So we know that midnight blue or black are acceptable. Brighter colours have been touched on and – though celebs do it – should be avoided for black tie. This leaves the infamous white dinner jacket. Popularised by Sean Connery in Dr. No, the white dinner jacket is seen by some as the coolest option for dinner wear. It’s a great way of getting noticed, but not always for the right reasons!
As a guest at a host’s dinner function, arriving in a white jacket may be interpreted as an attention seeking look-at-me manoeuvre, so be cautious and gauge how appropriate it will be – perhaps even ask the host if it is acceptable, beforehand. Some might suggest that a white jacket is only acceptable for dinner attire in hotter climates, making it a good option for cruises and get-aways.
Shoes and socks – There are really only two shoes styles you can choose from, the first (and safest in Britain) is a patent whole-cut oxford. The whole-cut eliminates detail on the shoe (such as toecaps) and the high shine that a patent shoe offers adds formality that your day-to-day oxfords do not have. See our blog on Shoe types for further detail.
The second, riskier option, is to wear a formal pump with a ribbon atop the shoe. This style shoe should still be black patent leather, but exposes more foot and adds a detail that some might frown upon – so wear with caution. Tradionally. socks would always have been black silk but, in this day, as long as they are black they will be perfectly acceptable.
Shirts – Perhaps the biggest faux pas seen with black tie is not the suit itself – but rather the shirt that it is paired with. A dinner suit should only ever be worn with a turn-down collar, be it a kent or a cut-away. NEVER a wing-tip collar. Wing-tips are to be reserved for morning wear and white tie functions. The cuff should always be a double (French) cuff, or – again because of Bond – a cocktail cuff. Both cuffs require folding back, but a French cuff creates the need for cufflinks while the cocktail cuff fastens with buttons. See our blog on Shirt styling for further detail.
Traditionally shirts would be worn with a pleated bib, though nowadays this is seen as a very old-school style. A Marcella bib is a more modern alternative. The shirt should either have its buttons hidden under the front placket, or it should be fastened using black or pearl shirt studs.
Cufflinks – Another common faux pas is to wear any old cufflinks with a dinner suit. Cufflinks should be either in black or pearl – much like dress studs.
Pocket squares – When wearing with a dinner suit, one should only ever wear white and (if following the rule book) linen – folded into a neat rectangle. Anything more flamboyant detracts from the rest of the tidy/ immaculate look of the suit.
Bow tie – As long as the bow tie is black, you are fairly safe from the fashion police. This being said, tiny or huge bow ties are a huge no-no. The bow tie can have pointed ends (suits a pointy peak lapel beautifully) or flat (best with shawl lapels). The edges of the bowtie should be in line with your pupils. A ready-tied bow tie is acceptable, but a self-tie bow tie is preferable – besides, is there anything cooler than an undone bow tie at the end of a night?
Watch – Wearing a watch to a dinner event is traditionally unacceptable. It signifies that you are watching the time, a very rude thing to do when you have been invited to a party. If you absolutely must wear a watch however, it should be as subtle as possible; this means a black leather strap and a silver casing.
Coats – If you are wearing a coat it must be black. Double-breasted is preferred as it is more formal, though a single-breasted coat will not have you thrown out.
Scarves – A white silk dress scarf is a nice addition to your dinner suit – it gives you a chance to add individuality, as not many people will have thought of it. This being said, make sure it is white and silk – anything else is unacceptable.
Cummerbund – A cummerbund should only be worn if you are NOT wearing a waistcoat. It is to prevent the little white triangle of shirt and so is redundant if wearing high waisted trousers or a waistcoat. If you are wearing one however, it should only ever be black silk.
Sounds like a lot of rules doesn’t it? To simplify; the fit must be perfect, details should be minimal and all of it should be of the best quality that you can muster. If faced with a “do I/don’t I” question, ask yourself – what would Bond do?