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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.