The Case for the Vented Dinner Jacket

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Tradition says that dinner jackets—also known as Tuxedo jackets—should not have vents. Vents, either single or double vents, are a sporty detail devised to allow a jacket to drape over the back of a horse, and that is a fair argument for not using vents on perhaps the most formal garment that is still somewhat commonly worn today. There’s no doubt that you can’t go wrong with a non-vented dinner jacket.

Apart from silk facings on the jacket and the braid on the trousers, traditional dinner suits are minimally detailed with only one button on the front on the jacket, no pocket flaps and plain trouser hems. No vents on the jacket follow with this minimalism.

Matt Spaiser’s bespoke Anthony Sinclair dinner suit, photo by Janna Levin Spaiser

But let’s add one detail that we have on our ordinary business suits to the dinner jacket. Additional buttons on the front don’t serve any purpose since they’re not meant to be used. Pocket flaps really aren’t all that useful when we’re not jostled around, and if we’re not James Bond we don’t wear dinner jackets in active environments. Single vents aren’t all that elegant. But what about double vents?

Vents serve a purpose beyond horseback riding. They can help the jacket drape better and provide comfort. Vents are one of the most useful details that the purist’s dinner jacket lacks. But they are the only detail with truly sporty origins that some traditionalists have started to accept on the dinner jacket.

Traditional English tailors have been making dinner jackets with double vents going back to at least the 1960s. It’s not something new. Double vents are more formal than single vents, as they never split open to expose the seat like a single vent does. Double vents are not as streamlined as no vents, but double vents are arguably no less elegant than a non-vented jacket because they visually extend the line of the legs up to the top of the vent and can have a slimming effect, as long as the vents drape well.

Sean Connery’s double-vented dinner jacket from Anthony Sinclair in Dr. No

James Bond, the world’s most famous Tuxedo-wearer, is a fan of vents on his dinner jackets. Maybe as a man of action they come in handy, but many of his dinner jackets for the tame casino and dinner scenes have them. Anthony Sinclair, a London tailor who touched upon contemporary fashions but aimed to tailor timeless suits, made Bond’s introductory midnight blue dinner jacket in Dr. No with double vents.

After a string of vent-less dinner jackets, Bond’s next dinner jacket with vents features in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Dimi Major updated Bond’s suits with a trimmer cut, but for the most part they look like classic English suits. The dinner suit has no other updates for the 1960s apart from the vents.

Roger Moore’s double-vented dinner jacket from Douglas Hayward in Octopussy

In the 1970s and 1980s, Connery’s and Moore’s English-tailored dinner jackets, whether made by Sinclair, Cyril Castle or Douglas Hayward, all have double vents. Since then, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have each worn one dinner jacket with double vents.

Single vents are the least traditional vent style on a dinner jacket. The way they are designed to simply split on either side of a horse makes them the sportiest type of vent, and the way they open to reveal the seat when the wearer reaches his hand into his pocket makes them the least elegant vent style. As Max Zorin might say, single vents are ‘happiest in the saddle’.

Americans have long been partial to the single vent, seeing it as a mark of traditional American style, and they have not been afraid to make dinner jackets with single vents. It’s not uncommon to see single vents on dinner jackets going back well over half a century on American ready-to-wear examples, even from the most traditional American brands.

Daniel Craig’s single-vented dinner jacket from Tom Ford in Skyfall

Daniel Craig wears dinner jackets with single vents in midnight blue, ivory and black in Skyfall, Spectre and No Time to Die, respectively. The reason for them in these films may just be a personal preference of Daniel Craig or the costume designers, but the single vent is out of place for a British character who has mostly traditional taste in clothing.

Ivory dinner jackets have more of a tradition for vents than the dark dinner suits, though this may be because of their greater prominence in America than elsewhere. Ivory dinner jackets are not as formal as black and midnight blue dinner suits, so there’s definitely more room for flexibility here. Going back to the early days of the ivory dinner jacket in the 1930s, some would have a single vent.

Matt Spaiser’s Mason & Sons dinner jacket, photo by Janna Levin Spaiser

Of James Bond’s six ivory dinner jackets, the example in Goldfinger is the only one that is un-vented. The fact that most of Bond’s ivory dinner jackets cannot be attributed to their colour but rather to the fact the vent styles of these dinner jackets are consistent with the black and midnight blue dinner jackets Bond was wearing at these times.

Overall throughout the series, Bond wears 15 dinner jackets with double vents, 12 dinner jackets without vents and 3 dinner jackets with single vents. The vented dinner jacket is clearly Bond’s choice, with well over half of his dinner jackets having vents. With English bespoke tailors commonly making dinner jacket’s with double vents for now half of the garment’s history, I think it is time to welcome the vented dinner jacket into the classically tailored gentleman’s wardrobe.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Speaking as someone with a large seat compared to my waist, having double vents on a dinner jacket is a much better arrangement having to have the skirt of a ventless jacket bloom out like a bustle or fit uncomfortably tight.

  2. Another good entry Matt, and interesting post above.
    I vaguely remember my dad saying he hated double vent jackets as they made it look like his arse was sticking out. He got his jackets with single vents which were probably more popular in the seventies. Neither he nor I had / have big or fat bums but neither did we overdose on ‘noassatall’ so I’m not sure if his concern was warranted or not.

    I prefer the ventless look not only on dinner jackets but with most jackets and usually get them closed on ready to wear. I have a couple of Ted Baker sports jackets and a recent DNA acquisition on which I left them open along with one of my MTM suits, but vents still remain a rarity among around fifty odd jackets and suit jackets.

    The reason I dislike vents is aptly illustrated above on the still from Octopussy. OK the camera may have caught Moore in motion but the way the side vents of a jacket either gape open at the sides or the way the rear of the jacket flaps around the bum like a pair of curtains in a breeze as in that pic looks awful. Matt the two examples on your dinner jackets look to lie flat so that’s how it should be done if at all.

    Unlike my Dad I don’t like centre vents at all and think Craig’s / Ford’s deployment of centre vents on his dinner jackets just looks all kinds of wrong.

    • Hi Rod, I’m with you and you dad about the flapping effect of the side vents, but I also have found closed vent jackets to be too constricting. The center vent seems to work best for as a sort of compromise.

  3. I recently re-watched Casablanca, and Bogey’s non-vented ivory jacked bunches terribly all the way up to his rear waistband, completely exposing the seat of his pants, whenever he (characteristically) puts his hands in his trouser pockets.

    Whether it’s declasse in the first place to put hands in the trouser pockets of a formal garment, many many (Bogey included) do it anyway, and double vents would alleviate the unfortunate exposure Rick perpetrates on his customers.

    • Funny I’ve made the exact same observation about Bogey in Casablanca. I particularly remember a scene in the office above Rick’s where Bogey turns his back to the camera and puts his hands in his pockets thus having to hike up the dinner jacket to his waistband and present his bum to the audience.
      I agree it’s not a good look, I’m surprised the director didn’t reposition the blocking for that moment, but when I was a kid my wonderfully old-fashioned Mam told me it’s bad manners to put your hands in your pockets. I can’t say I’ve always followed this guidance but rarely stuff the hands in these days, especially when suited up. So I don’t find the lack of vents a problem in that regard.
      While we’re on about old movies, thats where I got the inspiration to close the vents in my jackets as I like the unbroken lines of a smooth back from neck to hem. I seem to remember Kirk Douglas in ‘Out of the Past’ (remade as ‘Against All Odds’) inviting Robert Mitchum to his mountain retreat and wearing those big shouldered 1940s DB jackets with acres of cloth with barely a ripple or crinkle to be seen.

  4. The black dinner suits they were selling at Mark’s & Spencer (the classic UK department store) mostly featured single vented jackets the last time I visited a few years back. I was surprised. I’m not sure if it’s the influence of Craig-as-Bond, just using the generic blazer shape that they order in bulk from their factories in order to keep costs down, or single-vents on formal jackets really are becoming more popular in the UK. Then again, M&S’ whole shtick has always been to dress the guy who doesn’t really care about clothes smartly without him having to think about it. So their customers might not be bothered.

    • My 2001 black M&S 6×2 double breasted dinner jacket has no vents, jetted pocket, satin stripe on the trousers and DAKS tops.
      They still knew how to make them properly then with late 1990s-early 2000s huge lapels and strong shoulders.
      I had a MTM made last year in midnight blue with covered buttons and fancy details as slightly slanted jetted pockets and satin covered peak lapels and collar for a late 1960s-early 1970s feel and with double vents.

      • Good point. Most off the peg stuff has nosedived in terms of quality and looks exceedingly cheap in the last 10 years or so.

  5. Exactly ! In France’s RTW, I see SB dinner jackets with Shawl satin lapels, 2 buttons, single vents, pocket flaps, trousers with belt loops and no satin stripes…

    • That sounds dreadful. The more you add buttons on a single breasted dinner suit, add belt loops, and generally give more details from lounge suits the more you might as well be wearing one in the first place. There is no longer anything special about it.

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