What colour is black?

Sunday, March 28, 2010
For the last post of 'black tie week' I thought I'd look at the issue of colour. At first, this may seem to be a pretty simple question - a dinner jacket is black, surely? Well, yes and no. For a start many people believe that pure black, especially under artificial light, is actually better achieved by a midnight blue material which looks 'blacker than black'. It's a discretely elegant choice that's hard to find off the shelf, but is well worth considering if you're getting your suit custom made.

Another option that noone would call 'discrete' is the white dinner jacket, although this should never be pure white, but ivory or cream. Done right, this can look smart and sophisticated, but done badly it makes you look like a waiter or as though you're on a cruise. It's much easier to get the white dinner jacket wrong than to get it right, and the key is to wear it only when the situation absolutely demands it. By that I mean that the party is either at sea, in the tropics, or otherwise in a location so warm that wearing black would be positively uncomfortable.

The white dinner jacket is always worn with standard black trousers, and can be in any of the usual dinner jacket styles. Single breasted models are probably more appropriate for the warm weather that demands a white jacket, but on the other hand a double breasted model can be worn without a waist covering, which may be preferable in hot temperatures. Perhaps the most common style is the single breasted shawl collar.

What of other colours? Most people would agree that black, midnight blue or white are the only acceptable colours for a dinner jacket, but I would suggest that they are missing the possibilities offered by considering the dinner jacket's heritage as a smoking jacket. The dark red jacket worn by one of the gentleman in the illustration below, which I also used earlier in the week is clearly not a classic colour but, as it is one of the traditional colours of a smoking jacket, it does not look at all inappropriate. Smoking jackets themselves are commonly dark green, maroon or dark blue and, if worn with taste, are a bold but acceptable choice at less formal dinners, as might be a dinner jacket in a similar colour.

In all this, remember that the colours of the trousers, shirt and bow tie must not change. White for the shirt, and black or midnight blue for the trousers and tie are the only acceptable choices.