Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Let’s Bring Back the Dress Code.

I had an odd experience at breakfast Sunday. We were at The Hay-Adams in Washington, D.C. .  Neither I nor my friend wore a tie, but we did have on collared shirts, sports coats and sweaters. Our wives were, as always, very elegantly casual in cashmere and worsted wool.

The Hay-Adams is the sort of place that you expect to see people alight from hired cars, it is right across the street from The White House, after all, but even I was surprised to see a chauffeur hovering discreetly by the captain’s stand.

Into the room strode an exceptionally well-tailored man and his equally well-tended companion. Whether wife, secretary or cousin I couldn’t say. They didn’t seem to pay attention to one another. They were seated at the window. She immediately buried herself in her iPad, he just sat. I don’t think he even had a cup of tea. She drank a grapefruit juice and then he stood up. Dressed in a bespoke gun check sports coat, blue and white butcher stripe shirt, yellow patterned tie and a grey worsted trousers, he was very elegant indeed.

She wore a particular shade of red jacket and skirt with her high heels. A tan Birkin bag held the iPad and a hard-backed novel.

When he stood up, she packed up and the two of them walked purposefully out of the dining room. The driver, wearing his peaked cap and a red scarf, returned soon after to retrieve the gentleman’s black leather briefcase. The whole of their visit may have lasted fifteen minutes. The dining room was abuzz with speculation. Very odd.

At the table in the back of the room, half hidden by a couch and elaborate all white floral arrangement, sat a group who were obviously travelling together. Short sleeves, sweatpants, all terrain shoes and a warm-up jacket or two was the uniform here. They were having a fine time.

The two scenes couldn’t have been more different.

Like with most establishments these days, there appeared to be no dress code for the dining room. I think it might be time to bring it back, complete with the “loaner” jackets — those horrible, one-size-fits-all, polyester blue blazers that were presented with a murmured “if sir will please slip this on … ” I had that experience once as a teenager, and I have travelled with a sports coat ever since. I wonder if the table of friends would have opted to breakfast elsewhere if a dress code had been in effect? It would be a shame to think so.

19 thoughts on “Let’s Bring Back the Dress Code.

  1. I concur, wholeheartedly. If there is a petition to this effect, please forward it to me immediately.

    Nothing puts me off a good meal more than glancing around the dining room and having my gaze met by “low rise” jeans, rear view, filthy feet in filthy sandals or worse…

    Some places just deserve more respect.

  2. I’d guess that restaurants make a calculation that a strict dress code might drive away more customers than it would attract.

  3. Cashmere, awfully conspicuous for covert types.

    John, I think that’s part of the problem, the wrong mindset. The Hay-Adams is very old school glamourous. And at luncheon on a weekday, you are surrounded by the people who run the country.

    Ami, perhaps a side project?

  4. I do like the idea of a dress code for finer places. I enjoy being overdressed rather than under…. In light of your recent post on the abuse of technology in dining establishments I wonder if the Birkin bag made up for the iPad or if the use of said iPad brought the lady down to the level of those who were underdressed? (Sorry, couldn’t help myself….)

  5. The contemporary reality is that the Centurion Card of those wearing the short sleeves, sweatpants, all-terrain shoes, and warm-up jackets is just as black as the one ensconced in an Hermes bag.

    It’s nice to get away from the White House mess and Senate dining room during the week isn’t it, Elegantologist?

  6. The lack of a dress code in any forum be it at church, traveling, eating at a good restaurant or just the everyday I believe is the downfall of civilization.

    I am afraid their is no going back, but I will always dress for any occasion as I was taught in my youth. No one can make me become a slob.

  7. I had dinner with my wife a few weeks ago at the St. Paul Grill, one of the nicest white-tablecloth restaurants in St. Paul, Minnesota.

    A number of gents were wearing jeans. One guy comes in wearing a ball cap (sunglasses on top, of course, though it was evening), AND HE LEAVES IT ON.


  8. . . . “Ensconced in an Hermes bag?” (Abbie) Last time I checked, there wasn’t anything immoral–or “black”–about owning and carrying an expensive and gorgeous hand-crafted bag. If I were dropping in at the Hayworth, I would definitely be carrying my Lanvin and wearing a neat little cashmere sweater with an inexpensive pair of slim wool pants and flats. If I had a Birkin, I would carry it everywhere and feel very fine about it.

  9. Several weeks ago, having lunch in New York – my olfactory sense suddenly became overwhelmed with a nauseating smell. Yes, “Nail Polish” at the next table. A young gal, all four of them laden with packages….one was painting her nails. No one said a thing, I finally had to excuse my guest and politely ask her to please put it away and direct her to a nearby nail salon.
    I feel that I am getting old when I witness such rude behavior.
    If I had a Birkin, I would leave the cell phone in the bag and enjoy a leisurely lunch. There is a time and a place. Bring back some class.

  10. I think I misunderstood the post–I thought there was frowning upon carrying the Birkin, which I couldn’t imagine. My apology for confusing the matter. When a friend or guest pulls their phone out of their bag or pockets, let us all find a polite way to ‘just say no.’

  11. Your ensemble of a cashmere sweater, slim wool pants, and flats along with your Lanvin bag sounds delightful and appropriate for the Hay-Adams, Paula.

    I’m assuming that there is a pearl or two somewhere in the mix. I adore Hermes, and I admire the beauty and respect the quality of a Birkin bag. However, they are a tad large for my taste and size. I hope you have one, one day.

    My (apparently) ill-worded point was that, unlike private clubs such as the Cosmos Club (since the post refers to DC), public, for-profit establishments such as the Hay-Adams hotel are reluctant to turn away guests who are willing to pay the premium prices that their establishments charge.

    The reference to “black” is to the color of the titanium charge card that is American Express’ premier offering.
    It had nothing to do with race.

  12. Thank you for the insight–not being an AMX customer, I just didn’t get it. I interpreted “black” as dower. We have had so much snow that it is now settled between my ears I think! 🙂

  13. I agree with a concept of dress code. But it really should be a social norm. I don’t think one really needs a fancy restauraunt to dress well.

    Just the other evening we had had enough of the 11 year old girl’s hysterics. I turned to my wife and said get dressed we’re going to the pizzeria and the for a walk in town. I put on the blue flannel suit and blue tie and she put on one of my dress shirts, a navy cashmere vee neck sweater, and gray slacks, which went incredibly well with sping time high heels in tan and white. She looked so relaxed and so naturally elegant.

    The pizzeria was packed yet we didn’t have to wait for a table. It was just nice to get away for a moment and unwind. Elegance doesn’t have to be stuffy.

    Alas, the hysterical child would not allow us to stroll Piazza Navona afterwards…

  14. Absolutely dress codes should be brought back. It should begin in schools, and with parents teaching their children to dress more modestly and behave more considerately.

  15. Completely agreed. Dress codes should be brought back. It’s sad that these are not simply taught by parents. It should begin with school uniforms, whether through dress codes or provided uniforms.

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