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Jan 9, 2009 09:41 PM

Dress code discussion (a lost thread)


Mods moved this post to Not About Food from the Boston board, only it never arrived (broken link).. Since I can still find my post in my "All Activity" page, I'm reposting here. The original post was here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/581612 , from which a side discussion evolved about differences in dress sense on either side of Boston's Charles River, which led to a discussion of declining standards of appropriate dress in American fine-dining restaurants. At some point, I said:

"I agree: dress is culture. (Actually, the line I like, can't remember whose now, is that culture is your mother's cooking. Pollan, maybe?) What surprised me is how quickly the line moved on American dress sense in fine-dining restaurants, especially at five-star US hotels. The old Ritz-Carlton in Boston used to insist on a jacket in its dining room and its bar as recently as a few years ago. They kept a couple of size-48 navy blazers on hand for the short-sighted to wear. Not long before it was sold, jeans became okay in the bar (still true at successor Taj), I imagine to the horror of some of the old servers. "Jacket required" has become a very laxly-enforced "jacket suggested" at the few places that try, and certainly no one can afford to turn away the business anymore.

I'm going to hold the line on batting an eyelash at ballcaps in the dining room.

Bruni had an interesting, even-handed take on this subject last year: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

  1. Even formal has become optional at many events listed as formal - suits are readily accepted in lieu of black tie (let alone white tie, which I prefer but haven't worn in 26 years). Despite the longings of the clothing industry that a business downturn will mark a revival of formality, I have to say that the evidence is more wishful than real.

    The jacket-and-tie look represented the 75 years of the Great World War (1914-1990). It was remarkably fixed for a long time. The century before it had gradual change throughout (before that, men's fashion change very frequently), and I suspect the 75-year stasis will be followed by a compensatory period of extended flux in fashion.

    Jeans themselves are being superceded by stretchwear (preferably, clean black), which have many practical advantages despite their utter lack of fashion and which when neat I would happily encounter over many types of jeans these days.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karl S

      But, Karl S, they're talking about restaurant wear. Were there ever --- in the last 100 years or so --- restaurants where black tie was expected? (Not that YOU remember that far back!) And I agree that in a "nicer" restaurant, I hate to see jeans and as c'lady said, I don't care what they cost.

    2. I know a lot of my women friends think that expensive jeans somehow are no longer jeans but dressy clothes. I think even if jeans are 300 dollars, they are still jeans.

      15 Replies
      1. re: cassoulady

        Part of that might be because clubs/bars with dress codes will say " No jeans, except designer". Doesn't mean that your women friends are always right or always wrong.

        I personally don't care what the dress code is, we just wear what we want (jeans only when stated casual). When it comes to other patrons I'm bothered more by perfume and other fragrances than clothing.

        1. re: viperlush

          When it comes to clubs/bars, most of the posted rules (no tank tops, jeans...) aren't really enforced when it comes to females...

          Jeans are still jeans, regardless of price.

          The only time we had a dress code strictly enforced was on our honeymoon, on the QE2. Once while we were still in the bar and my husband was wearing shorts, a server came by at 6:03 to politely let us know that my husband's attire was no longer appropriate at that hour. It was the second week of the cruise and we knew the rules, but were curious as to whether or not they would be enforced.

          Some places do enforce the jacket policy, but not ties so much anymore.

          In my experience, the east coast is still more formal than the west coast. Formal in California doesn't exclude wearing shorts and flip-flops, weddings included (suit for the church, however, with a quick change for the reception).

          1. re: Caralien

            Oh, Caralien, I really have to disagree with you on your final paragraph. Formal never would include shorts and flip-flops on the left coast. Please don't toss that out :) And our daughters both married in Calif. and they and their husbands remained beautifully dressed the entire time. We're not TOTAL savages out here :)

            1. re: c oliver

              I was referring to my uncles and those of their generation (boomers), raised in Southern California. My husband and I (as well as cousins, sister, and their spouses) remained in formal dress during our weddings (Newport Beach, Ukiah, Monterey, San Diego, Santa Rosa...) but we never got a photo of all four of the "boys" in their suits (the last time all 4 were in suits--and photographed--was at the youngest's wedding in the 60's).

              Don't get me wrong, there's nothing savage about being comfortable. Even I took off my Manolo's and wore flip flops under my dress after the ceremony!

              RE: jeans/denim: I have a denim suit from Vera Wang. It's nice, cute, and trendy. But I would never wear it to something formal, or an important meeting.

          2. re: viperlush

            lol, i'd never heard of that one re: designer jeans before. Are designer jeans REALLY that much more aesthetically pleasing than say, a pair that cost $100 ? That one takes the cake, I gotta say.

            On the topic of jeans though, there are jeans, and there are jeans. Denim is, after all, just a fabric, and I've seen plenty of trouser style jeans that are just as dressy or in some cases, dressier, than some pants i've seen.

            1. re: viperlush

              Agree about the perfume and men's cologne viperlush.

              1. re: viperlush

                Well, a club/bar is different than a fine dining establishment.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Obviously, I was just giving cassoulady a possible reason why her women friends might think that expensive jeans= dressy clothes.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    My mother, who is now almost 80, always referred to "classic casual" when instructing me and my siblings as to what to wear. To her, this meant a skirt and a blouse and heels for the girls, and a nice pants and a dress shirt and a sport coat for the boys. When I was younger, I thought this was terribly uncool. Now, of course, when I am going out, I often find myself in a skirt and a blouse when I am not sure where we are going exactly. ha ha

                    1. re: cassoulady

                      That's what my mother use to say to us (except for the coat) when we didn't know what to wear. Isn't that so much easier to do that in the summertime than the winter? When it is warm my traditional wear is skirt and top or dress, but when it's cold (right now) I clinging to my jeans and sweaters.

                      1. re: viperlush

                        In winter when traveling I always have a pair of black trousers/slacks. They go with everything, can be worn multiple times and aren't jeans. When not traveling, it's really easy to leave the jeans at home for dressier venues.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            And it's easier to just avoid dressier venues all together when the weather inspires casual attire.

                            1. re: viperlush

                              Well, I will admit that when there's a foot (or two or three) of snow on the ground, I tend towards casual attire. After all, why wear nice trousers with big, clunky snow boots? Otherwise, how/why would weather "inspire" casual attire. If one is really cold, wool is warmer than denim.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Exactly. Cold feet/snow= desire to wear snow boots and salt/sand on sidewalks. I've seen people change shoes in the restaurant, but I think it's awkward to carry them. And I would prefer to get my jeans dirty than nicer clothing (I walk everywhere).

                                Really cold= eat in or go to neighborhood bar for dinner.

                                Being cold makes me want to bundle up and feel comfortable. Jeans are comfortable, sweaters cozy, and boots warm. Likewise in the summer I hate feeling hot and wear as little as possible (while remaining decent). So skirts and dresses are more comfortable and cute shoes are possible.

                                And I'm sure that if I were male I would feel the opposite and prefer dressy in the winter and casual in the summer.

                2. My husband and I went to dinner at Mario Batali's highly over-rated but extremely luxe restaurant Del Posto last summer, and despite the extremely high level of service (the one good thing) and expensive ambiance, people thought that it was OK to dress as if they had just come in from a beach volleyball game. Don't look at me when I'm around the house -- I'm as much of a slob as the next person -- but what people seem to lack these days is a sense of occasion. You go to a nice restaurant, and you get a little dolled up. The corner deli is not a place for a $500 meal, and I feel that it denigrates the experience of fine dining to be sitting with a bunch of yahoos in tank tops and baseball caps blabbing on cell phones.

                  16 Replies
                  1. re: roxlet

                    So sad, so true. At least here in a part of the country that gets cold in winter we don't have to look at shorts and flip-flops in fine restaurants for at least part of the year. Doesn't help with the baseball caps and cell phones though.

                    This topic was pretty well hashed out on a Table Manners column a while back: http://www.chow.com/stories/11044

                    1. re: roxlet

                      Why should I care what you think of how I look? Unless you want to pay for my meal, I shouldn't need to care what you think of me. I need to care about:
                      a) Myself
                      b) My immediate dining companions

                      If I don't happen to see the point in comboing fancy clothes with high end food, why should I have to?

                      1. re: jgg13

                        Hey, alanbarnes, is this the type of person you were referring to?

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Eh, fair enough, if that's what you want to think.

                          I personally don't see the need to dress in archaic clothing in order to enjoy a meal. As long as I'm not shouting or otherwise being disruptive, it should matter to anyone else what I'm wearing either.

                          Dress codes (both official and unofficial, and I'm not just talking about fancy clothes, sometimes the 'dress code' requires very particular non-fancy clothes) have always struck me as being excessively pretentious. If what someone else is wearing really bothers one that much, there's a problem IMO.

                        2. re: jgg13

                          Why should you care what impression you make on others around you? Let me see if I can phrase this delicately enough not to start a flame war that would soon be deleted.

                          You are a member of society, at least once you venture outside your front door (what you do INSIDE your own home is entirely your own business). As such, you have a responsibility to consider the feelings of those around you. This is the very essence of manners - and if you can't accept this point, then you might as well stop reading now because nothing else I say will mean anything to you.

                          While a great barbecue joint and a well-run fine dining establishment both provide wonderful food, one of the key differences between them is the aesthetic they are attempting to provide for their patrons. Not for nothing do such restaurants spend large sums of money on their linens, glassware, silver and china, not to mention the general furnishings of the room. This is to set a tone that enhances the total multi-sensory dining experience.

                          When we go to such establishments, we become part of that experience, like it or not, and as such it behooves us to at least attempt to add to, not detract from, the overall aesthetic. I'm not talking about suits and ties here - as has been mentioned above, very few places these days go so far as to require them. I'm simply talking about dressing well, making an effort, and at a minimum avoiding such inappropriate garb as flip-flops and torn T-shirts.

                          1. re: BobB

                            I can understand physical distractions, noise, etc. But I simply refuse to accept that certain modes of dress should be required. If someone wants to look like a dufus, that's up to them - I don't have to look at them if it somehow offends me. This is different than someone being loud - I can't avoid but hearing them. This is also different than some form of physical molestation - the couple that lets their kid run around, or the person that's somehow bumping into you, etc.

                            I don't know about you, but I don't feel the need to look around and worry about what everyone else is wearing, I don't particularly care nor do I understand those that do care. If for some reason I do happen to notice what someone is dressed like and they are indeed looking like a dufus, out of place, etc - well, I might think less of them (I try not to, but it is tough to always avoid obviously) but I don't let it somehow offend me.

                            1. re: jgg13

                              Ya know, I don't think it's a matter of offending. Rather like BobB said (way better than I can), the aethestics are part of the dining experience. Does a dufus :) make the food not taste good? Of course, not. But having a dining room full of nicely dressed people enhances the experience just like the lighting, wine glasses etc.

                            2. re: BobB

                              I'm with you, BobB. There is a complete aesthetic experience when you dine at a restaurant that has created an ambience of elegance. Here's the thing: it's fun to feel like you are part of something -- almost like being in a play -- that enhances the experience of fine dining.

                              1. re: roxlet

                                "it's fun to feel like you are part of something"

                                I've heard that argument regarding 'dress up' type of stuff for ever and ever (again, not just talking formal wear, e.g. the same argument is made going to a goth dance night!) and I just don't get it. I can't say that I ever once said to myself, "Self, wow, it is really cool that I dressed according to some standard because other people would otherwise judge me, and now I feel like I'm part of something".

                                1. re: jgg13

                                  Yet, as you yourself said above, "If for some reason I do happen to notice what someone is dressed like and they are indeed looking like a dufus, out of place, etc - well, I might think less of them (I try not to, but it is tough to always avoid obviously)..."

                                  I think that in your heart you know that dress matters, and that there is a difference between elegance and boorishness. As for "I don't have to look at them if it somehow offends me," that's patently absurd. You don't have to stare at them (and shouldn't), but of course you notice them, and they thus affect your experience. You don't have magic vision that allows you to see only those aspects of the room that you choose.

                                  It's not a question of dressing "according to some standard," it's a question of dressing so as to enhance the experience, for others as well as yourself. Taking your rightful place in society, as it were.

                                  One of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons shows a middle-aged, balding man in black tie entering a ballroom full of elegantly-dressed couples, and the thought bubble over his head reads, "Omigod, grownups!" The joy of dressing well is part of being an adult - a stage of life that all too many Americans never seem to reach.

                                  1. re: jgg13

                                    Is/was your wedding dressed "come as you are"?

                                    1. re: OCAnn

                                      Not married (don't particularly care to be married), but the long-term gf knows that I would strongly perfer for it to be casual if it happened, yes.

                                      1. re: jgg13

                                        And it wouldn't bother you if your guests are dressed as they wish, without considering the event, the surroundings? How about the beer-drinking uncle who wears a Coors shirt too small to cover his entire belly, the friend who brings a gf who dresses too provocatively, the nephew who wears his pants too low, exposing his undies & his ball cap sideways?

                                        Just playing the devils advocate. I think your bride would care. You could claim that it's YOUR event or that it's YOUR money paying for their meals, but in the end, they'll claim "freedom of expression". I think there's a time & place for certain attire....

                                        1. re: OCAnn

                                          Honestly, I wouldn't care. But to be clear,I think that weddings & marriage are stupid - so your attempt to back me in a corner can't possibly succeed here :)

                                          1. re: jgg13

                                            You might think differently if you ever decided to get married. That said, everyone's entitled to their own opinions and dress codes. It would certainly be silly to wear jeans, a suit, baseball caps, or a bikini to a Renaissance Faire, Star Wars, or Pirate themed wedding or event.

                                            1. re: Caralien

                                              "You might think differently if you ever decided to get married"

                                              The only reason that I'd be getting married is that I feel like I absolutely need to in order to keep a partner that I don't want to lose (I've parted ways w/ others before due to them needing 'marriage'). As such, I can't imagine that I'd care very much what people do because I think all of the standard pomp & circumstance is annoying.

                                              "It would certainly be silly to wear jeans, a suit, baseball caps, or a bikini to a Renaissance Faire or Star Wars wedding or event."

                                              That's why I mentioned earlier that I never particularly liked dress codes even when not talking about formal wear. A specific example is the now defunct Manray nightclub in Cambridge,MA but your Star Wars example is a good one as well.

                          2. Maybe it's just me, but dress codes strike me as unnecessarily elitist and exclusionary. They seem intended to establish an us-versus-them mentality in staff and patrons.

                            That's not to say that I'm a fan of slovenliness. If I'm going out to dinner at a fine-dining establishment, I'll put on a jacket every time. But there's a big difference between choosing to wear a jacket and being told to do so (or, worse yet, being offered a "house" jacket that brands the wearer as an outsider).

                            As to other patrons, I couldn't care less what they wear. Yes, it would be nice if everyone in a restaurant (better yet, everyone out in public) was couth in both dress and behavior, but putting a boor in a jacket doesn't change the fact that the wearer is a boor. I'd far rather suffer the sight of a man's shirt sleeves than be subjected to an overbearing monologue from the next table.

                            Wearing appropriate attire is part of good manners, but it's such a small part that IMHO it's nearly irrelevant. I'd venture to guess that the public behavior of today's typical American is significantly worse than it was in years past, but anyone who believes that a dress code will fix that problem is seriously delusional.

                            Of course, one can attempt to surround oneself with people who are reasonably well-behaved. The loudmouth who wears an aloha shirt to dinner probably won't receive an invitation to join an exclusive private club. But the very nature of public venues is that they are open to all comers. A restaurant or bar that conditions admission on whether a man is wearing a jacket seems to me to be engaging in fairly arbitrary and overtly elitist discrimination.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              i was with you most of the way through alan, though i rarely wear a jacket to dinner, myself, even at "nicer places", up until this: "...the public behavior of today's typical American is significantly worse than it was in years past...."

                              it is not worse, unless the rules of the past have some absolute hold on behavior in the present. what is happening is that the rules are changing, and what may have once been considered "bad" behavior is not that way anymore. And seeing as i happily accepted the changes that let women wear short skirts, instead of hide their ankles, and the changes that allow me to not wear a suit and tie and hat in public at all times, i will accept these changes as well.

                              1. re: thew

                                My opinion that public behavior has deteriorated has almost nothing to do with the way people dress; as I indicated, I think that clothing is such a small part of etiquette as to be nearly irrelevant. Rather, I firmly believe that people are more self-centered, less considerate, and just plain angrier and ruder than they used to be.

                                I'm all for accepting evolution in the rules of etiquette. And if that means that there are very few restaurants where I feel the need to wear a jacket, I'll go further than just accepting those changes - I'll embrace them. But if the latest trend is that it's okay to be an a$$hole to everyone around you, I have a problem with that.

                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                I'll have to disagree with you on this one Alan. There are very few restaurants left that require jackets in Manhattan, you can probably count them on one and and they are all pricey. If you can afford a meal in these establishments than you can certainly afford to go out and buy a nice sports jacket. A very respectable sports jacket can be had for less than $75 and can last a wearer for years.

                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                  I don't doubt that anybody who can afford a meal at Le Bernardin can afford a sport coat. The exclusionary practices I have a problem with aren't based on means, they're based on those who are "in" versus those who are "out."

                                  Maybe it's just psychological scarring from my past. Many years ago, I worked for a firm where business casual was acceptable but a few hyperaggressive individuals wore power suits every day. One of their favorite things to do was to invite a casually-dressed new hire out for drinks after work; they'd take him to a place that prohibited men in shirtsleeves, then derive no end of amusement when the new guy donned the "house jacket," a huge monstrosity that looked as though it had been stitched together from plaid carpeting.

                                  Of course the new guy had a closet full of suits at home, he just opted to wear a sport shirt that day - a decision that was completely consistent with the dress code imposed by management. The point was to humiliate the guy, not because he didn't own a jacket, but because he didn't know it would be required. And that bugs me.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    Proving yet again that even properly dressed people can have the manners of a goat.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      I think it is psychological scarring on your part. Your co-workers were bullies and if it wasn't bringing a new co-worker to an establishment where they knew he was under-dressed they would have done something else to humiliate him.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        I wouldn't hold a couple of buffoon's bad behavior as a reason against dressing properly at a restaurant. Hopefully, your scars have healed.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          I couldn't help but notice alanbarnes' choice of photo of a spiffily dressed Al Capone.

                                          1. re: Up With Olives

                                            Jacket and tie aren't just for fine dining - they're for mug shots, too.

                                    2. Does anyone remember when The Cloisters on Sea Island had black tie bingo twice a week? I thought it was elegant and fun.