When Edward VIII was Prince of Wales, he spearheaded all manner of sterling style trends, including the peak-lapel and single-breasted jacket combo. His grandfather Edward VII commissioned his favourite tailor, Henry Poole, to run him up an outfit for informal dinners at Sandringham. The shortened tailcoat in celestial blue proved to be rather popular – and also set a blueprint for the first dinner jacket.
Poole’s current bespoke dinner suit in finely woven barathea (from £4,200) is considered a classic on Savile Row. “Classic Poole is a one-button, peak-lapel three-piece suit with a four-button vest,” says managing director Simon Cundey. “We also favour ‘brace-cut’ trousers, which give men the freedom to enjoy the evening and get into the dance zone after a big dinner.”
A few steps down the Row, Alexander McQueen’s signature pagoda shoulder is tempered by its smashing-but-simple black Shoulder Tuxedo (£1,540), as worn by Eddie Redmayne to the Oscars. In the basement, Ritchie Charlton (formerly of Hayward’s on Mount Street and Kilgour during the Brandelli period) works his tailoring magic to potent effect under the direction the label’s design team. I recently admired an exceptional bespoke black mohair, shawl-collared jacket with silk-faille revere, covered buttons and a distinctive single-link closure (from £4,080 with matching trousers). This princely jacket, which hints at a bygone era, embodies McQueen’s theatrical sensitivity to perfection.
Thom Sweeney is known for its distinctive 1970s-style three-piece suit (£3,800) with a horseshoe vest and shawl collar (cast your mind back to The Poseidon Adventure). Now it has a bespoke double-breasted, button-one-show-four suit in barathea wool (£2,550) with house-style rope shoulders that delivers a flatteringly imposing silhouette.
Rake’s unstructured shoulder style is addictively light. Its made-to-measure service (from £2,364) enables clients to mix and match the commendable details found in its ready-to-wear Lounge collection (jackets from £1,500, trousers from £595). For example, fabrics, from glamorous mohairs to dark-patterned silk Jacquards, can be combined with an elegant shawl collar, satin jets, and flaps with a single smoky, mother-of-pearl button, as well as trousers with a satin waistband and trim along the leg seam. It’s an eclectic look you can even mix with non-eveningwear, which I’ve been calling “fractured evening”.
Not surprisingly, designers are coming up with their own interpretations of this fusion style. Hackett has shown a play on the shawl collar, unusual in double-breasted jackets, and most fetching in fine polka dots, Prince of Wales checks and tartan (£475). For something a little lower-key, there’s a check shawl-collared wool jacket (£475) styled with a flower-print vest (£225). Brunello Cucinelli mixes unconventional fabrics in his one-and-a-half-breasted grey cashmere, silk and flannel tux (£3,549). A subtle subversion of a classic dinner jacket, that is a typically tactile and luxe creation by the “king of cashmere”. Meanwhile, Massimo Piombo’s flair and exhaustive research into fabric is second to none. He’s on a mission to bring finery from all over the globe into his eclectic collection, and the result is effortless evening sophistication. Swiss micro-pied-de-poule (€2,075) or tiny-square print (€1,670), in navy and black, hand-printed French cotton velvets with grosgrain Lyon silk revere, are innovative and beautiful.
While white might be the default evening-shirt option, alternatives can update and refresh a look. Emma Willis’s vintage-esque ivory silk evening shirt with a silk-piqué rounded bib front, collar and cuffs (£350) adds colour and texture and looks gorgeous buttoned right up, with no tie, under a midnight-blue suit. I’ve urged Turnbull & Asser to introduce retro shirts, too (from £225); versions with staggered pleats are particularly effective in eggshell blue and pale sepia. Around the corner, Budd on Piccadilly has been revamped. It is now a treasure trove of fine, super-traditional evening offerings. Off-white linen dress shirts (£160) with removable collars in bespoke linen (£35) look regal with mother-of-pearl and sterling-silver dress studs (£375), or if you prefer gold, the onyx and gilt set (£60). Its Marcella (£95) or silk-moiré (£165) waistcoat-slips make elegant statements under a dinner jacket, while the brand’s exclusive hand-cut white braces in silk moiré (£145) and its ivory hand-loomed-silk dress scarf (£125) will make a formal evening invitation that much more tempting to accept.
Some designers are introducing zesty colour to fractured eveningwear. E Tautz has produced squared-off jackets in striking, patterned acid-yellow silk with an unusual black-silk shawl collar (£845), as well as a button-one-show-one blue/black Jacquard version (£895). Most arresting with black evening trousers, they would look ideal at a cocktail party.Tom Ford, meanwhile, knows how to make party tailoring sing, as seen in his shawl-collar jackets in lime silk/cotton floral and vivid-pink Jacquard (£3,040) or almost chintzy full-on floral (£3,210), styled with plunging, jersey V-necked tees and flower-patterned slippers.
In terms of pushing the eveningwear envelope, it’s hard to tell who would win at January’s London Collections: Men – Ford or E Tautz. Perhaps the Prince of Wales, who launched the inaugural event last year, should cast the deciding vote?