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Tuxedo - Smoking - Dinner Jacket - Guide

Vesper Lynd put it succinctly in Casino Royal:

"There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets; this is the latter. And i need you looking like a man who belongs at that table."

(Vesper Lynd, Casino Royale)

Gentlemen Wedding Attire Dinner Jacket James Bond Style
Casino Royale Daniel Craig (

At the latest with the dress code Black Tie on your next invitation you will have to deal with the tuxedo dress code.

In this blog post I would like to introduce you to the basics of a Tuxedo, or Smoking as it is called in German-speaking countries - as well as in France and Italy. Our British neighbors use the term - Dinner Jacket.

From the basic elements to sound background knowledge, you will get a detailed insight into the subject:

Smoking-Dinner Jacket-Tuxedo

Smoking für Hochzeit
Cary Grant - stylish ease / pic courtesy of Pinterest

What does the dress code Black Tie mean?

Basically, Black Tie is a dress code that for men consists of the traditional Dinner Jacket and associated garments: a black Smoking and matching trousers, an optional black formal vest or cummerbund, a white formal shirt, a black bow tie or alternatively a black long tie, black socks and black formal shoes. In warm weather, a white tuxedo may also be worn, and the cummerbund is the preferred waist covering.

Why is it called a Smoking, Tuxedo or Dinner Jacket?

USA: The tuxedo made its US debut in the exclusive enclave of Tuxedo Park in New York, which is where it got its American nickname.

Germany, Italy and France: Actually, the name says it all: for Smoking - and that's exactly what the tuxedo was once intended for. The smokers put it on when they went into the smoking salon, to which the ladies had no access. When they came out, they took the Jacket off again so as not to bother the ladies with the smell.

UK: The dinner jacket was worn instead of the white tie jacket when going to the smoking room after dinner to have a digestif or play cards. Since the smell of smoke was considered unacceptable to the ladies, a change of at least the jacket was indispensable.

Entrance Tuxedo Park in 1940 on a postcard
Entrance Tuxedo Park 1940 Postcard

A brief history of the emergence of the Dinner Jacket.

In fact, the history of the dinner jacket itself is somewhat surprising. The first dinner jacket, designed by Henry Poole for the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII), was not actually formal attire at all, but intended for more casual dinners. At the time - the mid-1860s - formal evening wear meant a white tie, white vest, and tails. In contrast, Poole's suit was the first ever tailless evening wear: he tailored a blue silk smoking jacket with matching trousers for the prince. The suit was not called a tuxedo at all, but a dinner jacket. It wasn't until 1885, after Poole died and an American, James Brown Potter, saw the Prince of Wales in his tuxedo during a visit to the United Kingdom, that the tuxedo gained widespread popularity. Potter, who lived in the wealthy Hudson Valley enclave of Tuxedo Park, brought the outfit home with him. The coffeehouse owner, who was famously married to socialite Cora Urquhart Brown-Potter, wore it to the Tuxedo Club's Fall Ball in 1886, giving the garment its now official name. Around the same time, a group of wealthy men cut off the tails of their jackets and began wearing the shortened style to formal occasions. When a group of men in tuxedos were admitted to the Dress Circle at the Metropolitan Opera, the signs were clear: the once casual tuxedo was now appropriate for formal occasions.

Let's get an overview

We begin our overview about the basics of a Black Tie event by establishing the "what", "when", "who", "where" and "why" of the dress code.

The first of the "five W's" that should be answered is logically the question, What exactly does Black Tie mean? The true definition, as is so often the case when it comes to style, lies in the details of the dress code. Despite the diversity of experts and the centuries-long evolution of the Black Tie dress code, the cumulative details are largely identical, eliminating the misconception that it is simply a matter of personal opinion.

The Dinner Jacket

Fabric: Black virgin wool is the norm, but midnight blue is also acceptable.

Silhoutte: Depending on personal preference, a man can wear a single-breasted or double-breasted jacket.

Lapel: Pointed lapel or also rising lapel

Shawl lapel


Material: Satin trim

Grosgrain trim

Vents: without vents is the most formal option, side vents are acceptable

Closure: one button is common for single-breasted models

Pockets: make sure that there are no flaps on them

The Trousers

- same material as the jacket

- simple braid along the outer seams, matching the lapels

- cut for suspenders (have buttons sewn in for fastening suspenders)

- no trouser lapels

The waist covering, also called cummerbund.

The optional waist covering is traditionally a black silk cummerbund, which must necessarily match the lapel material.

For single-breasted models, a cummerbund is recommended so that the white of the shirt is not visible, giving the whole outfit a more elegant touch.

- with a double-breasted model, it is not worn.

Manschettenknöpfe für Smoking
Hawes & Curtis Cufflinks and Studs

The Shirt

- white fabric with tailcoat collar or also called tuxedo collar

- the fronts can be either pleated or piqué. For a piqué shirt in the United

Kingdom, ask for a Marcella shirt.

- shirt traditionally has eyelets for studs; some authorities allow fly-fronts

- French cuffs are nothing more than double cuffs in the U.K.

Bow Tie

-black silk bow tie with self-tie, matching the lapel.

If they are inclined to a tie, observe the following rule:

- narrow black tie to match the lapel material. Please base your knot on a Windsor knot or a half Windsor knot. However, traditionalists refuse to wear a tie, so find out exactly before the event.

Don't know how to tie a bow tie yourself? You Tube can also help, and then practice, practice and practice again.

The Shoes

- Patent or highly polished leather oxfords (most popular)

- Patent or highly polished leather loafers (most traditional)

The Socks

- black silk or fine fabric socks and please wear knee-length socks


- harmonizing black, gold or mother-of-pearl studs (decorative buttons for the shirt) and cufflinks

- suspenders made of black or white silk

- optional white silk or linen handkerchief as pocket square


The Chesterfield coat is most common, but any other dark, elegant coat is acceptable; raincoats (trench coats) are not appropriate

White silk evening scarf with tassels

Variation for warm weather

The following outfit is acceptable as a substitute for a "black tie" event, year-round in tropical climates and summer in North America:

Brioni Dinner Jacket White
Smoking Off-white by Brioni

1. jacket

- white or preferably ivory

all other details as for the classic "Black Tie" event.

2. trousers


all other details as for standard wardrobe trousers

3. waist coverage

black cummerbund

4. shirt

as for the standard shirt for the "Black Tie" event

5. tie

as for the standard event

6. footwear

same rules as for the "Black Tie" event.

7. accessories

optionally colored silk or linen handkerchief as a

pocket handkerchief, all other details as for the standard tuxedo accessories

White Dinner Jacket Casablanca Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca

Of course, the correct "Black Tie", is a far more specific dress code than anything the average man will encounter outside of the military. On second glance, however, you will find that the dress code for the tuxedo is not about what you must wear, but what you may wear.

In fact, the choices can be a bit overwhelming. But don't worry, the remaining four Ws of tuxedo etiquette will help you narrow down the options based on what is appropriate for different types of occasions. Beyond that, your choice is simply a matter of personal preference, which we'll explore in our dress code summary.

When: Evening elegance

The "Black Tie" and its ultra-formal predecessor, the "White Tie," are the two categories of a dress code known as evening wear, a centuries-old tradition in which the finest clothing is worn only after the sun has set.

As evening wear, tuxedos and tailcoats should ideally not be worn during daylight hours. Since this is unavoidable in summer in some areas, etiquette experts have devised more practical guidelines. The most common solution is to define the evening chronologically and prohibit the wearing of appropriate clothing in public before six o'clock. The other school of thought allows more leeway by asserting that the evening begins at 6 p.m. or at dark, whichever comes first. In any case, unless a man works as a waiter, he can only be seen in a tuxedo during the day if he is headed to an evening event.

Who: Age appropriate

Evening wear is meant for adults, which is why tuxedos and tailcoats are traditionally considered inappropriate for children. The Encyclopedia of Etiquette states, "As a rule, boys do not wear tuxedos until they are fifteen years old, and tails until they are eighteen. This is good advice, considering that this is the age at which young men trade in their youthful attire for adult attire at the popular coming-of-age celebrations. In fact, children younger than this age group will likely only attend a formal event if they are invited to a wedding. Under these circumstances, only any younger ushers should wear the same attire as their adult counterparts.

Where: invitation and meaning

Before the Second World War, there was an implicit agreement in polite society about what kind of occasion required what kind of dress. After the war, social norms became much looser and the rules for formal dress more subjective. As a result, most formal occasions that require formal dress now explicitly mention this in the invitation or in other forms of instructions to guests. Emily Post's Etiquette advises hosts that "Black Tie" or "White Tie" is usually printed in the lower right-hand corner of invitations to school dances, charity balls, formal dinners or dances, and any event where clarification of dress code may be required.

However, there are still a few occasions where evening dress is expected, or at least desired, and largely implied. If you are looking for excuses to enjoy your evening wear, or simply want to ensure that you are not conspicuously underdressed, it would be wise to check local customs before attending the following formal events.

Public entertainment events

First-night performances at the opera, ballet and symphony are often "Black Tie Optional", as are opening nights of major theatre productions. A word of caution: the balcony is a "don't dress" area unless you and your date are attending a formal event later.

Private entertainment events

There are still a few balls where custom dictates a "white tie", but these are mainly found in Europe. Private occasions that require a "Black Tie" are most likely to be formal banquets or dinner dances hosted by large corporations, professional associations and fraternal organisations. Posh charity events regularly require a 'Black Tie' , but are more likely to be classified as semi-private (or semi-public) as tickets are often only offered to a select group of potential guests.

Coming of age ceremonies

At debutante balls, the escort and father of the debutante traditionally wear a white tie (another name for the tailcoat and associated accessories), while the other male guests wear dinner jackets. At proms and their international counterparts, "formal" is usually interpreted in a far less sophisticated way, and even at schools where dinner jackets are favoured over regular suits, the young men often opt for outfits that bear little resemblance to proper evening wear. The Quinceañera is a Latin American celebration equivalent to an elaborate Sweet Sixteen, where the celebrant is usually accompanied by her escort and a "court" of fourteen other couples, usually formally dressed.

Formal evenings at sea

While it is true that the 'black tie' is no longer compulsory for evenings at sea thanks to affordable mega-ships, the fact is that cruises, along with weddings and proms, are the most popular occasions for the average man to wear a dinner jacket.

Diplomatic functions

The "white tie" is very suitable for formal diplomatic occasions such as state dinners. While these extremely formal evenings remain a tradition at European royal courts, American presidents have hosted only two such events since Ronald Reagan left office in 1989. In Washington, therefore, these kinds of dinners are now usually held in "black tie".

Institutional dress code

Historical societies of prestigious universities such as Cambridge and Oxford and fraternal organisations such as Masonic lodges often require their members to wear evening dress or dinner jackets on special occasions. These groups may have their own versions of traditional formal dress codes, so their attire is more like a uniform than evening dress per se.

Why: Advantages of the dress code

In recent decades, hosts have unnecessarily complicated the simple Black Tie and White Tie dress codes by developing ambiguous variations. This has the effect of further stressing uninformed guests who are already prone to anxiety at the sight of the standard dress code on an invitation. Therefore, both hosts and guests should consider the following significant benefits of the traditional dress code.

Social signpost

Hosts who do not establish a dress code for fear of appearing stuffy or alienating guests are doing their guests a disservice. Without clear guidelines, guests are forced to guess what type of dress is appropriate without winning. Conversely, it is ironic that the appearance of Black Tie on an invitation causes panic in so many men. They often view the upcoming event as an intimidating test of their (sadly lacking) sartorial skills, when in fact the Black Tie "test" comes with a complete set of answers guaranteed to get top marks for any man who follows them.

Sense of occasion

Prescribed dress not only provides clarity and confidence, but also a sense of decorum. Combined with a certain code of conduct, it creates a social ritual that elevates one type of event over another. A fine restaurant may go to great lengths to create a more elegant atmosphere than a pub, but when patrons adopt typical pub dress and behaviour, these venues lose much of their special character.

Act of consideration

Just as a host or hostess can show consideration for guests by setting clear dress guidelines, a guest can return the favour by being mature enough to follow them. Debrett's A-Z of Modern Manners says: "When you see that you are making an effort, you are paying the host or hostess a great compliment and allowing yourself to be on your best behaviour. After all, the short time it takes you to get dressed is negligible compared to the hours the hostess has put into preparing for the party." If you ignore the prescribed etiquette of the event, you make it clear that you don't care at all about the wishes of your hosts or the experiences of your fellow guests.

Contemporary Fashion: Changing Perfection

Change for the worse

If you intend to change the classic standards of evening dress, you must first ask yourself why you would want to risk giving up its many benefits.

Since the 1960s, attempts by modernists to reinvent black tie have usually stemmed from the notion that it needs to be more comfortable or contemporary. Proponents of classic menswear, however, argue that its components have been perfected over many decades by the best tailors and the best dressers, and that all the necessary compromises have already been made.

This is the strength of traditional costume - it is at once aristocratic and democratic. The very uniformity of the dinner jacket makes it socially equalising. And while most instruments of democratic equality tend to lower all boats, the dinner jacket equalises. Would-be improvements always upset the aristocratic-democratic balance.

By and large, history has vindicated the traditionalists' argument. Since the rise of the baby boomers in the 1960s, attempts to replace the convention, maturity and conformity of the Black Tie with modernity, youthfulness and individuality have almost always failed, often spectacularly.

You should also ask yourself why you would want to risk degrading the dinner jacket experience for your fellow guests. Poor dress choices at school proms or teenage weddings only have a big impact on yourself. But if you commit these faux pas at adult galas, it affects everyone present by disrupting the unique stylistic uniformity that the dress code is meant to convey.

Change for the better: Rules for bending the rules

However, history has also shown that not all change is bad. In fact, what we define today as classic black tie would never have come into being if there had not been changes to the dress code before the 1940s. The crucial difference between the pre-war adaptations of 'black tie' and the later ones is that the original changes were introduced by men with an impeccable sense of style and a thorough familiarity with the purpose of formal dress. In other words - and this cannot be stressed enough - the only ones who can successfully bend the rules are those who truly understand them.

The first step to understanding the rules that make the dinner jacket a success is to become aware of the merits that make it so. A close examination of the historical origins and evolution of black tie, as well as its classic sartorial details, reveals the following key merits:

Black Tie -

- maximises the masculine ideal by making a man look taller, stronger and younger than any other type of clothing.

- makes a man appear more sophisticated than any other type of clothing.

- the unique uniformity creates a visual equality among men.

- maximises the formality of an occasion.

Now that we have identified the features that make the Black Tie successful, we can determine the rules behind these features:

The foundation of the Black Tie is the colour black. White is always secondary and colour should be used sparingly and with great discretion.

The Black Tie emphasises discreet details and elegant finishes.

The Black Tie embodies a time-tested tailoring tradition.

If you know these rules for a successful Black Tie, you can judge the potential success of modern variations. In addition, you can use some secondary guidelines to assess how best to modify these rules:

Try it on: The fact that a new trend looks good on a professional model or celebrity means nothing if they won't wear it for you. Similarly, you can't really appreciate the appeal of current fashions and the subtle nuances of traditional style until you've worn the latter.

Keep it subtle: a variation that is subtle and respects the remaining basics is only a deviation from the rules; a transgression that blatantly violates numerous principles is definitely a breach of the rules. Play it safe by leaving the dinner jacket untouched and limiting the modern changes to the less visible accessories.

Keep it low-key: Don't include more than one unorthodox variation at a time, especially if it's a particularly striking departure.

Know your audience.: Remember that dinner jacket customs vary according to geographical region, social class and the relative formality of the occasion. You are more likely to be able to wear a Nehru jacket and stand-up collar shirt to a music awards ceremony than to a diplomatic reception.

Behave according to your age: younger men can get away with much more than other men. This also applies to much older men, by the way. For the rest of us, it is best to accept our limits.


Bride and Groom after the ceremony in a Tuscan Abbey, bride in white dress and groom in a black tuxedo

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