A Touch of Velvet
Stephen Doig explains why a velvet evening jacket is a sartorial choice worth embracing for the season’s social occasions
As we settle into winter mode, there’s a curious duality in the traditions of how we dress. One is functional; swamping silhouettes, weighty knits and solid boots to fend off icy climes. The other is this pragmatic gent's opposite number; the need for a touch of razzamatazz as the festive season approaches. And for a man, that means evening attire, with a slick tuxedo first and foremost as the hero piece to see you through cocktails to carriages at dawn. The rules of how we dress have shifted seismically in the last decade, with a greater degree of informality in even the most ceremonial of settings, but there’s something to be said for opting for an exceptionally made evening jacket when a touch of masculine glamour is called for, and no jacket is more darkly elegant than one in velvet.
The detractors of velvet bemoan its retro, almost costume-like appeal, redolent of the 70s and a tad theatrical. And while it’s true that badly-cared-for velvet can look tufted and lacklustre, one only has to look at the gentlemanly attire in the season’s biggest film, Murder On The Orient Express, and all the 1920s glamour it evokes to see it in all its glory; lustrous, refined and appropriate when it comes to setting the mood to after-dark. There is also, as Gieves & Hawkes’ AW17 collection proves, something comforting in the substantial nature of the texture. A black velvet jacket might look relatively simple, but up close it ripples and catches the light in its fine threads, while rich jewel tones such as burgundy and teal complement the subtle gleam of the surface beautifully.
The smoking jacket, a mainstay of a Victorian gentleman’s wardrobe, was crafted in velvet to create a more fluid, less stiff, starched and upright kind of blazer. It went on to act as a lynchpin of the new tuxedo style, which according to legend was introduced to the masses courtesy of Edward VII, who commissioned Gieves’ neighbours Henry Poole & Co to create a more informal kind of evening dress, one with a shorter “seat” than the traditional tailcoat.
The dinner jacket evolved, introduced to American society when a guest at Sandringham returned to his native upstate New York, and country club Tuxedo Park, heralding his modern sartorial innovation. Since then, velvet has become a natural material of choice for evening; textural, rich and sumptuous. Its heavy nature – the tiny fibres are woven to stand ‘outwards’ as opposed to flat – makes it a happy companion to winter too.
Whilst there’s something innately formal and evening-appropriate about a velvet jacket, there are myriad ways to wear it today; pair with a sleek black polo neck for a more relaxed stance or wear with matching trousers. Pair with a cocktail and a raffish air and you’re all set for the season of upcoming festivities.