6 Commonly Mistaken Formalwear Beliefs

I tend to talk a lot about formalwear on this blog, but for good reason. It has its own increasing list of misconceptions the less people wear it, which is odd considering how simple the dress code really is compared to others. Leaving off from my last list of misconceptions, here are six formalwear myths to beware of.

A white dinner jacket should have silk facings.

Not sure where or when this falsehood started, but one of the earliest examples I've seen is on the white dinner jacket worn by Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It is unfortunately quite prevalent nowadays, the equivalent to incorrectly facing the breast welt in silk (which is also unnecessary). I believe most people are simply ignorant about this convention as they are about the white dinner jacket as a warm weather variant, given how many wear it to holiday balls as "winter white" instead of in the summer. They simply see it as a striking alternative to the black dinner suit and nothing more.

Incorrectly faced white dinner jacket on Harrison Ford. Given it is supposedly a homage to Goldfinger's iconic black tie outfit, they should have gotten this correct.

Even our beloved 007 wore an incorrectly-faced white dinner jacket in Spectre recently as two years ago. Compounded by the incorrect addition of another button to the front -- more on that in a moment -- and single vent in back, it was a low point in the character's sartorial choices. Uncharacteristically, it was made by Tom Ford who usually is quite knowledgeable and correct about black tie. He certainly should be when his products cost as much as they do!

Elegant restraint: Bond looks like a refined hero rather than a flashy villain with self-faced lapels.

However or whenever it first came about, this thought process is mistaken. Even the earliest white dinner jackets had the lapels and pocket jetting in self-fabric with mother-of-pearl buttons, not matching silk with buttons covered in the same fabric. The reason is simply that any white or off-white silk will clash with the black silk bow tie, cummerbund, and trouser side braid.

A two button dinner jacket is more conservative than one button.

As time has gone on, increasingly more people have become confused as to black tie etiquette. For some reason, it is thought by many that the one button, peak or shawl jackets are the fashionable choices while the two button is more conservative. This is, in fact, the direct opposite of reality. Two or even three button dinner suits (most often with notch lapels) may be commonly sold, but this is more due to the convenience of reusing suit patterns than the retailer being correct. Even Brooks Brothers, once the American bastion of etiquette for tailored clothing, has fallen prey to this trend! The rules that apply to regular suits do not really apply to dinner suits. A two button front with notch lapels fails to differentiate a dinner jacket from a regular suit jacket.

Even with notch lapels, this dinner jacket could benefit from only having a single button.

Single button dinner jackets have been the proper choice ever since the inception of the dinner suit. This can be seen as far back as printed ads over a century ago, when it really began coming into its own as a less formal alternative to white tie attire. The only multiple button options that came about, later on, were double breasted. This was originally a warm weather alternative since it eliminated the need for a waistcoat. Nowadays, they are generally acceptable any time of year unlike the white dinner jacket. Because double breasted jackets are dressy but not necessarily more formal, one has a bit more flexibility in their buttoning choice. Two or four buttons with one to close are great for shorter people or those who want a longer lapel line. Four or six buttons with two to close are also acceptable in spite of being seen on lounge suits due to, again, the dressiness making up for it.

By comparison, this single button shawl collar looks far more debonair and less like an ordinary business suit.

Even formalwear waistcoats should have the bottom button unfastened.

This misconception is not helped by all the product photos from rental companies and even retailers that have formalwear available for purchase which feature men wearing waistcoats with the bottom button undone. Charles Tyrwhitt and Suit Supply, among others, are guilty of this practice in their photoshoots.

Leaving an evening waistcoat button unfastened looks quite odd, as is the case with this otherwise impeccable ensemble.

Once again, what goes for regular (lounge) suits does not go for dinner suits or full dress coats. Formal occasions are certainly "buttoned up" affairs, both literally and figuratively! Furthermore, proper evening formal waistcoats have the buttons spaced so closely together that there are practically no comfort advantages to leaving the bottom button undone. Leaving a waistcoat button unfastened just looks wrong in the context of eveningwear, to be blunt.

Midnight blue is a vivid blue.

I suspect, as The Suits of James Bond does, that this trend may have started with the posters for Skyfall. On it, the dinner suit appears to be light navy or even royal blue depending on how you look at it due to some rather overzealous colour correction The actual colour in the film and on the costume is midnight blue, sometimes called midnight navy, which is nearly indistinguishable from black at night and has been a classic eveningwear choice for almost a century. Actual black wool fabric can look more like dark green or dark brown under artificial light, hence this shade's invention by the Duke of Windsor. He also innovated this shade so that his eveningwear would photograph better in greyscale photography. (Source)

One of the first results searching for "midnight blue tuxedo". No wonder so many people are confused!

Either way, midnight blue is not noticeably blue. Retailers continue to call shades of navy, marine, or royal blue "midnight blue" for search engine optimization and to keep selling the trend of vivid blue tuxedos. They also tend to claim that the purpose is to stand out, which is not quite true. Do not be misled.

True midnight blue is not easily distinguished from black, such as with this Black Lapel dinner suit.

Groomsmen in a wedding party must match.

As with so many things that cost money and lead to more headache for the wedding couple and party, this was started by the wedding industry in order make more sales. Wedding planners get commission by recommending wedding couples to certain rental shops. In fact, the more expensive rentals are generally the ones that are the most fashionable or slim fit, which pushes both salespeople and wedding planners to push those styles. Often they'll use language like, "It will look better in photographs," or, "Don't you want everyone to look equally good?" to guilt you into it. The same logic is applied to bridesmaid dresses. This wasn't really a "tradition" until about half a century ago. Previously, as long as the clothing was relatively the same style or formality level it was considered acceptable.

A 1940s wedding. Note the differing styles amongst the wedding party.

Most men, or those who wear menswear, own at least one dark suit, black dress shoes, and probably a white shirt too. But for around the same price, even those who don't own a suit can get something and keep it for other occasions, having it sized to them alone. Many stores have two-piece suits for around $200. (I've seen rentals in excess of $250 during my time in menswear retail.) Sure, it won't be a bespoke dream, but it will certainly look better than most suit or tuxedo rentals which can be rather limited in their sizing and fabric options. Speaking of...

The groom and groomsmen must wear tuxedos for a wedding during the day.

This last one I have some personal experience with. Again, blame the wedding industry and general ignorance for this. At some point, Americans collectively forgot that tuxedos were meant for night time. As time went on, anything seemed to go. If you think the eveningwear fashions of today are garish, the '60s and '70s have some even bigger eyesores! My theory is that when styles became "anything goes", the time of day for wearing them also became "anything goes". I could be wrong.

Wherever the fault lies, eveningwear is still called as such by the British for a reason. The formalwear clothier After Six is also named that for a reason. Etiquette prescribes these items be worn after six in the evening (18:00 for those on 24-hour) or when night falls, whichever comes first, since the striking black and white ensembles look best at this time. At one time, eveningwear was what one changed into for their evening meal. Hence, you guessed it, dinner jacket.

Rental providers and others will try to convince you that a tuxedo is the height of formality no matter what time of day. Pay them no mind. If your wedding goes on during the day consider wearing morning attire instead or even a special lounge suit, the latter of which there is nothing wrong with at all. Something like a peaked lapel, single breasted, three-piece suit will look a little different from what you are used to seeing at the office. Even more so if in a non-business colour like charcoal blue. A double breasted suit is also a good way to go, since they are not seen as much these days. Point is, there are other ways to celebrate your marriage without resorting to substandard, incorrect-for-the-day tuxedo rentals. You may also find uses for it outside the special day, unlike a wedding gown.

Thanks to Matt Spaiser for his suggestions in the making of this article.


  1. Are you trying to convince women to wear suits rather than wedding gowns at the end?

    1. That wasn't my intention, no. But you are free to wear what you wish to your wedding!


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