I was being interviewed on the history of black tie by radio host Jesse Thorne the other day and his final question was "Will, I have a dinner jacket. When do I wear it?" I mumbled something about the symphony but the question set me to thinking, and later I began wondering why any of us should have uncertainty about it. We live in an age where any man can wear anything, and, at least on the West coast of North America, he can apparently wear it anywhere. When there are thousands of men who think nothing of escorting their cocktail dressed better half to the casino wearing a work shirt and khaki trousers, as ten minutes in Las Vegas will demonstrate, why should any of us be concerned about wearing dinner clothes? Wear them for any occasion: dinner, the theater, or a Halloween party. They are certainly no more out of place than the Robin Hood garb I saw at the grocery store last week.
Of course, a followup question might be something along the lines of "But won't I look pretentious?" And in response I say that while there might have been some of that a couple of decades ago, the class distinctions associated with evening dress have essentially disappeared in this country. When the typical young man is unable to differentiate between an odd jacket and a suit, the nuances of dress that a few of us still pay attenion to are not generally relevant. So, if you are one of those that ask when to wear a dinner jacket my response is wear it any time you like. Except before six PM.