"Why NOT the step/notch lapel?" (Why classic black tie trumps all.)

This is a discussion that comes up frequently on men's clothing forums regarding dinner jackets and I think I've come to a decent answer, based on both my preference for the classics and what I've learned from the many knowledgeable "sartorialists" on the world wide web. The step (or notch) lapel was apparently considered acceptable back in the late 19th/early 20th century when the dinner jacket was really picking up steam as an intermediate garment between business dress and white tie. Back then, it was considered informal dinner wear -- clothing worn at the table after marinating in smog and soot all day. Because of that, step lapels could be used to differentiate it from the smoking jacket or white tie. Later on in the '30s and '40s, black tie came to much more use in the period many think as the height of menswear excellence. Pointed (or peak) lapel and roll (or shawl) collar were prominent since it was being used more and more as a semi-formal alternative to white tie. You hardly saw any silver screen stars wearing step lapel dinner jackets in this period. Cary Grant shows his timeless style in the picture above. Full, pointed lapels with a bit of "belly" (curve to the underside) and a classic cut that emphasises the chest and shoulders, flattering the male physique. Sir Sean Connery shows us how a good roll collar is done. Note the proportioning: It starts narrow, gets a tad wider towards the bottom, and then gracefully tapers down to a single button (not two or three buttons). These days, white tie is a rarity. Black tie is more common for evening events or fund raisers, but even that convention is starting to erode a bit. Much of it looks bland anyways... ill-fitting uninspired rentals and I-just-bought-this-in-case dinner suits, both with cheap looking step lapels. Oftentimes, they just resemble black business suits with some silk facings. It's not helped by the fact that many of our world's leaders or celebrities don't make that much effort anymore either. These should be outfits suitable for socialising and having drinks in, not looking interchangeable with business attire (shown left). The more you add buttons, vents, pocket flaps, long ties, and plain shirt fronts the less it looks like something for a special occasion and closer to something worn by hitmen in a Tarantino movie. The pointed lapel and roll collar with classic details look more exciting and full of sophistication, especially in this age where black tie is the most dominant mode of "formal" attire there is, more than formal day wear and certainly much more than white tie. Hopefully the pictures and arguments presented here will convince you of it, but as always I welcome your thoughts.

Big thanks to The Black Tie Guide for being such a wonderful resource and, as always, the knowledgeable gentlemen over at the Ask Andy Forums. If there's any serious errors or omissions here, please let me know and I'll try to correct them.

Comments

  1. Great details and good to see you post again.

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  2. Great post. Very informative. Love the photos of two of my idols, Cary Grant & Sean Connery.

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  3. Thanks again, everyone. Comments like these are what keep me going as I learn more and more about how to dress well.

    I hope my constant discovery, observations, and lessons gleaned from well-dressed men past and present -- celebrity or not -- lead others to put in a little more effort when they go to a wedding, debate competition, anniversary or anything else that requires coat and tie.

    Please, keep leaving your thoughts (including how I can improve). :)

    -Jovan

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