for the warmer months.
For evening events, it’s preferable to stick with a more traditional wool fabric and a shawl lapel. This style often comes in ivory which is a great way to subtly break up the all-white top of your ensemble.
As with many wardrobe staples, not all white dinner jackets are made equal and there are a number of subtle but important details that differentiate a high-quality piece from lesser jackets. Beyond the fabric quality itself, details like whether the buttons are covered and how the jacket fits around the shoulders are good indicators of whether or not the jacket has been constructed well.
Given a white dinner jacket is such a statement, it’s best to keep it simple. Styles with black edging and lapels have been on the periphery of men’s fashion for the past few seasons but done poorly, this style has a cheapening effect. Instead, we advise sticking with a full white or ivory version, leaving darker colours for your regular dinner jacket.