Updated: Sep 28
This article will highlight the adaptability and enduring style of the tailcoat suit in modern menswear. With a few changes, you can convert a men's tailcoat suit into a casual statement piece.
The tailcoat suit, steeped in history, remains a versatile icon of menswear adaptable to modern occasions, including formals, casuals, and costumes. Any modern film or television show that is a period piece showing British aristocracy is bound to demonstrate the many ways in which the classic tale coat suit can be worn to fancy dinners, elegant parties, and formal political events.
But what is it, and how do you wear a suit with a tailcoat in casual settings?
Tailcoat suits and their timeless appeal
A tailcoat suit is a suit with tailcoat sections at the back, which goes down the rear. Traditionally, a men's tailcoat suit has the front of the suit cut away.
The tailcoat costume came about in the 18th century, with the design intended to be easier to wear while riding a horse. In the next decade, it became the epitome of formal wear.
The appearance includes features like:
A black coat, single-breasted
Buttons on both sides of the opening that are not buttoned
A waistcoat and shirt
Snug fit around the torso (despite not being buttoned)
Perfect contour to exact proportions
Tails that split down the middle to be placed on either side of a chair (or horse)
Always made with a heavier, black material like mohair or wool
Ways to wear a men's tailcoat
There are several classic ways to wear a tailcoat, each of which is based on modern interpretations of the suit with a tailcoat:
Tailcoat for formal events
The first way is the most traditional: formal events. If you receive an invitation for a black tie event, then the tailcoat is a great option. It is the epitome of formality, and you can wear a traditional white shirt underneath with the corresponding white accessories and black shoes to fit the bill.
It also works for other formal events where you don't necessarily have a black tie requirement but where it might be a wonderful ensemble with slight modifications, such as a silver tie with other gray or silver accessories. Events might include:
Going to the opera
Seeing a live theater performance
A gala dinner
A casual take on the tailcoat
There are casual ways that you can still get away with wearing a men's tailcoat suit. This can include wearing something like a cozy, lightweight roll-neck shirt under the suit, particularly in the wintertime if you want to stay warm.
And while you don't have to change up the ensemble a lot to make a big difference in your statement piece, you can always opt for traditional button-down shirts but add things like a vest instead of a waistcoat or do away with either option entirely and simply focus on different colors.
Tailcoat costume: from theatrical to theme parties
And, of course, you can always wear a tailcoat as a costume for theatrical events or themed parties. Themed parties are a great place to dress up like the aristocracy, even going so far as to add the white or cream scarf that you drape over your shoulders.
Styling tips for the modern man
Whether you wear it for formal events, a casual event, or a costume party, there are several styling tips you can follow as a modern man.
Choosing the right fit
As mentioned, this particular men's tailcoat suit is designed to have the buttons on either side of the front panels but to never actually be buttoned. In order to achieve this effect where the side panels sit where they are supposed to without being held in place, the suit has to have the right fit.
The absolute best bet is to have a uniquely tailored suit to your measurements that creates the perfect silhouette around your torso, giving a snug appearance without being uncomfortable. This is the most essential part of wearing a tailcoat costume.
With the modern take on a classic ensemble, you can stick to the basics of the tailcoat design but mix and match things like ties, pocket squares, shoes, and cufflinks that complement the color of your tailcoat.
Consider mixtures like:
A dark-gray tailcoat suit with an olive green, slightly patterned or textured shirt.
A black suit with a light blue shirt, navy blue cufflinks, navy blue tie, and white pocket square with a lining of dark blue on it.
A traditional black tailcoat suit with a creamy pocket square, shirt, but black cufflinks and shoes.
A beige or gray printed shirt mixed with a black pocket square, black tie, black shoes, and dark gray tailcoat suit.
A light gray tailcoat costume bearing white buttons with a dark gray or maroon shirt underneath, white cufflinks, a white pocket square, and white shoes.
A non-traditional men's tailcoat suit in an ocean blue with black and brown buttons, black shoes, and black shirts underneath.
While traditionally, a men's tailcoat was only black and white, today, there are many more flexible opportunities to move beyond the traditional black or gray, not just when it comes to the color palette of the fabric used but for the other accessories.
You can still maintain high-quality class and formality by opting for a navy blue suit or combining your traditional black and gray with something like beige, silver, or pastel colors underneath.
A modern suit with a tailcoat design can still be a great fashion piece today. There are several opportunities to invest in a well-cut, tailored tailcoat suit and wear it to formal Black Tie events, nights out on the town, and even costume parties.
The best way to wear this costume at any formal event or even informal costume party is to keep the traditional design elements the same but modify smaller aspects like the color palette and the accessories. It's best to experiment with tailcoat suits and embrace their classic but contemporary versatility.