Dude, Where’s My Jacket?

Posted on March 31, 2014

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Stripping down at the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview.
(Black Tie Guide)

You know that guy at a formal party who takes off his jacket the first chance he gets?

Don’t be that guy.

At least not beyond high school.  Boys can be forgiven for doffing their coats at formal teenage parties, partly because it’s a practical choice when dancing up a storm and partly because it’s understood that at this age a suit is a largely foreign concept.  Teenage males typically fail to grasp that a suit’s jacket is an integral half of a two-piece outfit that visually connects the wearer’s lower and upper body into a unified whole, thus imparting a sense of stature and height.  Instead, they view it as an arbitrary formality like the necktie, one that simply provides protection against the elements on the way to and from an event.  In fact, they may well consider such a dressy garment as being inappropriate at a formal table where the messy activity of eating takes place.

But at some point you’ve got to grow up because the adolescent behaviour of your teen years isn’t quite so tolerable when you carry it into your 30s.   Just as you are reasonably expected to eat without soiling your clothes, you are also expected to realize that formal attire is  a skilfully integrated outfit, not a random assortment of individual pieces to be discarded at will.

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A father of the bride speaking at a wedding.  Wearing only half of his suit suggests less of an esteemed patriarch and more of a waylaid waiter or prize-fight referee. (flckr)

Another mark of the passage into maturity is be the evolution from juvenile self-centeredness to adult consideration for others.  With this in mind, consider that the people hosting formal affairs go to great lengths and expense to create an exceptional evening for their guests.  Furthermore, guests attend the events – often at a significant cost – and dress in a befitting manner because they want to share in this specialness.  Therefore, when you decide to strip down like you were in some sort of formal locker room your actions disrespect the hosts and diminish the experience for the rest of the guests.

For example, imagine that a couple has spent hundreds of dollars for pair of tickets to a swank gala.  They arrive at the event to behold the dazzling sight of thousands of glamorously dressed guests sipping champagne and happily mingling about a ritzy venue.  Then they stumble across this guy:

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This is the same man seen in the picture at the top of the page where he is perched conspicuously on a flight of stairs. (Detroit Free Press)

Presto: the sophisticated atmosphere has just been dialled down to the level of a college grad bash.

Or here’s another scenario: A person has paid handsomely for a cruise on an upscale line renowned for its elegance.  It may even be one of those cruise lines that goes so far as to explain to passengers that on designated formal nights they are expected to remain properly attired for the duration of the evening, not just until the dishes are cleared away.  On said formal night the person marvels at the beautifully decorated dining room with handsomely attired fellow guests enjoying professional service, fine wine, and delectable food.  Then these guys are spotted at the next table:

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Cruise passengers on formal night, under the mistaken impression that “formal” is just “casual” with a bow tie. (flckr)

Voilà: the formal dinner now resembles more of a wait staff party.

Don’t be these guys.

Sure, your fellow guests may smile politely and pretend not to notice but the fact of the matter is that you you are the visual equivalent of fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard.

And for what purpose?  Short of providing the fairer sex with protection from excessive air-conditioning, or finding yourself on the verge of a heatstroke, there is no excuse for discarding your tuxedo jacket.  (Even in the case of the latter, there’s no reason you can’t step outside instead.)  After all, if comfort trumps consideration then why stop with the jacket?  You’ll feel even cooler with your tie undone and collar unbuttoned.  Has that good food got you feeling stuffed?  Go ahead and pop open that waistband.  Are your dogs barking?  Ditch the shoes.

And speaking of shoes, don’t think you’re off the hook, ladies.

Traditionally, the strongest argument for gentlemen to remain fully clothed at a formal function (as if there even needs to be an argument for such a thing) was to rise to the level of the ladies who were doing the same.  Recently, however, women have been negating that rationale by swapping their shoes for house slippers handed out at some black-tie events:

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Lowering the bar at the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview. (Detroit Free Press)

Ta-da: the transition from adult soirée to teenage prom night is complete.

Clearly most of the blame for this particular trend lies with the hosts that offer this sartorial downgrade possible in the first place.  (They’d do better to offer private lounge areas instead.)  But the ladies receiving the offer have a choice of whether to take the high road or descend to the level of the jacketless frat boys.  If they’ve had the foresight to shop for comfortable dress shoes (and there’s plenty of options) then they’ll have no need to discard them in the first place.  If they insist on fashion over comfort then the onset of sore feet should not be a signal to start undressing.  Rather, it should be taken as a sign that it’s time to make your goodbyes and head home where you can dress down to your heart’s content.  This way you’ll enjoy maximum comfort while your fellow guests continue to enjoy maximum elegance.

Whether male or female, the principle is the same: show a little sophistication and consideration and everyone wins.

Posted in: Etiquette