“What’s For Dinner?” The Dinner Suit Makes a Comeback

Catherine O’Hara at the 2021 SAG Awards wearing custom Thom Browne
Photo: wwd.com

Life is slowly getting back to normal, and we are starting to congregate with others more freely- both at home and in restaurants. If fashion history proves anything, it’s that everything old is new again. Is it time for a dinner suit revival? I always take note of when a woman opts for a jacket-based evening look. It’s rather unexpected, and she will invariably stand out in a sea of dresses and gowns.

The Duchess of Windsor wearing Schiaparelli
Photo by Cecil Beaton

Elsa Schiaparelli popularized the dinner suit in the 1930s with her sleeveless ankle-length sheath dress and fitted jacket. Schiap’s embellished, wide-shouldered jackets were highly influential in Hollywood and endorsed by international café society darlings like Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), Daisy Fellows, and Wallis Simpson.

The Duchess of Windsor wearing a Mainbocher Dinner Suit

The Duchess of Windsor was always impeccably groomed and flawlessly turned out. Tailoring was one of the fashion icon’s signatures. For her 1937 wedding, Simpson wore a “Wallis blue” floor-length dress with a long-sleeved jacket designed by Mainbocher. He designed her trousseau and continued to dress the Duchess until his retirement in the early ’70s. Simpson wore many of the designer’s dinner suits, like the memorable version seen here, featuring a jacket adorned with white orchids on one shoulder and two jeweled leaves on the other. Photographed by Edward Carswell, the picture appeared in Vogue, December 1941.

Catherine O’Hara in custom Thom Browne
Photo: wwd.com

Designers are continuingly reinventing the dinner suit with a number of high-profile style-setters wearing different iterations. For the virtual 2021 SAG awards, Catherine O’Hara wore a custom Thom Browne black-and-white sequined tuxedo suit comprised of a jacket worn over a long dress with a white silk faille corset vest and trompe l’oeil bow tie shirt. Catherine accessorized it with an elongated version of Browne’s signature Hector bag. She stole the show.

Ronald van der Kemp Fall 2020 Haute Couture
Photo: vogue.com

Priyanka Chopra Jonas made two eye-catching wardrobe changes during last weekend’s 2021 BAFTA Awards; each was a riff on the dinner suit. The real standout was a design by Ronald van der Kemp from his Fall 2020 Haute Couture Collection. The silk Mikado jacket is made entirely from recycled materials and decorated with hand-painted, beaded, and pleated butterflies, worn with a long narrow black plisse skirt.

Halpern Spring 2021 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

Michael Halpern incorporated two versions of the dinner suit in his Spring 2021 collection. The native New Yorker (who shows in London) founded his eponymous label in 2017. He is known for his youthful and joyful approach to glamour, a love of fantasy, and the embrace of couture-like silhouettes. Among his muses are Donatella Versace (he worked for Versace in Milan) and his mother, a Studio 54 regular.

Ralph Lauren Collection Callahan tuxedo jacket
Photo: ralphlauren.com

Ralph Lauren envisions his women enjoying an elegant dinner somewhere in the world and always provides them with the perfect outfit. Ralph’s midnight navy wool barathea “Callahan” jacket, $2190, and Woodson wool-crepe tuxedo pants with side stripe, $1490, evoke old Hollywood and are ideal for a formal celebration. Both are available at ralphlauren.com

Ralph Lauren Lilli Sequined Wool Jacket
Photo: ralphlauren.com

Sequins are everywhere, but you don’t usually see them in dark brown. Ralph Lauren’s wool twill “Lilli” jacket is intricately embellished with tonal micro-sequins. Worn with a silk cravat, perfectly cut white trousers, and brown espadrilles, it’s festive yet relaxed. The jacket is $3990, and the wool crepe “Stanford” pants are $1090. Both are for sale at ralphlauren.com

Christopher Esber Fall 2021 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

Christopher Esber’s slightly oversized black jacket, long black skirt, abbreviated bra, and crystal body jewelry are a decidedly sexy, minimal take on the dinner suit. I would not be surprised to see Zendaya, Emily Ratajkowski, or Dua Lipa wearing this abs-baring creation. They are just some of the fans of this Sydney-based designer.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Iconic Red Velvet Gucci Suit now and then
Photo: harpersbazaar.com

Many of us think the ultimate dinner suit is the red velvet pantsuit Tom Ford designed for Gucci, 1996 (the one that turned Gwyneth Paltrow into a household name). It’s back! For his Gucci 100th anniversary collection (named “Aria”), Alessandro Michele collaborated with (or should I say, “hacked”) Tom Ford and Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia.

Gucci Fall 2021 Ready-to-Wear Collection
Photo by Daniele Venturelli for Getty Images for Gucci

This crystal dinner suit is perfect for those who want a logo (or two) to go along with the shimmer. It’s easy to see which part is Alessandro and which part is Demna.

Moschino Haute Couture Dinner Suit
Photo: 1stdibs.com

And finally, I cannot do a story on dinner suits without including this very rare and admittedly cheeky design from Franco Moschino’s Fall 1989 “Show Off” Couture Collection. The three-piece suit features six gold-plated spoons, four forks, and six knives (2 are on the cuffs). It recently sold at an auction for $4500 but is available at 1stdibs for $2561. “Knives Out”!

Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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