Occasion Wear Etiquette
“The only way to atone for being occasionally a little over-dressed is by being always absolutely over-educated.”— Oscar Wilde
Life used to be simpler. Dress-codes certainly were; white-tie, black-tie or lounge suit covered the evening and for day, it was split into formal and informal. However, I should make it clear that if the invitation requires informal dress, they are inferring that you do not need to wear tails and decorations. A dark lounge suit, a light- coloured shirt and a simple tie is the right ‘kit’ but certainly not chinos and a sweater! My advice is always to overdress when uncertain; jackets and ties can be removed and shirt sleeves rolled up.
But how do we navigate the sea of modern terms that are gaining favour, particularly at weddings? For example, the dreaded “optional” we see after black tie and morning dress?
My advice: always choose to follow the top-line dress code, because the inference is “we really want you to make the effort to dress up but if you don’t, you’re still invited/welcome”. In my opinion, always make the effort.
“Cocktail” is a relative newcomer to the dress code and can send men into a panic. If it’s an evening event, the N&L navy hopsack suit with a white shirt and plain tie would always be correct but if you know the event will be a little more glamorous, you can have some fun…. mix a classic dark evening jacket with some wool tartan trousers and a pair of velvet Albert slippers. Once considered as “house shoes”, the Albert slipper is now acceptable wear for festive black-tie occasions. The Duke of Cambridge has even been spotted wearing a pair of velvet slippers with his conservative dinner suit. Velvet always strikes the right note for cocktail and you could invest in the Sheldon jacket in a luxurious Italian black velvet with satin facing and an outside ticket pocket. It could add a rakish change of pace to your traditional black-tie outfit. Alternatively, mix it with checked trousers and a fancy bow tie for a confident take on occasion dressing. The great thing about the velvet jacket is that it can also be worn in the day with grey flannels and an open-necked shirt or a piece of fine gauge knitwear. It’s an ideal and elegant look for a late afternoon cocktail party.
Morning dress remains the most formal option for daytime weddings in England and should you be required to wear one, make sure you get it right. A black morning coat is always appropriate (traditionally only the bridegroom and father of the bride can wear grey) and you can wear it with striped or “spongebag” (fine dogstooth) checked trousers. The waistcoat colour is entirely up to you and although dove grey is never wrong, it can look a little clerical. I prefer neutral shades of buff or cream in the double-breasted style. Ignore advice that your shirt must be white and choose a pale colour and a stiff, separate white collar attached with studs. Alternatively, a pink or mid-blue poplin with the N&L cutaway collar-attached always look appropriate. Always wear double-cuffs fastened with links. Your tie (never wear a cravat) can be woven or printed and should complement your shirt and waistcoat; my favourite is a fine puppytooth in a subtle, pastel shade. A tie-bar is superfluous but a tie-pin will hold your knot in place stylishly. Don’t forget to add a pocket square - white for the conservative and patterned, printed silk for the more sartorially adventurous. Black, calfskin shoes are de rigueur and they should be polished to a mirror-finish. A flash of coloured sock is also welcome.
And what not to wear….? Top hats are no longer required for weddings and are onerous anyway. They are mostly carried at weddings and the same can be said about gloves. I would also strongly advise against wearing spats as they are both archaic and unflattering. Your aim is to look elegant and timeless; not like an extra in a period drama.
If the wedding requires a lounge suit, I always suggest a grey pick-and-pick or birdseye with furnishings which are similar to morning dress. The addition of a waistcoat, either matching or contrasting, will avoid the suit looking too business-like. Overseas weddings, particularly in warmer climes (or on beaches), call for lightweight suits and button-cuff shirts. Jackets will be removed and sleeves rolled up.
And finally, whatever the dress-code, never try to out-dress the groom. Always strive to look your best but should you outshine the bride, you’re probably trying a little too hard.