Black Tie – The Dinner Suit

The dinner jacket evolved from the smoking jacket. In 1860, tailors Henry Poole & Co made a short black smoking jacket for the trendsetting Prince of Wales (later to be Edward VII) to wear to semi-formal gatherings away from London as a comfortable alternative to the stuffy formal wear of the tailcoat.

James Potter, a rich New Yorker, took the look back to the States with him where it proved so popular at the exclusive country club, the Tuxedo Park Club, it became their informal dining uniform. And you’ve guessed it – the jacket became known as a tuxedo.

In fact the name tuxedo came years before the name dinner jacket. In Britain it was still known as a smoking or lounge jacket.

These Moss Bros suits are all hire options, and
demonstrate the different styles of collars and
bow ties. Top: This is a good example of a
Butterfly bow tie and peaked lapels.
Above: An example of the shawl collar – suit
by Hugo Boss. Below: Foreground model wears
a shawl collar while the other model’s suit is
notched. Moss Bros Hire available at Moss.
For stockist enquiries call 0207 447 7200.

What style jacket to choose?

The original style was a shawl collar and one-buttoned single-breasted (derived from the smoking jacket), then came along a more formal look of peaked lapels (from the tailcoat) and later and now more popular are the notched lapels (from lounge suits).

The shawl collar is softer and would suit the rounder guy and also men with softer facial features.

The more ostentatious peaked lapels sweep wider than the shawl so will widen the chest area for the slimmer build and also the upward sweep will make shorter guys appear taller. The sharpness of the peaked lapel also suits sharper facial features.

The notched lapel is the most popular although considered less formal by traditionalists.

The first double-breasted dinner jacket was ordered from Savile Row by song-and-dance man Jack Buchanan and was popularised by the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor) in the 1930s.

This style is best for the slim-to-skinny guys as it adds bulk. However it does make the body appear shorter, so it is a good choice for the very tall guy but not so good for the smaller man who should stick to single-breasted. The rounder guys should also avoid double-breasted and go for the more slimming one-buttoned single-breasted style.

Most DJ’s are ventless which creates the illusion of height and a slimmer silhouette – especially great for the shorter guys and the heavier guys. Some do have side vents but are less formal and don’t look as elegant; they are best kept for the taller and skinnier guys.

What colour?

Always black or midnight blue. Both are the only acceptable formal colours, so please do not be tempted to wear any other colour.

The midnight blue has more depth and is said to look more black than black in artificial light. Black can take on a greenish hue. The wearing of midnight blue was popularised by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor) in the 1920s. However it is not as popular today and is hard to find unless you have one custom-made, which can be expensive.

Navy tuxedo jacket £25, Navy tuxedo trousers £10,
Shirt and bow tie set £6, Shoes £10 – all from Primark

If you are keen on an alternative to black, is reasonable starting from £210 and has fine Kid mohair in midnight blue. For designer wear, Calvin Klein has a two-buttoned single-breasted suit (Troy) in midnight blue, and going to the other end of the market, Primark has a navy tuxedo suit.

If you purchase just one DJ then go for black; people will notice the midnight blue more and realise you only have one formal suit. With the black you can get away with owning just one.

Hire or buy?

It’s nice to own a dinner jacket: you don’t have to run around looking for a suit to hire, you’re ready for any short-notice formals and you know no-one else has worn it. But if your body shape changes and you gain a few pounds over the years then squeezing in to a tight-fitting DJ is not the best look, besides being very uncomfortable.

With hiring you know it’s going to fit you every time and if you don’t go to many black tie events, it’ll work out cheaper. Also you can choose different styles and designers each time.

Austin Reed and Moss Bros are established places to hire black tie attire. Austin Reed has a new Q Club you can join to help you choose the right formal wear. Moss Bros has designer dinner suits such as the one-button peak-lapel Hugo Boss dinner jacket with matching trousers (see main picture), Ben Sherman and a three-button Ted Baker.

If you are planning on going to several black tie events then in the long run buying is the cheaper option Ede & Ravenscroft is a specialist in formal wear and has an extensive selection of tailoring and accessories ranging from £395 for the dinner jackets and £154.99 for the evening trousers (as of December 2010) ­

The trousers

Obviously the trousers have to be cut from the same cloth as the jacket so buy or hire together. The fabric on the seams should match the fabric on the jacket’s lapels – satin or grosgrain.

The more formal trousers have front pleats, are high-waisted and held up by braces. This style hides a less-than-perfectly-flat stomach, makes the legs look longer, and allows a looser waistband for those large meals. It may not be cutting-edge fashion but we’re talking tradition and style here.

Definitely do not wear a belt.

Here’s our Guide to Black Tie series to help you create the ultimate outfit – click the links below:

The Dinner Suit

The Dress Shirt & Cufflinks

The Bow Tie

The Shoes (& Socks)

The Accessories

The Overcoat


Karen Grace is a Personal Shopper & Image Consultant for and fashion writer for

She studied Personal Styling at the London College of Fashion and is a registered affiliate member of the Federation of Image Professionals International.

For personal shopping and styling services you can reach her via frumpy to funky on and
07787 800 390


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!

Racing News, What to Wear, Competitions, Features, Betting Tips and More

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team. We'll bring the news to you about once a month. We NEVER share your data.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Scroll to Top