Saturday, August 29, 2009

The White Dinner Jacket, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, and The Golden Rule

We are attending a 6:00 p.m. wedding on September 5th, before Labor Day. The informal, modern invitation does not address dress at all. The wedding ceremony and reception are both in a botanical garden. Richmond, Virginia typically has an 86% humidity rate and is 98 degrees during the day, and 76 degrees at night with no breeze. More humid and hotter than most tropical climates, yet Richmond is extremely traditional, conservative, and corporately conformist.
That being said, I had a question from a friend about wearing a White Dinner Jacket to the wedding. The question was at what time is it acceptable to wear a formal tuxedo (white or black dinner jacket). The answer is 6:00 pm, but the issue of the white or ivory dinner jacket vs. the black dinner jacket is a horse of a different color! Never even mind the shawl collar.
The Golden Rule is: He who has the most gold rules. Rules change because the families with the gold change. Customs change. Society changes. I referred to the Internet and 5 different books in my etiquette library, one as far back as 1938 and here are a few results:
  • From: "Etiquette" by, Emily Post (1938) "White Dinner Coat - Intended only for hot weather, it should be double-breasted so as to avoid waistcoat; trousers, shirt, tie, socks, and shoes: same as dinner coat (all white articles of clothing must be immaculate and perfectly ironed). White Mess Jacket - Trousers: Black, Waistcoat: White (kummerbund not in as good taste, but black one permissible if necessary). Other details same as for white dinner coat."
  • From: The Black Tie Guide on the Internet. "The white jacket variation of black tie began in the early 1930's as a way for well-heeled vacationers to dress formally in the tropical heat...However, without a proper understanding of its form and function, the white dinner jacket easily becomes a flashy gimmick....The white dinner jacket's origin on cruises and at tropical resorts speaks to its specific role as a casual alternative to traditional black tie. This less formal status limits its appropriateness to celebrity events and hot weather climates."
  • From: The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette (1978). Under "Informal Evening for the Groom, White or Black (preferably) dinner jacket, single- or double-breasted black vest or cummerbund. For male guests: a dark business suit."
  • From: EtiquetteNow: Wedding Etiquette Expert, Rebecca Black, on the Internet. "Question: Is it appropriate to wear a white dinner jacket as a groom in a 4 pm wedding in a tropical environment where the reception will run into the evening? Answer: Dear When to Wear a White/Ivory Dinner Jacket, Yes, the tux is evening formal attire. However, 4pm is close enough in my book. I don't think anyone will fault you on this."

Clearly from researching and reading from different sources written in different decades, my experience tells me:

In conservative Richmond, Virginia, if one has to ask around if one should wear a particular style or not, it is probably best to defer to the more known, traditional, conformist style.

Perfectly appropriate is for this male guest to call his very good friend, the Father of the Bride, and ask him what he is wearing and what other male guests may be wearing, then make his decision.

Always safer to be better dressed than less dressed.