Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Black tie... Dinner jackets... Tuxedo... Black tie optional... The list goes on & can get a little overwhelming for some. Let us help breakdown what formal-wear is what...
The tuxedo/dinner jacket: These two are one in the same thing. In Europe your dinner jacket is your formal dress & is always accompanied by a matching pair of trousers (we just call it a tuxedo, which came from Tuxedo Park in Hudson Valley, NY. which was a socialite mecca in the late 1800's).
Traditionally made up in black or midnight blue wool or black mohair or a blend of each. It was originally designed with peak lapels covered in either black satin or grosgrain, with a matching stripe going down the exterior of the trouser leg. Additional lapels are common in either notch or the currently very popular shawl. Also for a slightly less dressy variation one can elect for a white (usually off-white a bit really) dinner jacket with black formal trousers. When you are invited to a black tie event this is usually what they mean. It's essentially a very stylish uniform that allows everyone to look their very best. Typical styles are one button fronts (though double breasted is often worn as well. Either a peak or shawl lapel, notch is less common with this look as it is the least formal of lapels. Usually just piped pockets on the front, though flaps are also fine today. The original was cut without a vent in the jacket, but today we suggest either 1 or 2 vents.
The velvet smoking jacket: here's where you get to have a little fun. Especially if you're invited to a black tie optional or creative black tie event. The velvet dinner or smoking jacket can be worn in many colors. Most popular are dark greens, dark browns, deep purple, burgundies, navy blue & of course black. This jacket should also only be worn in the colder months as it is too heavy and lofty to be appropriate during the summer. Typically cut in a one button with a shawl lapel, there are many styles and details that can go into creating one of these spectacular jackets. this jacket is what a gentleman would change into after dinner when he retired to smoke & enjoy a nightcap, hence the name. This piece is also worn with black formal trousers.
The morning coat: This is a very specific style of jacket. the name itself comes form the 19th century and the style is a long coat with a deep split for the tails & a cutaway from. This facilitated men of the day to ride their horses in the morning while wearing the jacket. This is the most formal of jackets & is worn only during the daytime for extremely formal occasions...
Typically pair with a grey striped high waist formal trouser. While events requiring such a high style of dress are rare these days we can still create these elegant jackets today.
White tie & tails: This look predates the dinner jacket (which became the more 'casual' option for high society dining in the earlier part of the 20th century. This look consists of a black jacket with tails (which does not close at the front as most jackets do) worn over a white formal shirt with wingtip collar. It is supported by a white pique vest & matching white pique tie. Black formal trousers are also worn with this look. If you do get an invitation to a white tie affair, this is what they mean.
The chesterfield topcoat: the exact history of the chesterfield coat is a confusing one. However what remains clear is it is the choice in overcoat for formal occasions to this day. It may very well be the very first style of overcoat in history. The name itself seems to come from the 6th Earl of Chesterfield who had an early appreciation for high styled outerwear.
The coat when cut to be worn for formal occasions is typically made up of a heavier weight black or midnight blue wool suitable for keeping warm in the cold. It is cut with a singe breasted closure, a short notch lapel with the collar most importantly lined in black velvet. A center vent in the back and straight side pockets finish off this classic piece.
While there are other types/colors & styles of chesterfield coats the above is what is suitable for formal dress.
Creative black tie or black tie optional...??? We'd suggest a dark suit with crisp white shirt and either a dark necktie or maybe something a little more fun in the accessories department would typically be fine for these occasions. But if you do have a nice tux/dinner jacket, you might as well use it!
Regardless of the event you're invited to keep in mind the most important thing... enjoy it. Cheers!