The “white” dinner jacket is a warm or tropical weather alternative to the tuxedo jacket that will suit a gentleman well in the summer months. His attire is still black tie with the remaining garments, but this lighter jacket is the grand exception. It is not commonly worn in Europe or the northern United States, but rather makes its best statement in more equatorial and coastal regions like the Caribbean.
If you are a traveling gentleman, you should own one. You may not walk into Rick’s in Casablanca every night of summer months, but you are sure to get use out of it.
Photo on right: J Hilburn produces an excellent model of Italian woven wool that plays by the rules, is made to measure, and doesn’t require you to sell the barn. However, heirlooms can work just as well.
In the early twentieth century, wealthy vacationers to the tropics sought an alternative to the darker and hotter dress code of black tie. They experimented with lighter fabrics, and in 1934, Esquire published the new style without remorse. (See Leslie Saalsburg’s artwork from Esquire’s publication featured on the right) The white dinner jacket had landed. Nearly every James Bond actor has donned the white dinner jacket since (as seen on right with Sean Connery in the opening scene of Goldfinger).
When selecting and wearing your white dinner jacket, the same best practices should apply as when you wear a black or midnight blue tuxedo jacket.
- It should be a quality wool, form-fitting garment
- The correct color of fabric is ivory (somewhere between white and beige), not stark “white”
- One button is appropriate for a single-breasted jacket
- Four buttons are sufficient for a double-breasted jacket, but the size and stature of the man can beg otherwise
- Any of the usual lapel styles are available:
- Shawl (of Italian influence)
- Notch (the conservative gent)
- Peak (the distinguished sir)
- Lapels should be self facing, meaning without satin or gross-grain: simply the natural fabric of the jacket (a daring man might sport the satin accents, but he should therefore be forthcoming about his intentions in public as the gentlemen in the room will otherwise assume he has no idea what he’s doing)
- Besom pockets (without flaps) are preferred in any case
- Vents should be on the gentleman that did not wear a dinner jacket
When putting together any of the above, here are three suggestions that you cannot go wrong with:
- The Italian: shawl collar, one button, single-breasted, no vents
- The Connery: same as Italian but with peak lapel
- The Bogart: same as Italian but double breasted
Goldfinger, 1964 (approx. 2 min into scene)