One detail primarily separates an ordinary black suit from a dinner suit: silk lapel facings. There are a number of other details that a dinner suit (also called a Tuxedo) should ideally have, but no other detail defines the dinner suit as much as shiny lapels. It is why even a black suit with two buttons and shiny notched lapels is recognised as as dinner suit—albeit a poor example of one—rather than an ordinary black lounge suit. These lapels have a separate facing from the body of the suit and on well-made dinner jackets these facings are made of silk. More budget-minded dinner jackets have facings in artificial silk, but for the purposes of this article any shiny facing will be called silk. The type facing is usually specified as the name of the weave, whether it is in silk or artificial silk.
Where to Find Facings
The traditional method for facing a dinner suit is as follows:
- The jacket’s lapels are faced in silk
- The jacket’s buttons are covered in silk
- The trousers have a silk stripe down the outseam of each leg
- The waistcoat’s lapels are faced in silk (if the suit has a waistcoat).
Silk-covered buttons give a dressier look to the jacket, but they are optional and may also be horn or plastic. The stripe down the trousers is necessary, which helps tie the jacket and trousers together.
More modern dinner suits sometimes have additional silk facings on the pocket jettings and the trouser waistband, but this is unnecessary and not traditional. However, silk on the pocket jettings and on the trouser waistband can be a nice touch. Waistcoats may be made entirely of silk, which can either match or complement the lapels. Breast pocket welts should not be faced in silk because a silk-faced breast pocket would compete with the lapel facings. If there are flaps on the hip pockets (which there should not be), they should not be faced in silk.
Types of Facings
Silk facings are either smooth or they are ribbed. Smooth, glossy facings are made of satin silk, woven in a satin weave, and are the standard on dinner jackets. These are often referred to simply as “satin”, especially when in artificial silk. When the jacket has satin lapels, all of the facings must be satin. This means that the jacket’s buttons are covered in satin (unless uncovered buttons are used) and the stripe on the trousers is satin. Satin silk clashes with most textured silks.
Ribbed silk—also called corded silk—facings come in many forms, but there are three that are commonly used for a dinner jacket: grosgrain, faille and ottoman. All three materials are woven with crosswise ribs that have a matte finish that is more subtle than shiny satin silk. Ottoman has the largest ribs, grosgrain’s ribs are slightly finer and faille’s ribs are flatter. Ribbed silk facings today are almost exclusive to high-end dinner jackets—particularly bespoke—but were also very popular on dinner jackets, as well as on tailcoats, in the first half of the 20th century. Because of this, ribbed facings may have a more old-fashioned look, and some find their matte finish to be more elegant than satin.
With ribbed lapel facings, the stripes on the trousers and the button coverings may be in matching ribbed silk, but there are other options. Other textured silks can complement the ribbed facings. Basket-weave silk buttons and silk braids down the sides of each leg are traditional trimmings for a dinner jacket with ribbed silk facings.
To choose between satin or ribbed is purely personal preference, but it is best if there is contrast in texture between the facings and body. A wool dinner jacket has plenty of contrast with both satin and ribbed lapels. Satin facings generally pair better with shinier dinner jackets, such as those made of a wool/mohair blend or velvet, than ribbed facings do. Ribbed silk has approximately the same level of sheen as mohair and velvet, and when combined there is not much contrast between the body and the lapels. However, black ribbed silk facings on a shiny midnight blue dinner jacket provide a more substantial contrast than black ribbed facings on black mohair or blue ribbed facings on blue mohair.
Odd dinner jackets paired with contrasting black trousers—such as velvet, silk or light-coloured warm-weather variations—do not need silk facings because other special details can differentiate these jackets from sports coats. The ivory dinner jacket traditionally has self-faced lapels, which are in the same fabric as the body of the jacket. Because the facings are supposed to match the bow tie, ivory silk facings on a ivory dinner jacket will complicate the outfit and clash with the black bow tie, and black lapels on a ivory jacket oddly frame the chest. Darker silk and velvet dinner jackets may have black silk facings, but they are traditionally not necessary. A self shawl collar and jetted pockets should be enough to define any jacket as a dinner jacket.
Colour of the Silk Facings
Silk facings should almost always be black, so they match the black silk bow tie. The lapels should contrast the body of the jacket in texture, not in colour.
Midnight blue, a blue that is so dark it usually looks black, slightly complicates matters. On a midnight blue dinner suit, the facings may be either black silk or midnight blue silk. Black facings on a midnight blue dinner suit make the suit stand out as more blue than black because of the contrast with the lapels. Midnight blue facings on a midnight blue dinner suit actually make the suit look more black because there is no true black in the outfit for comparison.
Match a Bow Tie and Accessories to the Facings
A dinner jacket is worn for the black tie dress code, which means that the bow tie is black. The only exception is with midnight blue facings, but because midnight blue is so dark it appears to be black. With midnight blue facings the accessories ideally should be midnight blue to match, but black can work in a pinch. James Bond often pairs a black bow tie with midnight blue dinner jacket facings.
There are many different types of black bow ties that can be worn for black tie. A bow tie should match or complement the dinner jacket’s lapel facings. With satin facings, a satin bow tie is the best choice because no other weaves are as smooth and shiny as the satin weave. Bow ties with texture or a matte finish will clash with satin facings.
There are many more choices for bow ties to pair with ribbed silk facings, but a ribbed silk bow tie is the more basic option. Any kind of ribbed silk bow tie can pair with any kind of ribbed silk facings because the difference is minute. A faille bow tie may be paired with grosgrain facings, and vice versa. Beyond ribbed bow ties, any black bow tie of textured silk pleasantly complements with ribbed facings. Some options include silk barrathea, silk brocade, silk moiré and silk shantung and silk velvet.
The cummerbund should follow the same principles as the bow tie, and with ribbed facings on the jacket the cummerbund should match either the bow tie or the dinner jacket’s facings if the bow tie and facings are complementary rather than matching.
With an ivory dinner jacket, the bow tie and cummerbund should match the stripe on the trousers if the stripe is satin, or it should be a textured silk if the stripe is ribbed or a braid.