My Cifonelli velvet jacket

The cloth that you select for a tuxedo (or black tie) probably won’t get as much thought as the design, the shirt or indeed your bow tie. The options are fairly limited, and all those other things will have a greater impact. 

But for those that want to think more deeply about it – as PS readers often do – there is plenty to burrow into. 

The principles are simple. The cloth for a tuxedo or dinner jacket should be dark and rich, with elegant drape, and play with the reflection of light. 

There have been various exceptions over the years, but they have largely been just that – exceptions. They’ve also tended to be fashions, and short lived. The ones worth mentioning are probably burgundy and green velvet, and cream for summer/tropical wear.

We will also leave out tartans or other forms of traditional dress. 

 

Peter @UrbanComposition in his shawl-collar DB

With traditional black tie, there is an assumption of absence of colour, and so the cloth is black – or midnight blue, because it looks blacker than black under artificial light (one more innovation of the Duke of Windsor). 

And there is an assumption of a lack of pattern, despite the fancy weaves, spots and micro-checks often included in bunches.

Without either colour or pattern to play with, the focus is on how this dark, plain material interacts with light. Woollen cloth, which was more common in the past, is very matte. Velvet visibly sucks up the light. And then there are cloths with different degrees of shine, whether generated by the fibre (eg mohair) or the weave (eg barathea). 

Part of the decision as to which material you go for depends how you feel about shine. And keep in mind how specific that can be to time and place. When Sir Anthony Eden strolled out in a mohair suit it suggested sophisticated dressing, as well as a summer wardrobe. But today, shiny tailoring is more likely to indicate cheap synthetics. 

 

With Richard Anderson and Brian Lishak, shot for The Rake

Silk and mohair

Dinner jackets have been made out of various non-wool fibres over the years, most notably silk and mohair. 

As a general rule though, silk is best kept to the facings of a dinner jacket, as it tends to lack body, and therefore an elegant line when tailored. If it is used in a jacket, then it should be a cream, summer one, which particularly suits silk’s lustre. Shantung can also add some unusual texture. 

(Silk can also be used effectively as a minor player in a mixed-fibre cloth.)

Mohair, by contrast, has inherent sharpness and lightness, as well as natural shine. And it can be easily mixed with any proportion of wool, to get the exact amount of sharp and shine desired.

My first black tie, made by Richard Anderson (shown above and below), was in a 50:50 wool/mohair mix. It was well cut, and certainly sharp. But I’m not sure I’d choose mohair if I was to commission it over again. 

I don’t especially like the shine (again, very personal and cultural) and the sharpness is a little too crisp. Today I’d prefer a cloth I could feel the body of, and that would drape and flow more.

 

The shine and crispness of a mohair mix

Barathea

That might be barathea. Barathea is a weave of (usually worsted) wool, just like a twill or hopsack, and is part of the satin group of weaves (see the ‘Weaves and designs’ chapter of this guide for technical details). 

Satin weaves in general are dense, and so drape very nicely. In previous chapters we talked about how twill is denser than a plain weave, making it a good choice for trousers. But if you used a twill’s number of picks and ends in a satin, the satin would fall apart. It needs a lot of yarn.  

Barathea retains this appealing body, but adds a rather matte look, which is what makes it look ‘blacker’ than other blacks. It basically reflects less ambient light (like velvet) which is what makes other cloths look dusty grey.

Satin weaves in general are good because of their body, and there are other variations, such as the ‘venetian’ weave. But it is rarely made any more. 

Also, be aware that although barathea is strictly a weave, it can be used as a general term for any deep-black cloth with a textured weave. That doesn’t necessarily matter if you like it, and keep in mind the aims of body and depth, but it’s worth being aware of. 

 

Barathea, with its distinctive weave

Velvet

The evening wear I actually had made most recently was a black velvet double-breasted jacket.

Velvet appealed to me because of its versatility: I could wear it with a black roll neck and gabardine trousers, for instance, and look elegant without necessarily being in black tie. 

And I liked the fact that it would be a little unusual. Menswear enthusiasts often push against tradition when it comes to black tie. On the one hand they love the idea of black tie being the most refined sartorial dress – everything stripped back to its essence. But on the other, they want to express themselves and feel they can do that better than others. 

 

Brown velvet

Black velvet, I think, is a nice point in between. I used to have a brown velvet (above), and other traditional colours are burgundy and bottle green; but they all seem a little too much like something you’d wear over pyjamas at home, for me. Not for going out. Black velvet doesn’t have that problem.  

Velvets are either made from cotton or silk. The silk variety is superior, but it is an elusive difference, often not noticed, and as a result I don’t know anyone weaving it today. (I’ve asked a couple of mills and merchants, but please shout if you know someone.)

Interestingly, a mill told me once that they were asked to supply velvet for a replacement for HM Queen Elizabeth II’s green cape.

After much searching and enquiring with suppliers, they failed to find silk velvet in that weight. It wasn’t economical to make it any more, so no one was. And as a result, the machines and the knowledge had gone. They didn’t know whether her Majesty was ever told the replacement wasn’t silk. 

 

The depth and shine of velvet

Weights, colours, and other alternatives

The first thing you notice about old dinner jackets is their weight: they were often made for venues without central heating, and weaving technology limited the fineness of the yarn. I used to have a vintage dinner jacket owned by film director Michael Powell, which was phenomenally heavy. 

Black tie events today are often hot and stuffy, and so it’s tempting to go for a cloth that’s as light as possible. But temper this with the need for something that drapes nicely. If you want lightness, go for a mohair mix. Otherwise, choose something substantial: certainly above 300g, ideally nearer to 400g.

 

A Liverano midnight-blue tuxedo

On colour, it’s worth repeating that although black is standard, midnight blue can look very elegant. Just make sure it is midnight. It should be so dark that you can’t tell it’s not black until you put the two next to each other. 

The trend for midnight blue has unfortunately spurred all kinds of navys and blues in evening wear, which have a tendency to look like something cheap you’d wear to the prom. 

Also, if you are interested in wearing colour, it’s worth noting that this is generally best done in the tailoring, rather than the accessories.

There have been many trends with coloured evening wear over the years, including shades of brown and tan in the 1930s (below), and an array of velvets. But they all had one thing in common: the accessories remained black and white. Avoid the temptation of coloured bow ties or cummerbunds. 

 

Grey, cream and brown (‘bisque’) dinner jackets

Finally, there are various other weaves and fibres we haven’t included. There’s nothing wrong with some of them, but mohair, velvet or barathea are usually better. 

For example, cashmere is often added to the fibre mix, to make it feel softer and more luxurious. But softness is not what we’re after here: drape and sharpness are the priorities. Cashmere is just included because people think it’s expensive. 

Wool gabardine can be very nice, and certainly has a luxurious feel as well as draping well. But it can look a little too much like a twill suit. 

There are various fancy weaves – it’s quite standard for even a traditional bunch to include twills, herringbones and a diced weave. But they feel like they’re there to just fill out the book – or to attract the customer who wants something a little ‘fancy’. None of them has any advantage over barathea.

And of course there are cheap alternatives to everything. Any fabric that looks dark and a little like barathea is offered for black tie, including hopsack and acetate satin, while hire garments use large proportions of synthetics to make them as tough and stain resistant as possible. 

It’s a big market, with a lot of options. But really only a few worth recommending.

 

Michael Browne at the BTBA
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Philosophus

Regarding silk velvet, I only know of one manufacturer in Italy. They make a velvet with a pure silk pile, but I do not know whether it can be made into a jacket, as it is intended for furniture.
The company in question is “l’Opificio”.
https://shop.lopificio.com/en/catalog/velvets/collection-silk-velvet

But silk velvet is not the only unusual product they offer, they also make linen and kid mohair velvets, but, once again, intended for furniture

Gonzague

Gucci and Tom Ford used a velvet made of 24% silk. As both brands used Zegna as a manufacturer, maybe Zegna provided the fabric also. Not sure, as Z maker and mills are separate companies and I never saw such a fabric in a Z bunch

Tamaki

Hi Simon,
Thank you once again for the article. I always look forward to what you will share with us.
One question: why is velvet only done currently in cotton, and not, say wool? Given that cotton doesn’t drape so well and have no elasticity in it, I wonder why no mill have yet made a velvet wool (and if someone did, pardon my ignorance and please share with me the bunch and mill). From what I know, woll velvet wouldn’t have any disadvantage to the cotton velvet, beside a bit priver.

Cheers

Andrew Poupart

I believe Caccioppoli makes, or did make, a wool velvet. I had a swatch of it in burgundy a few years ago when I was looking at having a burgundy velvet dinner jacket made up. I may still do so. It was largely indistinguishable from a cotton velvet, though.

MD

Kvadrat make a mohair velvet called Haakon. It’s a beautiful upholstery fabric — not sure if there are clothing equivalents.

Seb

Hi Simon,

If one does tend to overheat and one does not want to sacrifice drape, which percentage of mohair could one add before it becomes noticeably shiny?

Anonymous

Is Mr Anderson wearing brown shoes with his black tie or is that just a trick of the light in the photograph ?

Mark Hayes

Funny. I noticed that right away. I am a rank amateur when it comes to men’s clothing who can barely dress presentably, but what instantly came to mind was: “Those three guys are world-class men’s style pros. If he’s wearing brown shoes — which to me seems a bit odd — with black tie, it must be a well-considered and artful form of rule breaking.” I would have not given it a second thought if I were a guest at a party and met him there, shoed thusly, socially. Although I probably would have black shoes myself just cause I don’t have the sartorial confidence (or knowledge) to artfully break any rules. LOL.

Philip

Thoughts on turn-back cuffs?

Anon

Thank you Simon. Very interesting and helpful as usual. I do need to say, though, that Her Majesty is of course HM Queen Elizabeth II, not HRH. (Sorry, it just jumps out at me.)

Richard

Nice summary. By the way: the Queen’s titular prefix isn’t ‘HRH’ (Her Royal Highness) but ‘HM’ (Her Majesty)

Robert M

How is silk velvet superior to cotton if the difference is not really noticeable? Is it in the longevity? Something else?

Ben R

Do you have any specific bunch recommendations or and comments comparing different bunches?

I have a dinner suit with matching waistcoat in a black barathea from Smith Woolens – Formal and Dress Wear (16oz, I think). It’s a great go to for those late fall and winter parties. I have not had a chance to wear it during an outdoor summer party though, all the weddings were cancelled this summer. Someday I hope we’ll all be able to attend parties again.

Anonymous

Would be nice to add some… article felt curtailed without any especially with the warning of certain passing off

Anonymous

Any suggestions on mills for black barathea?
also on waistcoats – I have a low (u shaped) vintage one in black fabric (looks like a marcella). Have you come across this fabric before for waistcoat?

Also curious to hear thoughts on silk facings. Satin a bit too shiny for me, would corded be better?

Anonymous

Slightly off topic, but if you had only one tuxedo, would you go for a shawl neck or peak lapel?

Anonymous

Simon
I am going to commission a DB dinner jacket the moment lockdown ends. My only concern is that most of the BT events I go to include lots of quite rigorous dancing, either reeling or rock and roll.

Does a DB hinder this? I’ve never tried and would hate to waste all that cash!

CDBP

Agree with Simon. Go double breasted.

Robert

Hello.

Just noticed you are wearing a wing collared shirt with your black tie ensemble. This collar is designed to be more formally worn with white tie, made with single cuffs for cuff links.

My standard is 80/20 wool/mohair, at around 12 ozs, with silk grosgrain facings.

Thank you for an interesting article.

Robert

Thank you Simon.

Yes, the wing collar was made popular by our cousins across the pond, and sort of merged here, although turn down is the more proper traditional collar.

I believe the wing collar is still the preferred style worn with a “Tux” in the US.

Anonymous

My research in the past indicated that the detachable wing collar worn with full dress (white tie) was initially worn with a tuxedo (black tie) when the less formal short black jacket was introduced. Wikipedia dates the debut of the tuxedo at 1865 with the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) as the early adapter although there is also the romantic point of view that it was launched at Tuxedo Park, a posh residential enclave just west of NYC, which still exists. The stiff, detachable collar was attached to a collar band via a short collar button in the back and a longer collar button in the front.

The first shirt of this kind I needed to buy for white tie about a hundred and ten years later was purchased from J. Press and boasted a heavily starched, pique bib with an opening for a single stud and single French cuffs, also pique. The remainder of the shirt was cotton lawn. Archaically, the garment buttoned up the back so it was almost impossible to put on without assistance and required hand laundering along with the collar. I proceeded to wear it with black tie throughout the late seventies and appropriately, the decade of greed (1980s) and have retained it as a personal museum piece!

Early on, a white pique vest (now almost exclusively reserved for white tie) was also worn with black tie, which would have been considered more formal than the black vest option, typically satin, grosgrain, or barathea.

As you mentioned, Simon, the turndown collar we see most often today was introduced later in the evolution of the tuxedo and was initially the least formal option.

For those with a similar, overactive interest in this topic, there existed a comprehensive website/blog named the “Black Tie Guide”, the content of which has been acquired and expanded by a site named “Gentlemen’s Gazette”. Chronicled is the history of formal dress from the Regency Period to the present and much more.

Roger

Are you not confusing styles in the top photograph? Wing collars are correct for white tie, not black I believe

Jay Deputy

Simon,
I completely agree with your text about evening jackets. I have numerous ones in silk velvet or cotton velvet for colder months and silk ( including shantung) for warmer months. Paired with the right or proper jewelry, they provide a peasant departure from a tuxedo. Because of this article, I have renewed my search for an evening jacket in chocolate brown velvet.

ANM

One of my biggest sartorial regrets – getting a black tuxedo instead of midnight blue…and having made the investment, I am somewhat ‘out on a limb’

Ahhh first world problems…

Jason

Is there actually a UK social event that a flaneur would want to go to that demands black tie ?
I ask because there used to be two or three a year but I haven’t actually worn black tie for at least 10 years and I have a more than active social life.

Andrew Poupart

An informative article, Simon! A good friend who lives in Stockholm has a dinner jacket and trousers made up in Fresco. I have not seen it in person, only in photographs, but the matte finish of Fresco seems to work well. The owner claims that the ensemble wears agreeably cool. But using Fresco is definitely an unusual choice.

I’ve had good experience using Dormeuil’s Amadeus bunch for a couple of things and my Burma jacket is from their Celebration bunch, which has some lovely baratheas, too. One difficulty with midnight blue is finding the right shade of silk for the facings. I found a supplier in London, but it was quite a search. I don’t think using black silk on a midnight jacket looks right.

I agree with your advice to only use black accessories with colored jackets. While it’s fun to play around with offbeat ties (and I’ve been wearing some this summer that I’m sure would appall you), if you are going out in public, black just looks better, more relaxed, somehow.

Anyway, it was enjoyable to read an article about my favorite form of menswear!

Adam

May I suggest a New Yorker cartoon style caption contest for picture #3? Winner gets a free Friday polo?

Jtkuga

Simon,

I’m interested in your thoughts on how fabric choice interplays with the facings on the dinner jacket. For example, if I choose a more matte cloth, like a barathea, is that more appropriate with grosgrain facings? It seems like with a mohair/wool mix, the cloth might outshine (or outsheen, is that a word) the grosgrain facings. Likewise, would a mohair/wool mix work better with satin facings? Or does that even matter?

Also what are your thoughts on midnight blue cloth with black facings? My personal opinion is I hate any contrast that would make the midnight blue look like a navy… Thanks again.

Jtkuga

I do not know if they are easily available but they are available. I know blogger Matt Spaiser had a dinner suit made with midnight blue facings from Bernstein and Banleys. Not a company I’m familiar with but they are out there.

And yes I agree I’m more of a grosgrain fan, although my current black tie is just a Hickey Freeman hand me down with Satin facings. I don’t attend enough events, only 1-3 a year to justify the cost of a new dinner suit at this point with other more pressing needs for my wardrobe, but I hope to in the future.

Initials CG

Yes! Those silk facings can look too shiny. They may be of great quality but to me they come across as awfully synthetic because the contrast between the matte of the barathea cloth and the silk is dramatic.
My tailor had an older bunch for the facings that had a duller sheen, such that its contrast with the the matte cloth was far less glaring. I think it just worked so well I had him make up two additional bow ties, cumber bun and extra button facings … next time I see him I’ll try to find out specifics from that cloth and let you know

Kirill Dashkovskiy

I recall Hugo Jacomet mentioning a very deep black Drago cloth on his Instagram account, which he said was perfect for black tie. I have never seen it up close, but the images are rather impressive.

Prince Florizel of Bohemia

Thank you for the article, Simon. I’ve been wondering what kind of trousers you would wear with velvet jacket for a black tie event. I’ve seen pictures of everything from black tuxedo suit trousers to mid grey ones. Are there any rules/expectations in terms of color and material?

Ritchie Charlton

Pontoglio in Italy will make a beautiful silk, or silk/cotton velvet but unfortunately the minimums make it unfeasible for most tailors to stock. I have used it and it is on another level compared to anything available in cut lengths. Something akin to it used to be available from a company called Ruban in London but I think they went out of business a few years ago. Maybe you should bring your influence to bear on some of the London cloth merchants Simon! 😁

David Starzyk

Here’s a biggie, Simon: I own a BEAUTIFUL Dunhill velvet dinner jacket, (made in Italy by Isaia,); is it only for the winter? And when I do wear it, am I to wear a velvet bow tie to compliment it? Or is that too-too? Please advise. LOVE your site; LOVE your taste! Thank you for your commitment to an important part of being a man!!! DS.

Indigo Hugh

I’m guessing that for the third photo, the three of you donned dinner jackets just for the shoot, in the expectation that your street shoes would be cropped out?

Rafael Ebron

I went with black cloth from Harrisons Cru Classe and went classic with a 1 button peak lapel. Almost went midnight blue and almost went with some mohair mix. I’m happy I didn’t and stuck with a classic, color, cloth, and cut. I’ve worn it a ton and interestingly it ends up standing out as apparently, not too many people choose classic.

Michael

Simon, apologies if this is a bit of a naff question or if it has been answered previously. I know it’s the accepted wisdom to match the lapel facings to the bow tie (and by extension, the cummerbund if worn), but are silk barathea bow ties the exception and are they able to go with both grosgrain and satin facings?

Michael

That should’ve read “daft” not “naff” and thanks for the answer Simon

Matt

Hi Michael. Just anecdotally (and not exactly on point), but when A&S made my midnight blue dinner jacket, they not only sourced matching midnight blue grosgrain facings but also very kindly offered to have Budd make up a bow tie from the exact same facing material. The resulting tie is a tad chunky due to the thickness of the material, but it ties up beautifully and looks great as part of the whole outfit.

faucet

very interesting, good job and thanks for sharing such a good information

Matt

My personal suggestion would be Smiths 7815 Midnight Blue Barathea (10-11 oz). It makes up beautifully, sucks up the ambient light like a dream, and is soft and yielding to the touch and on the body, quite unlike the Teflon-esque substance that often seems to be used on RTW dinner jackets and trousers.
When paired with midnight blue grosgrain facings and highly polished black whole-cuts, it is quite exquisite.

Manuel

The only occasions for me to wear a tuxedo are opera festivals like Munich, Bayreuth, or Salzburg. Since these take place in the hottest months (July, August) I would need a fabric that is lightweight and breathable and looks good under intense daylight, too. What would be your advice, Simon?

Thanks, Manuel

CDBP

Go for cream lightweight breathable wool. That is perfectly fine in summer. Maybe only partially lined.
I would say single breasted ( cooler ) and shawl collar. But that is up to your taste.
Normal black dress trousers in lighter weight barathea best. If not cut too tight, they are cooler. 🙂

Sigmund

Couldn’t agree more on the versatility of black velvet. I had a single-breasted, one button, peak lapel jacket made 5 years ago. Initially, I imagined using it for less formal black tie events, the opera and so on. But, crucially, I opted for the lapels to not be faced with grosgrain or satin – just regular cloth. This turned out to make the jacket incredibly versatile and I never feel better than when wearing it with a black roll neck and grey flannel trousers for an elegant night out on the town.

Ben R

A bit off topic… but do you have a construction you would recommend for black tie/dinner suits? What would should be considered if trying to decide between British, French, Florentine, or Neapolitan make for one’s dinner suit? Would the type of cloth need to be considered when making the decision?

Ben M

Would you still wear a wing collar ?

Anonymous

The question of grosgrain vs satin for the facings is itching me. Why one over the other, given both are made from top quality silk?

Sigmund

Hello Simon,

I am considering buying a off-white double breasted shawl collar DJ, very similar to the classic worn by Bogart. My only hiccup is this: the jacket is made up in wool barathea at 395gr. Of course, it is a beautiful fabric and probably drapes very well. But this substantial weight and cloth seems to negate the intended use for warm weather events. On the other hand, I live in Norway, meaning that those truly intense days of heat are quite rare even in summer.

What do you think? Yay or nay? Other than the weight of the cloth, the jacket looks perfect.

zo

what overcoat would you wear with your velvet jacket? or any other evening outfit?

FB

Used to have a brown velvet? What happened to it? I was rather fond of it. 🙂

Anonymous

Would a DB black tie be much harder to dance in? Most black tie events I go to are balls, and I need to be able to rock & roll!

Anonymous

Simon
What would you think about a double breasted, shawl lapel (2 buttons)? Would it be too flash / modern? I have a v traditional crowd and would be in use for v traditional purposes

uri

Dear Simon,

I was hoping you could give me some advice on what kind of jacket to purchase for my first black tie ensemble. 

I am a young professional of modest means and currently do not have the wallet to go bespoke. I currently use the SuitSupply MTM program as their suits tend to fit me rather well. I would recommend this MTM program to any young gentlemen starting out as they offer highly customisable options and have customizations that account for odd shoulders and other bodily “imperfections”.

After pouring through hundreds of fabric swatches, I have narrowed down my search to a dark burgundy velvet at 400gsm or a black worsted at 300gsm. My plan is to create a double breasted dinner jacket with shawl lapels and satin facings. Now the issue is…

I just can’t decide which fabric to choose for my first black tie ensemble.

Although I lean towards velvet, I worry that I will melt wearing a fully lined double breasted 400gsm velvet jacket. I worry that a jacket of this caliber might actually be bulletproof. As you know, black tie events are often hot and stuffy affairs. I want to be unique and elegant but not feel like I am wearing armour and melting from within. 

The second option is going for a 300gsm worsted. I would basically go with the same jacket design. Now this ensemble could more or less be worn all year round. I don’t think I would overheat in it. The only draw back is that black worsted is so boring and uninspiring. I am reticent to spend good money on a jacket that leaves me feeling rather dull. However, I know that for someone who is just starting out, versatility is key. 

So my question(s) to you is:

What would you do if you were me?

I noticed that you have a few velvet dinner jackets in your wardrobe. What is your experience with those? How insulating do you suppose 400gsm velvet would be? At what point do you think one should forgo velvet? How late can velvet be worn into the warmer months? Perhaps you could also post my question on the website as I am sure there are many who have had the same issue.

Thanks!

Uriel F. Martinez

uri

Thanks Simon. I did go ahead and purchase the black worsted jacket as you suggested. Just for the future, how warm would you estimate a 400 gsm velvet jacket to be? I certainly would not like to overheat when trying to be as elegant as possible.

uri

Fantastic. Thanks for the info Simon.

James

What a wonderful article, Simon! Interestingly, I am seeing more midnight blue velvet jackets available, but as stand alone dinner jackets, without trousers. What sort of trousers would match? Would one need midnight blue or just wear standard black formal trousers? Perhaps something completely different?

AR

Hi Simon

I hope all is well. What is your take on studs, whether they should be worn or not, and do they always need to match cufflinks if they are worn? Would it be odd to wear cufflinks without studs? And lastly, not sure if you can, but wondering if you’d recommend any places to get cufflinks or studs.

Thanks

AR

AR

Thank you Simon. Unfortunately, I don’t know or couldn’t find online antique dealers who had what I was looking for. I’m sure I just don’t know where to look. At any rate, I wound up going with a matching mother of pearl set for an upcoming wedding from Samuel Gassmann. I think I’ll be pretty happy with them.

Best
AR