The Avengers: Creative Eveningwear in Red

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Steed-Claret-Dinner-Suit

The first episode of The Avengers in colour, “From Venus with Love” in 1967, takes full advantage of colour by placing Patrick Macnee’s John Steed in a claret red dinner suit. I was inspired to write about this outfit after seeing Selma star David Oyelowo wear a very similar—and equally effective or ineffective, depending on your opinion—outfit at the Oscars last week. Though Steed breaks the rules of black tie, he does so in a creative way. If one is going to break the rules of black tie, breaking the rues should not turn a dinner suit into an ordinary lounge suit. More than one button on a single-breasted dinner jacket, flapped pockets and single vents (or even double vents by some standards) and very boring and pointless ways to mess with black tie tradition. If you are going to break black tie, at least be original! Steed demonstrates how to be creative with black tie, as he does with all of his tailored clothes. If you don’t like this dinner suit, which I’m sure many of you will not, there are photos of Mrs. Peel here to make this article more enjoyable.

Rather than the traditional black or midnight blue, Steed’s dinner suit is made in a colour often used for the garment that inspired the dinner jacket: the smoking jacket. Claret red is a rich colour appropriate for the evening, unlike the shades of grey that a number of men wore to the Oscars this year. Additionally, the dinner suit is made of blend of wool and mohair, a luxurious and appropriate for evening clothes. The cloth has a very high mohair content and reflects a lot of light, making it look lighter than it is in a brightly-lit room.

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This dinner jacket follows Steed’s signature style: a button one jacket with slanted hip pockets, no breast pocket, double vents and a velvet collar. This style is partially inspired by riding jackets, but it works well for an adventurous dinner jacket. Steed’s signature style already has a single button on the front, as a dinner jacket should. The slanted pockets aren’t a big deal since they are jetted. Though the traditional dinner jacket has no vents, double vents are the more acceptable—and dressier—vent style over a single vent. The burgundy velvet collar may be the oddest part of this dinner jacket, but it’s not entirely inappropriate since it recalls the material the smoking jacket is made from. The dinner jacket has buttons covered in silk, and there is one button on each cuff.

The dinner jacket’s notched lapels are faced in burgundy watered silk to contrast them from the plain, slightly lighter-coloured equally shiny mohair of the dinner jacket’s body. Some may argue that notched lapels are inappropriate on dinner jackets, but they were historically worn for less formal black tie occasions, like private dinners. Since a red dinner jacket isn’t appropriate for any proper black tie occasion, notched lapels fit the dinner jacket’s uses. I would argue, however, that peaked lapels would have been a better choice, though they would take away from the dinner jacket’s intended sporting look.

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Tailor Bailey and Weatherill of Regent Street tailored this suit in a traditional English equestrian cut, with strong straight shoulders, a clean chest, a closely fitted waist and a flared skirt. The equestrian cut is similar to the military cut and has a very formal look that is appropriate for a dinner jacket. The dinner suit’s matching trousers are tailored with narrow, tapered legs and are without pleats. They do not have a stripe down the legs.

Steed not only makes bold choices with his dinner suit but also with its accessories. A pale lilac dress shirt—which may be made of silk—stays in the red family but still contrasts with the bold dinner suit. It has a wide spread collar, double cuffs and a plain front. The bow tie is red velvet, which matches the dinner jacket’s collar rather than lapels. Proper black tie means that the bow tie must be black, but since so many other rules are broken here it doesn’t really matter. Steed’s socks are dark burgundy and his chelsea boots are black. Chelsea boots work well for black tie because of their sleek plain-toe, side-gusset design, and they look neat with the narrow trouser legs.

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Ultimately, John Steed’s claret red dinner suit would be best worn for a “creative black tie” dress code, or by the host an intimate black tie dinner. It breaks the rules of black tie in creative ways, but it perhaps breaks the rules so much that it doesn’t even resemble a dinner suit much anymore. Nevertheless, it is suit inspired by black tie that certainly looks like it is meant to be worn in the evening, and for that it is a successful design. The outfit’s contrast of intense and muted colours has the same effect as the traditional black tie outfit’s black and white contrast. Steed may not be dressed conservatively like James Bond in an episode with a Bond-inspired title, but not all spies need to be inconspicuous.

Avengers-Hat-Eye-Chart

Unrelated to this dinner suit, “From Venus with Love” has an amusing scene where Steed takes an eye exam of hat styles on shelves rather than letters on a chart. “From the top, if you please”, says the ophthalmologist. “Trilby, homburg, bowler, cap. Jockey, porkpie, topper, boater, busby, fez,” replies Steed, as he passes the eye exam swiftly and perfectly!

20 COMMENTS

  1. That’s a well cut dinner suit, and Emma Peel looks nice as well. The color is certainly not typical, but “creative black tie” has it’s place. Far too often, this has been poorly executed. Steed even has chelsea boots, which I’m a frequent wearer of. Although I am not a fan of pink or lilac shirts, Steed does the look justice, and it goes with the claret red suit. This is not something I would expect to see James Bond wearing, so personality and a certain developed, individual sense of style could be taken into account to make things like this work, as the Steed character could be considered a dandy.

    • He certainly is a dandy. Wheras Bond looks bland and traditional Steed seems to be born in a three piece. I adore how he turns up for an lrdinary investigation in a dinner jacket – seemingly just out of fun! He may break the rules every now and then but to me it seems natural/logical.

      • There’s nothing bland about being traditional if you look at all the various styles of dinner jacket and waistcoat that are available within it. Traditional black tie is a tried and true affair that has consistently looked good for decades since we nailed it down in the 1930s.

  2. This is a fun riff on creative black tie, which leads me to ask: are other colors up for it? I know the red reads brighter in these pictures, so I’d assume the color would have to be on the richer, darker side of things. So, a deeper, more royal blue? An rich evergreen?
    Not that I could pull off any of them – maybe a slightly zany bow tie, but that’s it for me. 🙂

    • You’re right that royal blue and forest green would have the same effect as this, though they would not as adventurous as red. Purple could work too, for something even bolder. In this same episode, Steed wears an almost identical dinner suit in a lighter shade of navy.

  3. This dinner suit makes a couple of appearances on the Tara King era in the episodes “False Witness” and the series ending “Bizarre”. In the latter episode it is paired with a light blue shirt with ruffles. It also seem to me that the material that is used for the lapels on this dinner jacket is the same as what is used for the Flamboyant Dinner Suit from Diamonds Are Forever.

  4. A step too far for me, if a well tailored one. Would have liked black satin or velvet facings (none of this Chesterfield collar business) and bow tie with a traditional white evening shirt. I don’t mind the recent spat of royal blue tuxedos which follow that, even if it is something I wouldn’t wear.

  5. Yes, indeed. Thank God for the pictures of the lovely Mrs. Peel! While I have always admired Partick McNee’s character’s sense of individual style and I can absolutely appreciate the impeccable tailoring employed one every one of McNee’s suits I just don’t care for this at all and the shirt makes it even worse. I guess it just jars for me in precisely the same way that Moore’s (apparently) notorious brown silk suit from TSWLM does many other contributors. Far, far nicer was his dark blue version of this outfit which appeared in many color episodes. Incidentally, I seem to recall a more restrained and subtly colored burgundy dinner suit (in a mohair Tonik I would have assumed, from memory) appearing in the final “Saint” series and it’s probably fair to say that these 2 along with Connery’s DAF suit do reflect a kind of trend toward flamboyance in evening wear prevalent in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

  6. This dinner jacket is from Pierre Cardin?

    About Steed and evening wear,in my opinion this is one of few weaknesses in the wardrobe of John Steed.
    Steed wear in neo-Edwardian style,so his dinner jacket should be Edwardian,
    single breasted,shawl collar,with fancy waistcoat in brocade or white.

    http://s30.postimg.org/loh886f01/18961899_Plate_033f.jpg

    Instead are only the type of “creative tuxedo” typical of 60s.

    http://s14.postimg.org/x84ljtkht/1966_Sep_GQ_p49_sweetened.gif

    • I’m pretty sure this is from Macnee’s tailor Bailey & Weatherill, as I wrote, and not from Cardin since it matches Bailey & Weatherill’s style. Cardin only did some of the clothes in the fifth series.

  7. “Tailor Bailey and Weatherill of Regent Street tailored this suit”

    But in the first color season,McNee’s wardrobe were not all from Cardin?

    • No, Cardin just got credit for “principal items of Macnee’s wardrobe”. Macnee wore many of his suits from the previous black-and-white series in the first colour series as well. He also wears a suit made by Marylebone tailor Hammond and Boyle in the end credits where it mentions Cardin.

  8. I am currently halfway through the black-and-white series with Diana Rigg. I seem to recall Steed slowly dressing more and more like Liberace as the colour series continued.

  9. I prefer the classic English equestrian/military cut above all others, but on Steed I never care for it. Instead of making him look more masculine, it seems to do the opposite. Perhaps it’s just too closely fitted and therefore makes him appear smaller.

    As for the color, I agree that this is a creative way to break black tie.

  10. Let’s face,The John Steed of Ralph Finnies was much more elegant!
    But by the way;Matt,why not a post on “The Avengers 1998”?
    (Was released in blu ray).

    • I think they both dressed well, though Ralph Fiennes’ Steed was more classically dressed. I will try to write about it at some point. Or maybe I’ll write about Sean Connery’s bear costume in that film!

  11. Clearly, Steed was on-mission when the blend in memo was sent out. My heritage is Irish, not English, but I believe in the old fox hunting days, a squire who ran hunts on his estate was entitled to wear a red dinner jacket. In a ’50’s comedy called Tonight’s The Night I recall David Niven playing a con man who wears such a jacket to further his deception that he was a wealthy landowner. In other words, the evening version of wearing a country suit about town. If I’ve got this wrong, I’m sure my English friends will straighten this out. Steed seems to have taken this one step further and had a whole suit run up. It’s a quality offering, but as other posters have noted it’s something a secret agent should keep away from. BTW, I’ve seen seen v.similar suits here at Italian weddings. My Italian friends tell me that having a man in red singing at your wedding guarantees many babies and other blessings.

  12. More Steed please!

    The great thing about Steed is he was in The Avengers and New Avengers for so long you can see his wardrobe develop from the early 1960s right through to the mid 70s.

    As a kid in the mid 60s I used to watch The Avengers and always thought Steed looked very smart. I still love his outfits today – even the red dinner jacket.

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