Thursday, 05 July 2012

The Lady Guide To Modern Manners: 6 July

It’s not easy knowing how to be polite in the modern world. This week: Are dress codes dead? From hoodies to hats, Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

My daughter is up in arms. Her ex-husband has managed to get himself invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party this month and he's taking their 14-year-old son as his plus one. But he absolutely insists they both have to wear full morning dress. Isn't this rather pretentious as well as unnecessary?

Bronwyn Cousins, Carlisle

Dear Bronwyn,

Now you'll get me going on the whole dress code issue – which could be dangerous. Your daughter is quite right. Buckingham Palace is very clear these days that you don't have to wear morning dress to attend a garden party. Some guests – male peacocks, perhaps, with funds – will be wedded to the idea, nevertheless. But watch out for the weather forecast. You can boil in the heavy black coat.

I'd have thought your 14-yearold grandson will be much less than thrilled at the prospect and living in dread of some compromising photograph of himself, ludicrously rigged out, appearing on Facebook.

The question of what young boys are to wear at formal occasions is a thorny one. Most, under 18, simply don't possess any smart clothes, unless they have unfortunately been required to make an appearance in court. Have parents really got to fork out for suits and jackets that will never be worn again? No! As long as they aren't wearing jeans, trainers or hoodies, and their clothes are clean, they'll be perfectly presentable.

So, are dress codes dead – for adults as well as children? I rather hope so. What an imposition to stipulate on a wedding invitation, as I've seen done, that all male guests, including young boys, must wear not just morning dress, but pale grey morning dress!

Otherwise the requirement is 'lounge suits'. What is a 'lounge suit'? It seems to be a way of saying that men must wear a tie. These words appear on invitations, but will anyone take any notice? When the Beckhams gave a lavish entertainment some years ago for the World Cup at Beckingham Palace, it was supposed to be White Tie. But Ashley Cole turned up in jewellery and no shirt.

People just won't do as they're told these days. Even in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, the only way they can enforce their rules is by providing the stipulated attire.

I do understand that this chaotic situation is a nightmare for many. Above all, we don't want to look conspicuous in the wrong clothes. But that's the whole point. You won't. There are no wrong clothes any more. Look at the Queen! A couple of months ago she visited Fortnum & Mason with the Duchesses of Cornwall and Cambridge. They were hatless. She was not. Was she embarrassed?

Please send your questions to or write to him at

The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT... Moving on at parties

I know I've touched on this before but it's such a difficult thing to get right. The shifty excuse, 'I'm just going to get another drink', won't do.

I came across a superb new approach recently and must tell you about it.

I happened to be asked to a charity event in the officers' mess at Wellington Barracks, followed by the Beating Retreat ceremony on Horse Guards Parade. Sitting out of doors, we got soaked, needless to say. I was introduced to a retired General with a distinctive style of conversation – friendly, crisp and quite blue. He described a very damp family canoeing holiday the week before. 'Might as well have been an SAS induction course... my wife isn't ill... but she's not coming tonight... doesn't want another soaking... now I'd better go and talk to someone else.' This last was accompanied by the vestigial whacking of a stick against the boot, but the whole effect was utterly charming: direct, decisive, no trace of embarrassment, but nevertheless a note of reluctance ('I suppose I'd better...'). Later, this same General made a speech that began: 'You'll all remember my marvellous speech last year...'

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