Mess jacket (civil)

The civil mess jacket is a type of jacket that ends at the waist, has double breasting but doesn’t fasten. It was borrowed from the military mess dress during the 1930s as an alternative to the white dinner jacket in hot and tropical weather for black tie occasions. Just as fast as it rose in fame and started to be a common garment in the American gentlemen’s wardrobe, it fell out of fashion as soon as men realised the un-favouring look it gave to non-athletic bodies and the white dinner jacket became widely accepted.


The mess jacket was originally the top part of the formal military wear known as mess dress. The mess dress is the military formal eveningwear equivalent for the civilian white tie dress. Civilians first adopted the mess jacket in 1933 to wear in the hot and tropical weather of Palm Beach. But by 1936 the mess jacket had dissipated, allowing the white, off-white and Burma coloured dinner jackets to settle as the one appropriate black tie form for hot weather.


In the beginning, the mess jackets were worn in the same style by everyone. According to the Esquire Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men’s Fashions,

“[the mess jackets were] made in white linen or cotton gabardine and worn with high-waisted lightweight black dress trousers, a stiff-bosom shirt, a narrow cummerbund in black, bright red, or dark blue, a wing collar, and a black butterfly bow tie.”

The jackets had shawl or peak lapels, the later being the most common form. The style in which they were worn didn’t undergo many variations during its existence: the dress trousers were occasionally in midnight blue, bowties were sometimes in bat wing style, the collar was usually turndown for a more informal look but not necessary, and patent leather oxford shoes were more common than opera pumps. The civil mess jackets were always white.

The mess jackets soon fell out of fashion. This is due to two main reasons. One is that while the jacket had an elegant appearance it barely looked elegant on men, for its cut at the waist caused its end to be cut inwards, but this only worked well with athletic and slim fit. If it wasn’t the case, the mess jacket could look ridiculously unfitting. The other reason is that the popularity of the mess jacket had gone on to be worn by bellhops and waiters, leading the scrupulous dandies of the era to abandon the garment.


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