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Apr 8, 2011 01:50 PM

restaurant attire


there seem to be people on this board who like formal attire at restaurants. Here is an article from the WSJ about this issue. Personally, I tend to dress up if the occasion requires though i am happy to stop in at a 3 star Michellin restaurant in NYC wearning (nice) jeans.

  1. Getting the popcorn out for this one. Got my folks a gift certificate for L'Espalier, and I need to advise them on whether the current standard has been downgraded from sweats and mud-crusted Timberlands.

    774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

    1. It is not a question of all as to "the occasion." How you dress is how you define yourself; how you choose to present yourself to the public; how you want people to think of you when they look at you and what you are wearing. That's it.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            I'm of the opinion that if your server wears a tie, so should you. Admittedly my self censure keeps me to more casual restaurants than I would sometimes like; when Sunday at 6 pm comes around, I really don't want to get too gussied up.

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Agreed. I love places like The Balsams and the Mount Washington Hotel, which still have a jacket-required rule. Of course, at those places, you'll see teen boys with blue blazers over their American Eagle plaid shorts (that would be my son), and women in just about anything, but at least the places are trying......

            2. As someone who could not imagine going to a high end restaurant without dressing up to some degree (Wore a suit to Le Bernadin, L'Espalier, No 9, even to Troquet where I was stared at as the weirdo who wore a suit) I enjoy dressing up for a nice meal. Besides the main reason of personal enjoyment, I feel that dressing up makes an ocassion feel that much more special because people don't dress up much in general today. I was also taught that dressing up shows respect to the restaurant and other patrons. (I know this contradicts the common attitude, "I am the customer, the restaurant should bow to me and I should be able to show up in my gym clothes and they should worship me because I am the always right customer.") Sadly in recent memory in Boston when I've worn a suit to some high end restaurants I've been asked on several occasions if I work there or are the sommelier. Yes, of course, because why would any self-respecting customer ever wear a suit?

              This also reminds me of a Yelp review for a high end restaurant that required jackets and the reviewer complained that despite his $3000 watch, $500 armani jeans, and $200 t-shirt, the restaurant wouldn't let him in and how dare they judge him and ask him if he wants to borrow a jacket so he gave the restaurant 1 star.

              What I'd really like to know is what people's objections are to dressing up for very high end restaurants (I'm talking the top 1% of restaurants) and why they refuse to do it?

              55 Replies
              1. re: Klunco

                This is a subject that just baffles me. I love getting dressed up for a night out, even if it's on the casual side, and I'd never think of wearing jeans and a t-shirt to a "jackets required" or even "jackets recommended" restaurant. I feel sloppy if I'm wearing jeans to someplace like Posto or Toro for that matter. But I know folks who refuse to wear anything but jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers to the nicest places, with the attitude of "I'm paying them, I can do what I want!"

                1. re: Klunco

                  I know I'm in the minority here but I'm just going to go ahead and give the alternate view. I've never enjoyed dressing up and it's not just for restaurants but for any occasion. My preference is casual. That said obviously there are times when you should. So, you'll probably never see me at any of the real high-end restaurants here. I did, however, just get back from Aruba where we did a chef's whim and wine pairing at a new restaurant that is getting all the raves. Just 14 seats and 1 seating. We arrived in nice shorts and pullovers and it was about 50/50, some dressed to the nines and some like us. At the end of the evening we had made a lot of friends, enjoyed a wonderful dinner and service and no one cared who was dressed up or not. If people want to get dressed up, go for it, but why should what other people wear have any impact on your evening?

                  1. re: Pegmeister

                    The reason some people object to the new, ubiquitous casualness is that it represents a relatively new cultural norm. It wasn't that long ago that varying levels of formality in dress according to the occasion were a given, an ongoing series of adjustments that every individual made in daily life.

                    We've moved (some might say devolved) to a new norm where people don't differentiate between going to church, meeting with a government official, doing yard work, dining in a nice restaurant, changing their oil, and so on. If you grew up with the new normal, you may not understand and probably don't care about the change. Only some of the folks who grew up with the old normal remember it fondly and think something has been lost.

                    We're only a couple of generations removed from that very different sensibility. I think part of the fascination with and popularity of TV series like Mad Men is the sense of wonder they inspire at what was arguably the last high point of dress standards in the US. Watch a show like that, and you realize we have made laudable progress on many fronts (cuisine is a good one to mention here), but clearly have lost something on the style front. But the word style is misleading: it's not simply a question of mere fashion, rather one of social awareness, a sense of decorum, the recognition that one tracksuit doesn't fit all.

                    I don't see the toothpaste going back in that tube, but count me among those that thinks that part of the cost of the new carelessness in attire is that we've become a less graceful, polite, mutually respectful society. It's not the only factor in the general downward spiral of civility, but it's of a piece with many other things, and perhaps the most obvious symbol of our decline on that front.


                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      There was also a time when people not only differentiated among the occasions that you list, but also differentiated among people based on class, education, race and gender. People were expected to dress not only according the occasion but according their role in society.

                      1. re: paulj

                        That was also a time when you only earned high marks in school if you learned the material and showed quality work. I'm so glad we got past that arbitrary standard too.

                        1. re: paulj

                          You make it sound as though our society was somehow rigidly codified by standards of dress, as though a farmer or laborer couldn't own a set of clothes suitable for church on Sunday. That's nonsense, of course.

                          The difference is that most people used to bother dressing up for certain occasions, and nothing in their class, education, race or gender prevented them from doing so, just as now. It's just that now, people don't bother.


                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            I agree that "a farmer or laborer couldn't own a set of clothes suitable for church on Sunday" is nonsense. But that is not what i wrote or implied.

                        2. re: MC Slim JB

                          Given the comments of the Locke-Ober owner in the news last week about declining traffic etc. and this news article, it sounds as though L-O may have to back off its policy. You are right about teh rapid change. When I returned to town a few years ago I met a friend at the Ritz and we walked to Locke-Ober. In our youth the Common would have been a sea of suits...we were the only ones.

                          I was pleased to see some defiance from my favorite New Orleans restaurant in that article, though. who knows how long that will last?

                        3. re: Pegmeister

                          You ask "why should what other people wear have any impact on your evening?"

                          I once sat next to a guy wearing a T-shirt that said, in very foul language, if you read this T-shirt you are an idiot.....since he was facing me at the next table with a smirk it was unpleasant.

                          Guy next to me wearing a low cut tank top and very high cut nylon jogging shorts, along with dirty feet with hideous toenails. Being that close to his armpit hair was disgusting.

                          Young woman in a skirt so tight and top so low everyone in the room was waiting to see which part of her she would expose first.

                          All three of those people definitely had an impact on me and other diners. Those were meals I couldn't wait to be done with...and they weren't cheap.

                          1. re: escondido123

                            Are you sure the toenails and armpit stench weren't part of some super-jaded and decadent new food trend, planted there by the chef?

                            1. re: nsenada

                              My wife thinks cumin smells exactly like that.

                            2. re: escondido123

                              Definitely sounds like we DO NOT dine in the same type of places, and that your examples are extreme. My point is, if you want to dress up "go for it". I just don't care to dress up, so you would never see me at Lespalier. Those places are reserved for people who do want to dress up and that's okay. Would love to hear about the places you frequent as I've never been exposed to what you have.

                              1. re: Pegmeister

                                No more extreme than people saying they don't want to have to put on a suit or high heels and a cocktail dress just to eat dinner. Believe me, I don't '"dress up" to go out to dinner, but I do try to be non-offensive. Maybe that's what I'm asking for--non-offensive. T-shirt and jeans? Fine. Just don't show me your thong and I won't show you mine. Of course, if I could I would love to have dinner without seeing tattoos of naked ladies, cartoon characters or knives dripping with blood, but I live in So Cal and gave up on that long ago. Oh well, with my bad vision in a couple of years I'll just be asking whether my spaghetti is at 10 o'clock or 2 and others people will be asking for a table away for the woman covered in tomato sauce!

                                1. re: escondido123

                                  Now I get it, please understand where I'm coming from. When I say I don't want to dress up, I'm saying I prefer dress jeans and a nice top which really wouldn't be acceptable in a number of high-end restaurants, so I respect that and don't dine there. I would be absolutely horrified to see people dining in a restaurant the way that you describe. Never been to So Cal; is that how it is there? I'm from Boston.

                                  1. re: Pegmeister

                                    Often times yes, but not in most high end places. I'm from Providence by the way.

                                    1. re: escondido123

                                      I think we are on the same page. Can't imagine dining with people as you describe. There is a place for those who like to dress up and those that don't, Everyone should respect that. Have a great evening!

                                    2. re: Pegmeister

                                      I googled "dress jeans," but couldn't get an idea what they are.

                                      I can't resist, so I'll ask: do you mean ones that the belt is at the waistline -- I don't think they make them anymore, though; not even in elastic granny type -- but I could be mistaken.

                                      1. re: Rella

                                        ask someone from texas what "dress jeans" are and they will set you straight.

                                        1. re: Rella

                                          Dress jeans are very dark wash, more trouser styled than riveted, contrast stitched, etc.

                                              1. re: Rella

                                                Oh, geez, is that style never going away? I find it so unattractive on most people, even young girls, and sometimes bordering on obscene! Thank God I have a low waist, and can wear the highest-cut of those.

                                    3. re: escondido123

                                      And I've had well dressed women dining in the booth next to us wearing (along with their very nice frocks) what I can only surmise is a full bottle of perfume. I have had well dressed men in thousand dollar suits get drunk and bray like donkeys with high amperage public address systems. I'll take a well mannered poorly dressed diner any day of the week over either of those examples. Dressing up a (lipstick anyone) pig doesn't make him or her into a fine dinner companion. Nor does wearing less than beautiful clothes make one a horror show.

                                      1. re: Servorg

                                        Less than beautiful clothes I'd be happy with. Look, my husband hates to get dressed up, but he puts on a clean shirt and decent jeans if we're going out to a nice place. It is just common courtesy. And if you think that people who dress as slobs are somehow paragons of virtue, that has not been my experience. Jerks come in all shapes, sizes and wardrobes.

                                        1. re: escondido123

                                          "Jerks come in all shapes, sizes and wardrobes."

                                          Exactly my point. When you gave your examples it was to make the point that you were offended by people dressing like slobs. But what you were really offended by were jerks. Clothes don't make the man (or woman). That's why I take issue when folks start castigating others over the way they dress. I'll keep my eyes on my dining companions and my plate. But when sounds or smells (perfume or body odor) intrude then I'll take exception. But the way someone else is dressed? It doesn't even rise to the level of being noticed.

                                          1. re: Servorg

                                            If I could block out everything in my field of vision but my dining companions and my plate, just focusing on them might work. I lack this special skill.

                                            I agree that obnoxious drunks are obnoxious, however they are dressed, and that too much scent is also offensive. Not sure what bearing either has on a discussion of propriety in public dress standards.


                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                              The "outraging of America" seems to be a new game everyone wants to get in on playing. I'll just sit this one out as we've got more than enough players.

                                              1. re: Servorg

                                                I have no idea what this statement means, but you appear to be ducking the point.


                                            2. re: Servorg

                                              And I will always be offended by people who dress like slobs when they go to a nice restaurant and I have to sit by them. That is all.

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                And I'll always be offended by people who take offense at things that have no effect on their lives or well being. Silly me.

                                                1. re: escondido123

                                                  I avoid going to places that require jackets and ties, it's just not my thing. There are very few here, though, and even in nice places, you see anything from shorts and golf shirts to khakis, oxford shirts and sweaters. Unless I know it's a jeans okay place, we wear what's referred to as "dressy casual." That means chinos, a nice sweater, button down shirt for him, and nice slacks and flats for me, sweater or blouse. Comfortable, unstuffy, not overdressed. Most places are more casual than that, and I prefer casual. I do believe it's respectful not to walk in slobbishly, but I don't let anyone else's choices offend me or affect my enjoyment of my meal, the way, say, the loud drunks in suits do.

                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                    I'm with mcf on this - I dont go to places that require a jacket. Mercifully, in the UK, this is literally only a handful of restaurants in the whole country that I'm missing out on......although I dont regard it as "missing out". Dressed "smart casual", I'm going to be welcomed in the most high-end of Michelin starred places.

                                            3. re: Servorg

                                              >>>>And I've had well dressed women dining in the booth next to us wearing (along with their very nice frocks) what I can only surmise is a full bottle of perfume.

                                              This is what's really annoying in a restaurant (or a theatre, or the subway, or at work), people who are compelled to make everyone smell them. I could literally not care less, i.e., not one scintilla of an iota, about what people *wear* to a restaurant because other people aren't what I come to a restaurant to look at. But make me smell you, and you deserve to be served in the back alley. Or have your ass kicked back to the Parisian whore house from which you issued forth.

                                              1. re: Jay F

                                                That last line brought to mind The Gimp reference, for some reason...

                                                1. re: nsenada

                                                  Looks like the second to last line actually.

                                            4. re: escondido123

                                              Esc, if it was a high end restaurant, I'd have asked to be moved...and my wife would have insisted...::)

                                            5. re: Pegmeister

                                              You make a good argument and obviously the goal of dining out is enjoyment. I have to nicely but strongly disagree with your opinion. I find it sad that this generation has set such a low bar for culture and the arts today. It's not just dining out. I've seen causal attire at Broadway Shows, the ballet and even the opera! To me it shows disrespect. It may not be intentional but that's what it is. It shows a lack of distinction between the low brow (light comedy film in a movie theatre with screaming kids) and the high brow (opera, ballet). Eh, a Jim Carrey movie, a live ballet performance, Fridays or Le Cirque, what's the difference? There IS a difference. I'm about to go to a funeral. I would not even contemplate wearing jeans. I think the reason why is obvious. What you wear DOES make a difference because it shows effort or a lack of effort. When my students come to school with their pants falling off, it conveys a certain message. When they come properly dressed, it conveys a very different message. Guess which group tends to take education more seriously? Of course there are exceptions but those are exceptions.

                                              1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                The only time I attended an opera in a European country, (In the 1970's) I had to make sure I had a "dress." However, behind me were a group of English speaking women who talked outloud all during the performance. I could have told them to be quiet, but who knows with what consequences. I had to stand their loud comments. Yes, they were loud! talking across a row to their friends.

                                                Reading your posting, I'm wondering if these same women would practice this same decorum at a funeral.

                                                My point: Not even people of the older generation give a hoot! I don't believe you can expect any decorum from any type of activity. Their dressing up made no difference.

                                                I don't have jeans, nor a proper dress, but I do wonder what I should wear to a funeral. I often think when I go to TJMax that I should store something away for such an occasion, but it's just too difficult.

                                                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                  I can't believe people don't dress up to go on planes any more. It's sad.

                                                  1. re: tommy

                                                    >>>>I can't believe people don't dress up to go on planes any more. It's sad.

                                                    You're joking, right?

                                                    1. re: Jay F

                                                      I don't know if Tommy is joking or not but in the early days of air travel, dressing up was the norm.

                                                      20 ish years ago,I was married to an AA employee and had superb flight benefits; basically free. 1 of the rules were if you were flying as an an employee and you wanted to sit in first class, jacket and tie were required. This is only 20 years ago, but the idea was to not cheapen the experience for the paying customer..upgrades were not as common and most of the folk in 1st class had either actually paid for it with big $ or were employees of the airline..:) A 50 ish yo bizman in his suit who paid full boat didn't want to sit next to a 20something in a torn T shirt and jeans..or so mgmt thought.

                                                      Today, with upgrades, mileage, etc, anyone can sit in 1st class and it's not unusual to see a guy in sweats sitting there. Better or worse? I don't know but I do know that employee dress requirements havealso been relaxed.

                                                  2. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                    'm 50. i prefer to be casual. it is not out of disrespect, as i also do not care what you are wearing at the next table. i respect your choice too much to be offended by it.

                                                    1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                      I'm more upset that opera is considered "high brow" than by what anybody wears there.

                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                        LOL, my first thought, too. What's with the need to stratify by cultural choices?

                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                          The kids with the loose jeans don't grow up to appreciate fine arts like opera. They are doomed to a life filled with The Beatles and The Big Lewboski.

                                                          1. re: tommy


                                                            Enjoying popular music and culture is no bar to appreciating fine arts. Do I really have to forfeit my museum memberships and give up my recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (on original instruments) just because I went to a punk show this weekend?

                                                            Anyway, the idea that operas and plays are "high brow" is a recent fallacy. Just like Beatles songs and The Big Lebowski, they were written to appeal to people of all tastes and social classes. Opera was the popular music of its day. Shakespeare wrote plays that appealed to the masses. The gentry and nobility paid extra for seats **behind** the stage at the Globe Theater; they couldn't see the show very well, but it was worth the price because they couldn't smell the rabble (aka "stinkards") in the pit.

                                                            Trying to enforce a uniform dress code at the Globe wouldn't just have decimated the audience, it would have violated the Sumptuary Laws that were in force during the Elizabethan period. Which illustrates my underlying point: How people dress - in restaurants, at plays, for concerts, or to work - is a completely arbitrary social construct. A dinner jacket and a pair of jeans are each just a piece of cloth; the contents label may list things like wool, silk, or cotton, but you'll be hard-pressed to find moral or cultural superiority anywhere on the tag.

                                                            PS - The Beatles? Seriously? Those "kids" have their AARP cards now. And outside of hip-hop culture, nobody under 30 wears loose jeans.

                                                            ETA: my irony detector is in the shop.

                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                              It's good to see that the cultural omnivores are alive and well on Chowhound:


                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                    I'm glad you saw the satire. I'm unsure how anyone could miss it, but these things happen.

                                                                    1. re: tommy

                                                                      Better late than never. Ever heard of Poe's law?

                                                            2. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                              when i went to the opera recently i wore plain black sneakers, so as not to slip on the ice, and a knit hoodie with a long plain black skirt. so i was pretty dressed down. many folks around me were dressed up to the nines, and sure enough they hit the lobby bar heavily before the show, waved their cellphones on "torch" function to get their friends' attention across the theater after the lights were dimmed, talked during the solos. . . and left after the first act, after they were sure they'd been *seen.* considering it was verdi's "la traviata" i thought it was pretty ironic.

                                                              i too think it's a far greater shame that opera or ballet performances should be considered off-limits to folks from the lower/working classes, women without "male escorts," impoverished music students who don't own prada, etc. the focus should be on an individual's behavior, and too often, imo, are "high brow" duds, cars, lifestyles, etc used as a social carte blanche to excuse very bad, even obnoxious public behavior. the armani-wearing boor who is making a whole dining room miserable will always point out his/her expensive clothing and mention that they make more in a week than you, in your rubber shoes and head-bandana, do in a year-- it must be very embarrassing for them to be shown the door by a woman in dickies chef pants and a dishwasher they pretend not to even see.

                                                              some folks of course dress very well *and* behave very well, even being courteous to folks from other social classes-- but as you point out, these are exceptions.

                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                ". the armani-wearing boor who is making a whole dining room miserable will always point out his/her expensive clothing and mention that they make more in a week than you, in your rubber shoes and head-bandana, do in a year-- it must be very embarrassing for them to be shown the door by a woman in dickies chef pants and a dishwasher they pretend not to even see."

                                                                My goodness. How many times have you witnessed something like this?

                                                              2. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                And 120 years ago, everyone would have been absolutely scandalized by a man who wore a standard two button, two piece suit with a necktie. A man would have been refused entry to the New York Metropolitan Opera or any high end restaurant in an outfit so casual as that same suit. Go back a little further to the Antebellum Era, and even a three piece suit was only good enough for activities like farm work. It was the jeans and t-shirt of its day. Times change.

                                                                I'm far more bothered by the fact that the suit has become so ubiquitous around the world. When I first started traveling around the world in 1960, most of the world still maintained its indigenous formalwear. The modern suit is more drab and less comfortable than any other formalwear I've ever come across. Even the Edwardian dress that was still hanging on when I was a kid was far more interesting and of much greater utility.

                                                          2. I think one of the main concerns that restaurant managers want to keep is the atmosphere of the place. If it is a high end restaurant serving high end food, it entails for a nice long sleeve shirt or maybe a jacket. If say 99% of the diners were in jackets and dresses, and one person shows up wearing jeans with holes, It kind kills the romantic / high end feel that people go to experience at that restaurant. As the majority of the people will be wearing jackets and what not, dressing up for a special night out and for someone to ruin it destroys the ambiance. Same reason why I would have to agree that some restaurants don't allow people under the age of 18 in their establishments. Those pesky teenagers are almost twice as loud and fooling around on the table. Totally kills the mood.

                                                            You're not going to show up at a wedding in board shorts are you? I think the same applies here.