Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dressed to the Nines

One of the most lamentable aspects of our current society is the almost complete collapse of rules for dress.  It used to be that a gentleman (and a lady) was expected to dress in various levels of formality depending upon the event which he was attending.  Now, people wear whatever they like, with a most regrettable emphasis upon remaining 'comfortable' at all times.  The root of this maniacal need for comfort is far deeper than the scope of this blog can discuss, but suffice it to say that I adhere to the following maxim:  'If you're too comfortable, you don't look good'.

Many of my own acquaintances think that I am too inhibited by the old rules of dress, but on the contrary, it gives me great pleasure to know when to wear tweed and when to wear linen.  Such boundaries are what separate men from beasts and gentlemen from the unwashed masses.

Thus, I shall outline various times, seasons, and events that occur in the gentleman's life and the proper corresponding clothing.  However, for most of these, I shall give two possibilities, the first being the height of traditional correctness (which I follow more or less constantly), the second being a slightly more modernised version, in case some gentlemen are still rather shy of appearing too 'different' or 'eccentric' in our generally slovenly culture.



In General:  It is generally accepted that lighter colours are to be worn in the morning and into the early afternoon.  In the summer, for example, a seersucker jacket and white trousers are an admirable choice of morning wear, but if one were to dine out in the evening, this should be substituted for a suit of darker hue.  Likewise, in the winter, tweeds and corduroys are perfectly acceptable during the day, though a black suit, dinner jacket, etc. (depending upon the formality of the event in question) should be assumed in the evening.

Weddings:  Traditionally, a morning wedding requires a morning suit--full morning tails (grey or black), grey waistcoat, and grey striped trousers, as shown below.  However, a three-piece suit or a lounge suit is also acceptable in the current society.  If one wishes to wear a morning suit, grey gloves and a grey or black top hat are the proper accoutrements; either a tie or an ascot may be worn.  Below is a picture of HRH Prince William wearing a morning suit.  Events such as Trooping the Colour or the Royal Ascot also require a morning suit.



In General:  Evening wear ought always to be of a dark colour, usually black.  For most dinner engagements, a dark three-piece suit (or a lounge suit, if one really must be less formal) is perfectly acceptable.  Sadly, gone are the days when all men donned the dinner jacket whether they dined out or at home.

Weddings:  In our times, the level of formality at a late afternoon or evening wedding varies significantly but should always be detailed on the invitation.  Some may only require a suit--a three-piece suit is always advisable at a high event such as a wedding--though this ought always to be of a dark colour, preferably black.  Among those who wish to do the thing properly, or if the invitation stipulates 'black tie', a dinner jacket (a tuxedo jacket in American English) fits the bill, along with a black waistcoat and a black bow tie.  For the most formal of weddings, those labelled 'white tie', traditional evening tails must be worn, along with a white waistcoat and bow tie.  With this last, white gloves and black top hat may also be worn, along with a long dress coat or opera cloak and a white silk scarf if the weather requires it.

Opera:  I never find myself more appalled than when I see the outfits that people now wear to attend the opera; they appear to be more prepared for a general gathering of field hands and washerwomen than a performance of Don Giovanni.  If one attends opening night, white tie and tails are the proper mode of dress.  However, if this is not possible for whatever reason, black tie and dinner jacket (tuxedo) will suffice.  Anything less on opening night would be, in my opinion, an insult to the entire opera company.  For performances other than opening night, though tails or dinner jackets are traditionally still recommended, a three-piece suit is acceptable.  A lounge suit is better than nothing, no jacket is reprehensible, and jeans ought to be cast into the outer darkness.

Theatre:  Generally, the same rules apply as those of the opera, though the theatre--West End, Broadway, etc.--seems to have become regarded as much less formal than the opera.  Thus, suits may always be considered acceptable, though I still deplore anything less.



From autumn until Easter, tweed is an admirable fabric for day wear.  It used to be that tweed was mostly worn when visiting the countryside, but that is no longer the case.  The same time frame is true for corduroy and velvet.  However, after Easter (as a general rule), these fabrics ought not be worn.

From Easter through the end of summer (again, generally speaking), one may wear light colours, especially white, and lighter fabrics such as linen and seersucker.


Shoes, Hats, and More:

Shoes should always match the entire outfit, of course, and they should generally be the same colour as one's belt.  For example, with a navy blue suit, one should wear either a navy belt and navy shoes or an oxblood belt and oxblood shoes.  A gentleman's shoes should always be cleaned and polished before going out, especially when he is dressed in evening wear, as only patent leather ought to be worn on such occasions.

Fedoras and homburgs are the best hats for daytime use with three-piece suits or lounge suits.  If a hat is desired with evening wear, black or white tie, it must be a top hat.

Traditionally, a gentleman always wore gloves when he went out, though this has definitely fallen out of fashion.  However, if one wishes to remain old-fashioned, grey, black, or navy gloves can be worn with suits, while white gloves must be worn with evening wear.

If one wishes to be very old-fashioned (and, in my opinion, very elegant), walking sticks may be used.  For daytime, a regular walking cane is used, an example of which may be seen below:

With formal evening wear, a dress cane is most appropriate.  Below is my own turn-of-the-century dress cane, which I generally carry when in white tie.


This is just the briefest of outlines regarding a gentleman's dress, but I hope that it might prove useful to someone in his own attempt to dress to the nines.  Once one overcomes the fear of possibly being a bit more uncomfortable than he would be in sandals and t-shirts, it is really quite exhilarating to enter society with panache.  Life is far too short to waste on drab dumpiness--why not live with flair, dash, and elegance?


  1. I'd be interested in any recommendations you'd make regarding retailers and money saving tips for those who need to make purchases on a tight budget.

  2. Indeed! As an adjunct professor on a very tight budget myself, I rarely ever pay a fortune for any of my clothing. I shall write a new post about it forthwith! :)

  3. "Once one overcomes the fear of possibly being a bit more uncomfortable than he would be in sandals and t-shirts, it is really quite exhilarating to enter society with panache."

    Bravo! Excellently written, Jean-Marc. I appreciate the effort you make in dressing on the occasions we are thrown together.

  4. Very interesting post, Jon-Mark. I must say the casual manner of our society's dress is a little sad to me as well -- though I think it is far more attainable for a man to keep up the old dressing practices than it is or a woman. Men's clothing has come along way in the last century, but not nearly as far as women's clothing has come.

    1. That is very true. However, skirts and dresses are still always ways that a woman can look very classy and dressy...Grace and I went shopping today, and I wore a three-piece suit while she wore a lovely little dress, pearls, and heels. We received so many positive remarks! Deep down, people still wish that everyone dressed up all the time. Also, I think it important for women to wear nice dresses or evening gowns to events such as weddings, the theatre, and the opera. But yes...this is one area where we men may have a slight advantage. :)