A slightly less formal alternative to full morning dress can be found in a style of outfit that used to be hugely popular, but seems to have lost currency in recent decades. Unlike some forms of dress that have slipped into extreme rarity, this doesn’t have a snappy or evocative title that conjures it freshly into the reader’s imagination. Say white tie and everyone instantly knows what you’re talking about, but black lounge will leave most nonplussed at best, or worse give the impression of a cafe bar for depressed poets and Buffy fans. And yet it’s a totally iconic look, if a little nostalgic, that everyone would recognise. In a sense, it has become something of a traditional, de facto English national dress. I’m talking about this:
… and this:
… and this:
We knew you’d recognise it, if only because a representation of just this type of outfit is displayed on the right hand side of our background. In the USA they call it a stroller outift, which is snappier, and we tend to use this term more than black lounge, but neither title will profit you anything on eBay, where you will principally find pushchairs and black pyjama trousers. In continental Europe the jacket is widely known as a Stresemann, after Gustav Stresemann, the German inter-war Chancellor who played no part in it’s creation. Though technically more modern than the morning coat, the black lounge jacket has a long-established history as a less ‘dressy’ alternative.
You may well be asking why you should want to dress like a banker or government employee from the early 20th century on a festive occasion. There are many reasons, but chief among them is that, like full morning dress, there are so many variations and upgrades to the standard outfit that a stroller can look just as festive as morning dress, with the added benefit of the greater comfort afforded by a lounge coat, and a reduced risk of feeling overdressed if you’re not sure whether you should be ‘going all the way’ (especially on a first date*).
In terms of composition, black lounge has many elements in common with full morning dress. The waistcoat and trousers are similar, as are most accessories. If you wish to opt for a hat, a black bowler (or coke) is the most recogniseable headwear, though it looks a little dated and clerical compared with the more formal homburg. Top hats haven’t been worn with lounge coats since the 19th century and are not advised. Opting out of wearing a hat altogether may be a bit of a shame, but for the less daring, doing so can prevent the outfit from looking ‘costumey’.
The loung coat itself can be black or oxford grey, and its other features are fairly flexible. The earliest styles had notched lapels but the peaked lapel, as shown in the above pictures, was very popular in the ’30s and ’40s. It can have one, two or three buttons and should have either no vents or two vents at the back. That said, if a jacket it perfect for you in every other way, you can easily get away with a single vent. Double breasted jackets are also acceptable, though these take a lot of fun out of the waistcoat, which can eithe be black to match the coat or really any other colour you wish (though pale is and muted is usually best)
All the same options as for morning dress apply for trousers, although the less dressy nature of black lounge suits the quirkier trousering options such as checks and cheviots.
Black Lounge How-To
If you find yourself attracted to the stroller, it’s likely that you’ll see vintage as the best option for acquiring your own. There are some excellent vintage black lounge coats out there, but finding them can be tough – even on eBay, where they can easily pass under the radar for being listed as dinner jackets or blazers. You might not think a plain black lounge jacket would be that hard to find, and patience ought to pay off in the long run, but there are other options. Certain makers of modern morning dress, such as Hector James, actually make a passable all-wool stroller jacket, or then there is the more practical option of borrowing the jacket from an oxford grey lounge suit as demonstrated below:
* Don’t wear black lounge on a first, or any, date.