Before we delve too deep into white dinner jacket etiquette, it might be helpful for me to explain what a “white dinner jacket” is, how it came about and where you will usually find it. There are many different variations of the white dinner jacket, which are listed below. It was first brought about in America in the 1930s by a dapper Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca”. You will often see them worn on cruises, in tropical locations and during the summer. Oh, and very often on the incredibly delicious George Clooney. Let me tell you: if you are going to be wearing a white dinner jacket, you are definitely going to be getting a lot of attention; you have been warned!
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There are varying rules of etiquette for white dinner jacket attire depending on the type of white dinner jacket you are wearing. However, no matter the type of jacket, it much be absolutely immaculate with no stains or tears, just like the etiquette concerning a normal black dinner jacket. For further etiquette rules specific to the different types of jackets, please read below.
The Traditional White Dinner Jacket
A traditional white dinner jacket is basically a black dinner jacket…in some sort of shade of white. The same “only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day” rule applies when you are wearing a traditional white dinner jacket. Even then, if you do not live in a warm climate, you run the risk of looking a little off. This look is very casual and a little “beachy”, so, while it might be appropriate to wear on a cruise, it won’t fly when meeting a new client for a business lunch in New York. Having said that, if you are lucky enough to live in the tropics or are going on a cruise in February, you and your white jacket will not be out of place. For under the white dinner jacket, you can wear a shirt any color of the rainbow. If you want to wear white, though, make sure you choose pure white; ivory will make the jacket look a little yellow. Not a good look!
The Ivory Dinner Jacket
Speaking of ivory, choosing an ivory dinner shirt over a white dinner jacket can allow you to make a much more subtle, but still, powerfully stylish impact. If you are renting an ivory dinner jacket for a special occasion, though, do not let the rental shop talk you into wearing an ivory shirt under it. Just like it is impossible to get a black jacket and black pair of pants that are the same shade of black unless you get them made at the same time, the same applies to ivory jackets and ivory shirts. Even having them off a little will cause those to see you to do a double take. A white shirt under an ivory jacket is very classic Hollywood (like Bogart in Casablanca).
The White Tuxedo Jacket
Picture Sean Connery as James Bond (or Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig or whoever your Bond guy is). Now picture him in a white jacket. Bam! That is a white tuxedo jacket. Your white tuxedo jacket must, must, must be white. Not off-white or dingy white. Pure white. Period. Black slacks and shiny black shoes should also be worn to keep the look classy. And do not ruin your perfectly put together outfit by wearing a bow tie that is any color besides black. Trust me. Picture James Bond with his white tuxedo jacket and a bright red bow tie. Ugly, right? Now, if Bond cannot pull it off, do you think you can?
The White Suit
What if a white dinner jacket isn’t enough for you? What if you want to take it up a notch? Time to bring out the big gun: the white suit. The same rule as above applies here as far as the season a men’s white suit ivory should be worn: in a very hot climate in the summer. You definitely want to be outdoors and not anywhere near a city or office building when sporting your white suit. Wearing a white suit shows how stylish you are and everyone with style knows you need a good tailor. Make sure your white suit fits very slim; it should not look like a business suit at all. To keep the look classy and not trashy, pair your white suit with pastel shirts with pin point collars – anything else (bold colors or crazy patterns) will make it look like you are trying to hard (you are in a white suit, after all; you already have everyone’s attention). The same goes for your tie. If you feel the need to wear one: keep it simple. Brown or black loafers finish off this amazing outfit!
Example: A stylish white suit
Men’s Suit Vest
As long as I’m educating you on suit etiquette, be it white or any other color, I think it will be handy to include a little blurb about suit vest etiquette. If you have a suit that buttons low, a suit vest can tie the whole outfit together quite nicely; just make sure the color or pattern complements the suit color. If you are wearing a white suit, it is best to skip the suit vest as it gives the whole outfit a more formal look. However, that is just my opinion and not an etiquette rule; some guys may be able to pull it off without any issues. Something that is an etiquette rule is to ensure your suit vest fits correctly. It should not fit too tightly when buttoned and should overlap the waist band of the pants by no more than an inch. Also, to ensure you look just as good when you take off your suit jacket, make sure you get a vest with a full back. If you are wearing a tie, it should be put on after you have the vest on, with the tail of the tie tucked into the bottom of the vest. And if you have suspenders on, those also go under the vest. I really don’t know how you would manage to put them on over the vest, but, just in case you aren’t sure, I’m here to provide all the facts!
The White Linen Suit
Is the white suit a little too much? Maybe you should take a baby step into the style world with a white linen suit. Since the time of the ancient Egyptians, men have been wearing linen. It is known for its breathability factor, hence its popularity in warmer climates, as well as being a durable fabric. Men’s white linen suits have always been popular because they are loose fitting, eliminating the need for a tailor. However, white linen suits wrinkle very easily and Murphy’s Law states that if you are going to wear white, you will spill something all over yourself. So, etiquette states that you keep your suit clean and wrinkle free, meaning, you probably will only get a few hours of wear a day out of it. The white linen suit is a classy, but, very casual look, so wearing it to formal occasions definitely will not work. It is best not to wear a tie with this suit, but, if you have to, pick something with a casual pattern. Boat shoes or slip on sandals (never black!) complete this great summer look! I will let you in on a secret: these same tips work for women, too!
Boys’ White Suits
As previously mentioned, it is nearly impossible for grown-ups to keep white pristine, and you want to put it on a little boy? I hope the only motivation for this crazy desire of yours is that your child is a ring bearer in a wedding. Even if you sit your kid in the corner and tell them not to move, that suit is going to get dirty. The best thing to do is to wait until the last possible second to have your child change in to the suit, not let him touch anything, let him do his duty walking up the aisle, immediately grab him after the ceremony, get all of his pictures with the wedding party completed first thing (watching him like a hawk the whole time – sorry, buddy, but, no bathroom breaks for you!) and then let him go wild (if you haven’t already lost control of him by that stage – that’s a long time). Oh, and make sure you purchased some sort of insurance policy with the tuxedo rental place. That poor suit will never be the same.
Wearing Your White Outfit
As for when you should wear any of the variations of a white dinner jacket, it depends: a white linen suit is best worn at a casual summer wedding, a beach party or a barbeque. A white suit technically could be worn to an evening wedding – this is appropriate etiquette wise, but, try explaining that to everyone giving you the evil eye at the wedding for wearing white (that rule only applies to women, fyi).
Rules are made to be broken and white dinner jacket rules are no exception: if you are attending a holiday or New Year’s Eve party, your white dinner jacket will add a special touch of festivity. Please just don’t pair it with a knitted reindeer sweater. However, white suits and white linen suits should definitely be reserved for the summer months.
If you are hosting an event, in most cases, you can get away with wearing a white dinner jacket – it is your party and the attention should be on you, anyway! However, if you are attending an event and are questioning whether wearing a white dinner jacket or suit will be appropriate (as with any attire question when attending an event), ask the host their opinion; their answer will usually solve your dilemma. And if that option is not available to you, and you are not sure, do not wear it. Better safe than sorry!
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