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The Good Life

The White Dinner Jacket

By Jack Bettridge | From Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

Bond, James Bond, emerges from the sea. He rips off his frogman suit to reveal an ivory wool jacket, black pants, bow tie and cummerbund. Time to crash the party at the palazzo, win a pile at baccarat, rabbit-punch the SMERSH agent and kiss the Bond girl.

That's the dream. Sadly, the reality for most of us was prom night in an iridescently white polyester rented suit with rings around the sleeves where they were let out after the last guy wore it. Your accessories were a powder blue shirt with ruffles, a flaming red tie and a one-size-fits-all vest that some clerk named Chick talked you into. All served to clash with your pink boutonniere. No wonder you never tried it again.

But from Bogart in Casablanca through countless Bond turns, we've had ideal role models in turning the best variation on the basic tuxedo into a classic. Now it's time to put the lessons of the great ones to good use.

Foremost, keep it in its season or its place. The white jacket is meant to look and be cool in hot weather. The rules aren't as strict as Memorial Day to Labor Day anymore, but certainly not before May and not after September—unless, of course, you're in the tropics or in the southern hemisphere. Martin Nicholls, Alfred Dunhill's bespoke tailor and award winner for suiting Oscar-going stars (see Made for You, page 240), even suggests it looks best in the casbah, at the country club, along the shore or on a cruise—anywhere but the city.

Remember, the white coat is the informal formal jacket, so the cut should be a little rakish. The classic looks are Bogie's choice, the insouciant shawl collar (shown in foreground from Paul Stuart, $675, www.paulstuart.com) or cheeky peak lapels (pictured in background, from J. Lucas, in Barathea wool, $1,295, www.jlucasclothiers.com, ties from Robert Talbott).

Always match a standard collar shirt with the shawl-collar jacket, but peak-lapel coats can take standard or wing-collar shirts.

You may have a license to kill, but don't take liberties with the accessories. The simpler the better, since there's already dramatic contrast between a white jacket and black trousers. Never use a four-in-hand tie, and best not to wear a vest. Wear a bow tie and cummerbund with a studs and cuff-link suite. Black accessories are classic, but there's room for fun. Talbott even offers the classic sash from the the days of the Raj (www.roberttalbott.com).

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