Vintage Warm-Weather Black Tie

Posted on May 18, 2012

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Outside the Casino Theatre in Newport, Rhode Island, 1935.

After writing all week I have finally finished a new page dedicated to Vintage Warm-Weather Black Tie just in time for the start of the summer season in Canada and the US.

Some of the more interesting tidbits I (re)discovered during the process:

  • full-dress summer events had disappeared from the US by the 1920s and the “informal” dinner jacket became considered both “formal” and “informal” for summer evenings
  • unlined, lightweight worsted was being recommended for summer evening dinner suits at least as far back at 1919
  • in the 1920s a dark blue blazer and white flannel plants were common for Saturday evening dances at country clubs; the tuxedo was recommended as being cooler partly because opera pumps were lighter than spectator shoes and bow ties covered less of the chest than long four-in-hands
  • matching white trousers were allowed during the first few years of the white dinner jacket’s appearance in the 1930s
  • the double-breasted dinner jacket was the first solution for warm-weather comfort not because it eliminated the need for a waistcoat but because it was originally designed with a narrow overlap that covered less of the chest and reduced the amount of layered fabric at the waist
  • waistcoats then cummerbunds were often worn with double-breasted dinner jackets for summer wear up until the mid 1930s; I can only presume this was for the sake of propriety when a gentleman opened his jacket to sit down
  • in addition to straw boaters, coconut straw hats and Panama hats were also acceptable as formal warm-weather headwear
  • the civilian mess jacket originated as yachting and cruising attire which is appropriate considering it was modeled on the jacket worn by British naval officers in the tropics

Speaking of the mess jacket, I have at long last been able to track down actual photographs of the garment.

English playwright, director, actor, and singer Noël Coward starring in his short play “We Were Dancing” (1936)

Here Noël Coward demonstrates the original and most formal interpretation of the mess jacket outfit with peaked-lapel jacket, white waistcoat, and stiff-front wing-collared shirt.

American actor Robert Montgomery  in 1932

This photo shows Robert Montgomery in an early version of the more informal shawl-collar jacket without buttons or breast pocket.  A silk cummerbund replaced the white waistcoat with both jacket styles by 1933, the same time that the soft-front turndown-collar shirt also became popular.

Introduced in 1931, the mess jacket quickly became a huge hit then almost as quickly fell out of favour.  This was partly due to its less than flattering appearance on men with less than flattering physiques, and to its popularity with service industry staff and orchestra musicians.  In 1935 Apparel Arts reported that the jacket was “now completely out of fashion” while Esquire advised its own readers to “forget about them, unless you’re in the navy and have a right to wear them, or unless you’re a banjo player or a sax blower and wearing a mess jacket is part of your job.”

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If you’re new to The Black Tie Guide, be sure to also check out the 1930s History page for more great images of warm-weather black tie.