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The "Classic" Dinner Jacket?


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#1 Sator

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 09:57 PM

One of the things that perrenially goes around in circles is the claim that there is some sort of "Classical" dinner jacket that represents some supposedly Timeless Style for Gentlemen. Careful study of dress history, however, seriously casts doubt on any such notions.

This comes from Vincent's Cutter's Practical Guide from London circa. 1920.





Notice how the dinner jacket is shown with step collars, pointed lapels or roll collar. Notice how even a flapped hacking pocket is shown as a variation. The accompanying text even states that the sleeves should takes cuffs - something omitted on the features of the modern supposedly "Timeless" Dinner Jacket Model.

Here is an illustration taken from J.P. Thornton's International System of Garment Cutting from 1915:



Notice that he calls it a semi-dress coat, and step lapels are depicted as an option.

These, and other similar illustrations, seem to cast serious doubt on the dogma about how it is allegedly written in stone that step lapels on a dinner jacket violate the Eternal Rules of Men's Style.

On the other hand, it must be said that after the 1920s it becomes increasingly uncommon to see step lapels being depicted on lounge jackets. For example, Percival Thickett in the 1936 edition, and Archibald Whife in the 1949 edition of The Modern Tailor, Outfitter and Clothier both exclusively show a model with a single button pointed lapel. B.W. Poole in 1927 also describes only the model with a double-breasted revers on a single breasted jacket. All the German texts in my Bibliography also depict only roll or step collars. Even Croonborg in 1907 also only shows models with step and roll collars.

All of this suggests that the tendency for the dinner jacket to take double breasted lapels became established after the 1920s. Nowhere is it actually stated that step lapels somehow become "incorrect" or "Against the Rules". It should also be noted that the dinner jacket was originally a very negligé garment that was neck-and-neck with the smoking jacket and dressing gown in formality. As the twentieth century progressed, it came to be worn increasingly alongside the dress coat, before gradually starting to surplant it in popularity for evening wear. The more it was worn in large gatherings, the more formal its features became, to allow it to be seen alongside the dress coat.

Sydney Barney in 1951 identifies two forms of dinner dress. The first is more formal, when worn alongside dress coats: the shirt should be a stand up collar, the jacket should be single breasted lounge styled model and worn with a waistcoat. The second form of dinner dress is more informal: the jacket may be single or double breasted (by 1951 the double breasted dinner jacket, possibly an American novelty had gained widespread acceptance as informal dinner dress). The models depicted earlier by the likes of Thornton likely belonged in the latter category, and at the time for any formal gathering the dress coat was worn. In that context, the informality of the step lapel model seems perfectly fitting.

Another thing that has to be said today is that there is a blatant proliferation of two or three button models with step lapels. This is something quite different. It is all too obvious that the makers were too lazy to spend the money to develop a one button pointed or roll collar block pattern. They are clearly taking short cuts in using the old lounge blocks for their dinner jackets. Usually, this sort of thing can be found in the work of cheaper makers. So, those who find something rather sloppy about them do have some cause to complain that they look too mundane. Features such the one button closure, the double breasted revers, or even link closure are all meant to make the dress lounge look more dressy and less loungey. Modern makers seem hell bent on stripping the garment of all dressiness, and wearers are encouraged to always wear turn down collars, shirts without studs and omit the waistcoat or cummerbund. The real reason, I suspect, is that garments with such features are too much of a bother to make. Rather than spend money on making up the garments, it is better in most makers' eyes to spend more on advertising to convince the masses that they want a dumbed down model like the ones worn on the catwalk or which James Bond is being paid to wear.

#2 jefferyd

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 11:02 PM

It is all too obvious that the makers were too lazy to spend the money to develop a one button pointed or roll collar block pattern. They are clearly taking short cuts in using the old lounge blocks for their dinner jackets. Usually, this sort of thing can be found from cheaper makers.



Wrong.

The customers of the cheaper makers are not usually aware of the arcana of "proper" dinner dress and being used to seeing, almost exclusively, notch lapels on business attire are drawn to that which is familiar. Those who obsess about detail such as the proper shape of lapel are more likely to buy a better calibre of garment. In both cases, the makers develop that which is demanded of them by the customer, and not the reverse; if the customer of cheaper makers were aware of and desired peak lapels, or flower-shaped lapels, for that matter, they would develop them, particularly since the makers of popularly-priced garments have the high volume which renders product development costs per garment sold very minimal.

#3 Sator

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 11:08 PM

But open any modern textbook on cutting a dinner jacket and you will see the step collar and roll collar shown. Can't these cutters working for companies read? Why do they default to the step collar like so many lemmings?

#4 jefferyd

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 11:48 PM

But open any modern textbook on cutting a dinner jacket and you will see the step collar and roll collar shown. Can't these cutters working for companies read? Why do they default to the step collar like so many lemmings?


It is not the cutter who defaults but his customer. If you are not convinced, look at the catalogs of the cheapest RTW formalwear makers- they offer more variety of styles than you could have imagined, but the one they will sell the most is the notch. It is not economy of patterns or styling- it is market demand. HSM makes shawl collars and peak lapels, but Mr. Obama chose a notch for his inauguration suit; are you suggesting the cutter at HSM is at fault?

#5 Sator

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 12:04 AM

If you actually look in stores, you are often left with little choice. Perhaps, the "customer" you refer to is the person at the store who orders the goods from the maker. It is not the end buyer, who is as generally clueless as President Obama, and is presented without much choice. Those "imaginative" choices from cheap formalwear hire places are often quite bizarre, often boardering on the grotesque and comical eg "frock coats" that are just cut off a Chesterfield block with a silk faced step collar and no waist seam or pleated back :rofl:

#6 Sator

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 12:19 AM

Here is another example of a cheap and bizarre formal coat:



It is a morning coat cut without a waist seam shok.gif.I just assumed it was made that way to save on the cost of having to make a up a proper body coat (taping the waist seam for example). Now I see where the factory really saved its money: by hiring a cheap and clueless cutter! Notice how dreadfully shapeless that wretched thing is.

#7 jefferyd

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 12:19 AM

If you actually loom in stores, you are often left with little choice. Perhaps, the "customer" you refer to is the person at the store who orders the goods from the maker. It is not the end buyer, who is as generally clueless as President Obama, and is presented without much choice.


The buyer (person buying for the store) buys what he thinks his customer, the end consumer wants (and there is an art to doing this). If there is little choice in many stores, it is because they have found that there is not enough demand for styles other than the notch and won't stock it. Stock is not carried over from season to season- what is left at the end of the season is dead stock and is liquidated, which is bad for the store and bad for the buyer. Merely presenting the choice in a store is not going to incite the customer to buy a peak over a notch. If fine French dining has been outnumbered on the market by McDonalds, it is not due to the gross ignorance or laziness of chefs the world over, but to the greater preference for chicken McNuggets over cuisses de grenouilles.

#8 Sator

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 12:28 AM

The buyer (person buying for the store) buys what he thinks his customer, the end consumer wants


I think you have already said it: they buy/order in stock that they think looks right. The step collar looks familiar, so they think it's what they should stock. Others do the same, and, like lemmings, they all march over the same sartorial cliff en masse. It is not something they have sat down and made some conscious executive decision over at a board meeting. It is largely the product of thoughtlessness, group-think, and lack of knowledge in an age where everyone is too busy to think such things over.

#9 jefferyd

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 12:41 AM

I think you have already said it: they buy/order in stock that they think looks right. The step collar looks familiar, so they think it's what they should stock. Others do the same, and, like lemmings, they all march over the same sartorial cliff en masse. It is not something they have sat down and made some conscious executive decision over at a board meeting. It is largely the product of thoughtlessness, group-think, and lack of knowledge in an age where everyone is too busy to think such things over.


It's a little more scientific than that. Sales figures are tracked, by size and SKU. Buyers know exactly what sells from season to season based on past performance of styles. They routinely visit other stores in their market and in others to see what is being sold, and what is not selling. I won't get into the complete art and science of retail buying, but suffice it to say it is not a simple matter of taking guesses. Let me assure you, quite definitively, (oh, SG, where is that pistol gif you pulled out on LL?) that the notch lapel dinner jacket is due to consumer demand and not buyer or cutter ignorance.

#10 Sator

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 12:47 AM

I'd be very surprised if they had sales statistics with a graph plotting the comparative sales of the same dinner jacket made up with different lapel styles as the only stylistic difference. I've also noticed pointed lapels on lots of lounge jackets of late - oddly enough, but not on dinner jackets. I doubt that the sales people and statisticians even know what a lapel is. If you look at Brioni, Kiton, Borelli and other more "high end" makers, you do notice a steady increase in the relative proportion of double breasted and roll collars.

#11 jefferyd

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 01:35 AM

I'd be very surprised if they had sales statistics with a graph plotting the comparative sales of the same dinner jacket made up with different lapel styles as the only stylistic difference.



Absolutely. The moment you change any detail of a garment its UPC changes. All variations, colours, sizes, shapes, everything is tracked. Most major stores have online tracking that the buyers and vendors can see exactly what is being sold, week by week so that they keep their inventory low on key items- they replenish every week by the sizes and styles that have sold -anything that stagnates is moved to a different market or is moved to liquidation houses to make room for merchandise that will sell- dormant stock is dead money. You would be very surprised by the level of sophistication employed by retailers. They absolutely know how many notch lapels sold versus peak lapels, and they know where, what month, what sizes, what alterations were done...... production and buying figures for dinner suits are adjusted for periods of the year like graduation and wedding seasons, holidays, etc. Retail buying can be like gambling- they are betting that what they buy will be sold, and there is a LOT of money involved so you can rest assured that every tool possible is used to ensure that the right assortment of product is being bought at the right time, and if it wasn't that it gets adjusted FAST.

Brioni and the other high-end makers aren't seeing an increase in peak and shawl collars- they have always made them predominantly, largely because the person spending several thousands of dollars on his suit is likely to be better-informed about his purchase than the one spending a few hundred dollars. And if he is not, his wife probably is, and she is very likely to have a large say in the matter.

#12 Schneidergott

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 02:47 AM

Here they are:



or were you referring to these?



To me it sounds like the classical dilemma: What was first, chicken or egg? Or in this case uninformed/ mislead customer or the retail buyer.
The biggest producer of formal and evening wear in Germany is Wilvorst: http://www.wilvorst....dgarderobe.html

They offer a pdf file for download where they show their model range. What you find in stores is mainly RTW but I think they do MTM as well.
from what I have seen their cut resembles a regular RTW cut, just a bit modified. They are no way near the models of the past. Again, they have to fit many different shapes.
The formal coat Sator showed clearly qualifies for the badly trained staff category.
But you'd be surprised how many german men got married wearing a smoking (tuxedo) in the morning. Silly.gif
I had a few MTM customers who wanted something to attend their daughter's or son's wedding, but in most cases it came down to something they could wear afterwards for other occasions. I think the main reason why customers tend to buy "regular" styled stuff is that they either cannot or don't want to spend big money on something they gonna wear 1 or 2 times in their lives. And of course, they may not know better. According to my experience, married or at least engaged men are traditionally lazy (or their will already broken Black Eye.gif ) and leave decisions about dress to their better half.
I assume that Jeffery can approve the fact that in a wedding the bride comes first, because her dress will be more expensive than his outfit, no matter what price range they're in. So his suit better match her dress, or he'll be in trouble already.
Truth is, if you'd appear to a normal wedding wearing a morning dress ( Cutaway or Stresemann) you'd stick out and may be even laughed at. That is, unless you are the groom. Or maybe not. Sigh.gif


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#13 culverwood

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 06:43 PM

It seems then that there is no such thing as a classic dinner jacket and everything else is just fashion. My string of DJs from the 60's to now are:
Blue thai silk with velvet notch lapels. 60s/70s
Midnight blue thai silk DB with peak lapel . 80s
Dull black DB peak lapel. 90s
Black thai silk SB shawl lapel bespoke. 00s

Of course the blue number in the 70s was worn with a very frilly blue shirt and velvet bow tie. My excuse is that I was just wearing what was in fashion at the time and available in the shops.

#14 Terri

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 07:48 AM

Here is another example of a cheap and bizarre formal coat:

Posted Image

It is a morning coat cut without a waist seam :shock:.I just assumed it was made that way to save on the cost of having to make a up a proper body coat (taping the waist seam for example). Now I see where the factory really saved its money: by hiring a cheap and clueless cutter! Notice how dreadfully shapeless that wretched thing is.


(Jeffery, since you have a lot of info about the commercial suit industry, maybe you can shed light here)

I have come across these too- not very nice and I wondered really why the waist seam was eliminated- is it for fit? or Lack of fit? Body coats should fit much more closely than a sack or lounge coat- so I thought that maybe they eliminated the waist seam to try to put them on more bodies within a size range, or perhaps it is a more economical layout of fabric?
What is your opinion?

I have to say that I am feeling a little guilty pleasure because I do get to make "proper" frock, morning and tailcoats for work, and I will be making at least 4 tuxedos/dinner jackets with different lapel styles in the next month or two.

#15 jcsprowls

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 08:18 AM

Economy comes from having more pieces that can be nested close together on the fabric.

That said, designer-quality fits produce a fair amount of waste, which is why economy-grade fits tend to be fast-and-loose. Basically, as you slide down the quality scale, the patterns (and, grading) is slanted more heavily toward fabric utilization and less upon fitting the median population.

I've had cutters come up to me and tell me to make a waist seam more relaxed because it was easier to cut in production. If we're talking to flatten the curve 1/8" so he can butt up another piece in the marker and avoid running the blade twice, I'll call the designer and present them with the business decision.

My opinion of the missing waistline seam is that it can go either way. Foremost, the designer probably specified (i.e. sketched) a garment without a seam and the patternmaker executed it that way. Or, the company/brand in question used a "technical designer" to make both the sketch and the ~ahem~ pattern without ever sewing or fitting the sample.

If the latter, those poor kids are shoved in cubicle farms all day. They deliver up to 25 tech packs and patterns day-in and day-out. I would be inclined to assume a technical designer made an oversight because they are most likely to not have time enough to devote to research or access to the right reference materials in the first place.
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#16 jefferyd

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 08:23 AM

I have come across these too- not very nice and I wondered really why the waist seam was eliminated- is it for fit? or Lack of fit? Body coats <u>should </u>fit much more closely than a sack or lounge coat- so I thought that maybe they eliminated the waist seam to try to put them on more bodies within a size range, or perhaps it is a more economical layout of fabric?
What is your opinion?


I really don't know why they would have done that. It's actually much LESS economical in terms of fabric layout to have big pieces like that and handling is much more difficult. The time gained in the lack of seam is more than wasted in handling those big pieces- we have engineers with stop watches that time every single movement so we know exactly how long it takes to handle a big piece versus a small one. You have to keep in mind that they are not sewing one garment at a time- they are sewing large bundles so it may be as many a thirty or fifty of each panel in a bundle that the operator has to manipulate, sew, and hand off to the next operator. A real pain. A waist seam makes things a lot easier. It's also not the sort of thing that we do for fitting, and it also makes fitting MTM programs and alterations much harder not having the seam.

A mystery to me, though I can say that it's really not about saving money.

J

#17 jefferyd

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 08:40 AM

Let me add a statistic which may help put things in perspective. In a modern suit factory, it takes 3 minutes to set a pair of sleeves. How long do you think it would take to sew a measly waist seam? We're talking pennies.

#18 jruley

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 12:07 PM

Here is another example of a cheap and bizarre formal coat:

Posted Image

It is a morning coat cut without a waist seam :shock:.I just assumed it was made that way to save on the cost of having to make a up a proper body coat (taping the waist seam for example). Now I see where the factory really saved its money: by hiring a cheap and clueless cutter! Notice how dreadfully shapeless that wretched thing is.


Unfortunately, their products which do incorporate a waist seam aren't much better. The "Regency Brocade Tailcoat" in silver is particularly, well, unique...

http://www.gentleman...tore/001908.php

In fairness, this is a historical costume company, not a formalwear store per se. The emphasis is evidently on costume rather than history, as their coats resemble altered modern blocks much more than something out of DeVere's book...




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