Dinner Jackets and Dress Shorts

Posted on June 5, 2014

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In the spirit of summer’s arrival, here’s a novel approach to warm-weather black tie from the Life archives: dinner jackets and dress shorts.

The photo above is from an August 1953 article about maverick American men seeking summer relief in the form of knee-length shorts. According to the story, “Properly worn with knee-length wool socks, which somewhat cancels the cooling effect, Bermuda shorts take on formality as a jacket or tie is added, [but] still look best in the country.” Examples of knee-length incursions into trouser territory include this group of “pioneering eastern college men” at a formal country club dance in Chicago’s tony northern suburbs wearing “dinner shorts, white jackets and black tie”. The men also sport white wool socks that look very much like the heavy dress kilt hose worn with Scottish formal attire, along with loafers or formal pumps (as seen here). The choice of the latter footwear is likely an attempt to counterbalance the informality of the short pants but the contrast of the delicate black shoes with the thick white socks only looks ridiculous.

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The following year, another Life article featured male spoofs of traditional débutante parties that were held that summer. In these photos young men – once again from Chicago’s North Shore – hold a “beautillion” in a back yard. The boys all wear white dinner jackets, black bow ties, shorts made from black-died cut-off khakis, knee-length black dress socks and standard black dress shoes. No reason is given for the decision to wear short pants in place of formal trousers.

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As quaint as these outfits may appear, The Black Tie Guide does not recommend them for men beyond the age of graduation. Not even if they are bona fide Bermudians.

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Thanks to reader Tim Halket for inspiring this post.

Posted in: History