Introduction to the Dinner Jacket

Since the invention of coats, they have become commonplace in menswear (and women’s wear, too). There are many types of coats designed for every occasion and situation. This time we’re talking about the dinner jacket – a man’s short jacket, typically black and without tails, that can be worn for formal and semi-formal events.

A dinner jacket is also known as a dinner suit. It can also be a synecdochical term for “black tie” and “tuxedo,” referring to the dress code for evening functions that require wearing the dinner jacket. This article will also explore the difference between the dinner jacket and the tuxedo.

The difference between “tuxedo” and “dinner jacket”

While the terms “dinner jacket” and “tuxedo” are interchangeable (there’s a story behind this, which you will read later), there’s a critical difference.

man wearing a black-tie outfit

Tuxedo – It refers to either the black jacket itself or the entire ensemble of matching black jacket and trousers. The black jacket typically features satin trim on the black jacket’s lapel, satin buttons, and a satin strip at the outer sides of the trousers. The classic tuxedo ensemble also consists of a cummerbund, waistcoat, suspenders, and a bowtie, although these days, men opt for less formal accessories. Tuxedo is the “go-to” attire for black tie events, weddings, charity balls, nights at the opera, and other strictly formal functions (usually evening events).

A man in a white suit and black bowtie

Dinner jacket (or dinner suit) – It doesn’t follow the traditional matching of black jacket and black trousers. For instance, you can pair your white jacket with black trousers or come in your best all-red suit, depending on your preference. This ensemble is great for formal events that are more social in character, as well as business meetings and dates. Dinner jackets can be made from a variety of materials and are available in various colors. Some dinner jackets come with striped, checkered, or even more extravagant designs and patterns. Like the tuxedo, though, a dinner jacket ensemble requires wearing a bowtie (as opposed to the regular suit, which consists of a necktie).

A short history of the dinner jacket

In the 1850s, the dinner jacket was designed and introduced as the shorter and less formal version of the frock and morning coats.

At the time, British men from the middle and upper classes were increasingly taking part in more outdoor activities and found the frock and morning coats too restrictive. A new type of coat, the “lounge” coat, allowed more freedom of movement.

Eventually, more men started to wear the shorter lounge coats indoors as well. They were made from the same velvety material as their dressing gowns. Men wore the short velvet coats indoors when smoking cigars after dinner. There was an apparent practical reason for wearing these coats, as velvet was supposed to absorb the cigar smoke’s smell. Because of this, it earned another name, “smoking jacket.”

Once the smoking jacket became one of the popular fashion items of the 1800s, it was only a matter of time until tailors began making the jackets in black wool and adding them with satin trimmings for formal wear.

The earliest recorded “dinner jacket” (without tails) dates back to 1865. The Prince of Wales and future king Edward VII commissioned his tailor and friend, Henry Poole, to cut a blue silk short coat and matching trousers so that he could wear them to informal dinner parties at his Sandringham estate.

In accordance to Edward’s request, Poole shortened the traditional tailcoat and presented the finished product to the prince. The British dinner jacket was born.

a man wearing a black-and-teal tuxedo

How did the “dinner jacket” also become known as “tuxedo”?

The British dinner jacket only became known as “tuxedo” when the style reached America. 

American financier James Brown Potter and his wife, society woman and stage actress Cora Potter, visited England in 1886 where they met Edward. The prince later invited them to his informal evening party at Sandringham. 

Mr. Potter, unsure of what to wear to the party, told Poole about his little problem. Poole confidently advised him that a celestial blue evening coat would be appropriate. However, other accounts claim that Potter was referred to Poole who later made him a short evening jacket.

Whatever’s the case, Mr. Potter was so taken by the style that he brought it upon his return to the US. He first wore the evening jacket on a fashionable social event at New York’s famed Tuxedo Club.

However, society people in America initially rejected the new suit, claiming it to be inappropriate for formal occasions. Eventually, the style took off as an informal summer suit and became known as “tuxedo,” named after the private New York club. At first, the term initially referred to the coat, but it was eventually used to define the entire outfit.

Types of dinner jacket

The single-button dinner jacket has been around since the 1890s and is typically worn for formal functions. The double-button dinner jacket, on the other hand, has been gaining popularity in recent years and is typically worn for less formal events.