The mess jacket is a type of formal jacket that ends at the waist. It features either a non-fastening double breast cut or a single-breasted version that fastens. The jackets have shawl or peak lapels. Used in military mess dress, during the 1930s it became a popular alternative to the white dinner jacket in hot and tropical weather for black tie occasions. It also was prominently used, in single-breasted form, as part of the uniform for underclassmen at Eton College, leading to the alternate name Eton jacket. Its origin was a spencer, a tail-less adaptation of the tailcoat worn by both men and women during the Regency period.
The waist-length style of jacket first appeared in the 1790s when George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer removed the tails from his tailcoat. Spencer, it was thought, singed the tails of his tailcoat while standing beside a fire and then cut off the ends, unwittingly starting a new fashion. Other stories say Spencer—frustrated by his tails catching on brambles—tore the tails off his coat when hunting one day. In the early 1800s, Eton College adopted it for first year students' uniforms; it was referred to as an Eton jacket. Civilians first adopted a white mess jacket in 1933 to wear in the hot and tropical weather of Palm Beach.
The mess jacket soon fell out of fashion for two main reasons. One is that the jacket only worked well with an athletic and slim fit. The other reason is that the mess jacket had gone on to be worn by musicians, bellhops and waiters, leading the class conscious of the era to abandon the garment. It is still used in service industries.
- Entry at blacktieguide.com Accessed August 4, 2012].
- Regency Fashion History. 1800s Costume History, by Pauline Weston Thomas for Fashion-Era.com
- Making a Man's Tailcoat, by J. Gottfred.
- Mary Ellen Snodgrass (17 March 2015). World Clothing and Fashion: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence. Routledge. p. 233. ISBN 978-1-317-45167-9.
- José Blanco F.; Patricia Kay Hunt-Hurst; Heather Vaughan Lee; Mary Doering (23 November 2015). Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe [4 volumes]: American Fashion from Head to Toe. ABC-CLIO. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-61069-310-3.