“Even worse, [the Foreign Service] were often further described as having stripes on their pants. Nineteen-fifties-era Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy had this in mind when he lambasted Secretary of State Dean Acheson as a “pompous diplomat in striped pants.” That’s right, he wore stripes. Can you believe it? It’s a wonder he created NATO and designed the Marshall Plan while wearing those ridiculous things. It remains unclear exactly why stripes on pants signify weakness—maybe workers who donned suits weren’t working the land like real men—but the connection endures. More than 60 years after McCarthy’s insult, Rush Limbaugh is still attacking those not man enough to put on some solid-colored trousers. The “stripes-pants crowd up in Foggy Bottom,” the radio host told listeners last year, were “all atwitter” that Obama thought of striking Syria without congressional approval.”

Jordan Michael Smith writes in Politico about the history of conservatives marking liberals as effete, affluent, out-of-touch “eggheads.” One of the points he mentions is the appellation “striped-pants,” as applied to the Foreign Service. Smith doesn’t say it, but one presumes that this phrase, attached to diplomats, may refer to morning dress, the form of daytime formal dress that pairs a dark coat and contrasting waistcoat with striped gray pants.

I’m sure it wasn’t the first controversy over diplomacy and formal dress. When the Japanese Prime Minister visited a shrine to that nation’s World War II dead, it set off an international firestorm. Partly, this was because of the solemnity and “officialness” lent to the visit by the fact he was wearing formal garb.

This is one of my favorite Monty Python sketches. Heck… maybe my favorite. I’ve decided to post it here because Michael Palin and Terry Jones, as the developers, offer a wonderful example of traditional semi-formal day dress - strollers. Note the black suit jackets, vests (always black, dove gray or buff), silver ties and black-gray-white patterned trousers.

Also notice how amazing John Cleese is.

Controversy is brewing in the UK over outfits. Prime Minister David Cameron has issued a press release, announcing that he won’t be wearing morning dress to the impending wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Instead, he’ll wear business dress - a suit and tie. He will be the first Prime Minister to shirk the traditional dress code, and will perhaps be the only man so dressed. (Above, by the way, are Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles at their wedding.)
Many speculate that Cameron is dressing this way to avoid the stigma of his upper-class past. Cameron was a member of Bullingdon, an Oxford club notorious for its exclusivity and its destructive binges. He’s shunned formal dress since his past became an issue when he rose to national prominence, and this is in keeping with that pattern.
It’s tough for an American to judge a choice like this, since class plays so differently here, in a land where we at least pretend that it is a fluid status that comes with hard work and seized opportunities and so forth. Besides which, we have no monarchy, and essentially think of the British royals as amusing anachronisms. So I write from the perspective of a bemused outsider. That said, Cameron’s decision does strike me as both disingenuous and self-centered.
It is disingenuous in that it is an attempt to obscure his past. When Prince Charles dons Highland Dress, it is not because he is trying to pretend to be a Scottish warrior, or lead people to think that he anything other than an English Prince. Instead, it is an act of fellowship and a gesture of respect. Part of dressing, particularly for men, is to humble yourself, even if you are a Prince, by asserting that the custom of the whole is as important as your personal choices. This is why we wear business dress, as well - it is an assertion that we’re all in the same boat, all respect the importance of the situation, and we’ve chosen ceremonial clothing to reflect that fact.
Perhaps if Cameron were a representative of the proletariat he could genuinely claim that breaking this tradition was a revolutionary act. One could then quibble with whether he was leading a just revolution, of course, and the answer would depend on how one felt about the monarchy and so forth, but he would at least have some ground to stand on. Instead, it seems transparent that this is an act of obfuscation in the service of self-interest.
Indeed, it is that self-interest that is the most annoying here. The reason that we all dress the same way for a wedding is respect for the occasion. For those of us in the pews it is a joyous day. For those on the dais it is the most important day of their lives. This is true for Kings and Queens just as it is for street sweepers. We wear clothes that reflect that celebration, but we also wear clothes that indicate ceremonially that we understand how important that day is, clothes that reflect that we are the community that binds together the couple being wed.
If given the opportunity to chat with the PM, my message would be simple, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that these people getting married are royalty.
I’d just tell him this: it’s not about you, man.
(Thanks, Ari, for emailing about this.)

Controversy is brewing in the UK over outfits. Prime Minister David Cameron has issued a press release, announcing that he won’t be wearing morning dress to the impending wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Instead, he’ll wear business dress - a suit and tie. He will be the first Prime Minister to shirk the traditional dress code, and will perhaps be the only man so dressed. (Above, by the way, are Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles at their wedding.)

Many speculate that Cameron is dressing this way to avoid the stigma of his upper-class past. Cameron was a member of Bullingdon, an Oxford club notorious for its exclusivity and its destructive binges. He’s shunned formal dress since his past became an issue when he rose to national prominence, and this is in keeping with that pattern.

It’s tough for an American to judge a choice like this, since class plays so differently here, in a land where we at least pretend that it is a fluid status that comes with hard work and seized opportunities and so forth. Besides which, we have no monarchy, and essentially think of the British royals as amusing anachronisms. So I write from the perspective of a bemused outsider. That said, Cameron’s decision does strike me as both disingenuous and self-centered.

It is disingenuous in that it is an attempt to obscure his past. When Prince Charles dons Highland Dress, it is not because he is trying to pretend to be a Scottish warrior, or lead people to think that he anything other than an English Prince. Instead, it is an act of fellowship and a gesture of respect. Part of dressing, particularly for men, is to humble yourself, even if you are a Prince, by asserting that the custom of the whole is as important as your personal choices. This is why we wear business dress, as well - it is an assertion that we’re all in the same boat, all respect the importance of the situation, and we’ve chosen ceremonial clothing to reflect that fact.

Perhaps if Cameron were a representative of the proletariat he could genuinely claim that breaking this tradition was a revolutionary act. One could then quibble with whether he was leading a just revolution, of course, and the answer would depend on how one felt about the monarchy and so forth, but he would at least have some ground to stand on. Instead, it seems transparent that this is an act of obfuscation in the service of self-interest.

Indeed, it is that self-interest that is the most annoying here. The reason that we all dress the same way for a wedding is respect for the occasion. For those of us in the pews it is a joyous day. For those on the dais it is the most important day of their lives. This is true for Kings and Queens just as it is for street sweepers. We wear clothes that reflect that celebration, but we also wear clothes that indicate ceremonially that we understand how important that day is, clothes that reflect that we are the community that binds together the couple being wed.

If given the opportunity to chat with the PM, my message would be simple, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that these people getting married are royalty.

I’d just tell him this: it’s not about you, man.

(Thanks, Ari, for emailing about this.)

Harvard commencement, 1961
Note the presence of daytime formal dress.
More here.

Harvard commencement, 1961

Note the presence of daytime formal dress.

More here.

What should I wear for my wedding?

For men who aren’t confident in their style, the question of what to wear on their wedding day can be a source of tremendous discomfort and fear.  So much so that men often abdicate their one tiny bit of wedding day autonomy to their wives-to-be.  I say: stop.  Don’t.  Your fiancee does not know the answer, though she may think she does.  If she does think she does, your situation is even worse.  Dress yourself.  LIKE A MAN.

I know that you may need some help.  That’s why we’re here.

And I’ll get to the help in a second, but first, one commandment from on high: DO NOT WEAR A TUXEDO DURING THE DAY.  It’s called an evening suit for a reason.  Again: DO NOT WEAR A TUXEDO DURING THE DAY.

Now, on to the friendly advice.

Weddings are important, and thus demand some level of formality.  If like most Americans, your wedding is during the day, you have several levels of formality available to you: formal (a morning suit), semi-formal (a stroller) and informal (a suit, or as it is traditionally known, a “lounge suit”).  Each of these has an evening equivalent - white tie (formal), black tie (semi-formal) and, again, the lounge suit for a more informal ceremony.  (There are also some people who get married on a beach wearing flip-flops and a sarong.  We wish them the best of luck.)

Daytime Formal: Morning Dress

The traditional daytime formal style is called morning dress.  If you live in the United States, you won’t see this style of dress, but it persists a bit more in the UK, where it’s sometimes worn for holidays like Easter, in addition to weddings.  Here in the US, you’re most likely to see it on lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court, or, from time to time, in daytime weddings.

This outfit is worn above by President Ronald Reagan to meet with the Japanese Emperor.  It features a tailcoat, typically with peak lapels and one button, along with special trousers, which are black, white and silver, either in a pattern called a “cashmere stripe,” or in a heavy chalk stripe or a check.  The man also wears a vest in dove grey (or buff), and a wedding tie.  Like the pants, the wedding tie features a pattern in black, silver and white.  (You can also wear a wing collar and an ascot, but even I think that’s a bit much.)  These are paired with simple black shoes, well shined.  No split toes, no rubber soles, no bluchers with the lace hole area separate from the forefoot.

It’s nearly impossible to find this stuff ready-to-wear in the United States.  It’s possible to find these clothes vintage, but can be difficult.  Most bespoke tailors and many made-to-measure houses will be familiar with them and able to make them up for you.  Some rental shops will have them available, but they’ll likely be in a 70s-ish semi-polyester ill-fitting style that makes you look like you’re getting married on The Love Boat.

Daytime Semi-Formal: The Stroller

The stroller is a more casual style of daytime formalwear that is more achievable for most men.  Most of the clothing is identical to morning dress, above, but the tailcoat is replaced with a more manageable tail-less coat in black (or charcoal gray, in some even more casual cases).  This coat should still be single breasted with a peak lapel.

One way some men achieve this look is by having the pants and vest made (or ordering them from a traditional UK retailer), and purchasing a quality ready-to-wear suit in black or charcoal.  A black or charcoal gray suit can be worn for funerals or evening events for many years.  The coat, though, should be single-breasted and have peak lapels.  One button is best, two is fine, three is a bit much.

Evening Formal & Semi-Formal

In the evening in the US, it is appropriate to wear white or black tie, particularly if your wedding isn’t taking place in a church.  I went to a New Year’s Eve wedding a few years ago in a naval mansion, and it was lovely to see the gentlemen in black tie.  If you think you and your guests can execute white tie, then I encourage you to give it a shot, but rare is the party that can do such a thing these days, unless you and your betrothed met at a Swiss boarding school for the children of ambassadors or something.  I’ve written about the standards of black tie already, here.

The Lounge Suit

The lounge suit (now often called a business suit) was once designed for lounging.  Men did business in a stroller, and ate dinner in their evening suits.  Today, though, the lounge suit is the go-to garment for business and most events that require more formality than flip-flops.  For most modern weddings, lounge suits are the most appropriate option.

Suits at weddings should convey the significance of the occasion, and also make some differentiation from business dress.  In the latter category, the most important consideration is probably avoiding stripes.  Stripes, and especially pinstripes, are specifically for business, and have no business (sorry) in a wedding.  Black suits should also be avoided - you don’t want anyone confusing the ceremony for a funeral service, and you don’t want anyone confusing the groom for the officiant.

To convey the significance of the occasion, your best bets are solid navy and solid charcoal.  Solids are always more formal than patterns, and navy and charcoal are the most formal solids which are appropriate for celebrations.  Peak lapels are more formal than notch lapels.  Remember above all when choosing styles to choose conservatively: you don’t want your wedding photos to look like a gag in thirty years.

Shirts with lounge suits should be white, and preferably with a spread collar and french (or double) cuffs.

Shoes, as in all of the daytime options, should be simple oxfords or balmorals, well-shined.  Balmorals are distinguished from bluchers, which are more casual, by their enclosed lacing.  Above are pictured a nice pair with a cap toe and punch decoration (broguing) along the toe seam.  More decoration means more casual - a similar style without the broguing is also appropriate.  Strictly speaking, you can wear balmoral boots (though they’re tough to find for less than a thousand dollars or so).  A simple cap-toed balmoral is a shoe that can be worn in almost any situation, and is a very worthwhile investment shoe.

The Wedding Tie

Traditionally, wedding dress that requires a long tie (such as a lounge suit or stroller) calls for a wedding tie.  Wedding ties typically feature bold patterns in a simple pallette of black, white and gray or silver.  The Glen plaid is often easiest to find, but a Macclesfield, shepherd’s check, or houndstooth are all appropriate as well.  There are certainly other options, but you’ll be safe with those patterns.  A wedding tie is very wearable in any semi-formal celebration, including weddings where you are the guest.

Matching

The level of formality of clothes in the wedding party should match, but the clothes themselves need not do so.  If your wife-to-be is wearing a party dress from BCBG, you shouldn’t be wearing white tie.  If you’re wearing white tie, your wedding party shouldn’t be wearing loafers.

There is no need for men’s clothes to match exactly.  Outside of the military, it looks tacky.  Even when wearing black tie, a group of men’s tuxedos should not match exactly - they’ll look like backup dancers in a 1930s musical.  This is difficult for some women to comprehend.  Hold fast.

If your wife-to-be believes that everything in the wedding should match in color in some way, there are some very reasonable ways to accommodate this desire without turning you and your groomsmen into a doll lineup.  The easiest and most appropriate is matching boutonnieres in the color of her choice.  You should tend toward boutonnieres that are not so big as to need pinning on the lapel.  They should go through the lapel buttonhole and through a loop behind the lapel (if there’s no loop, or your lapel buttonhole is not a real hole, this is an easy and inexpensive alteration for a tailor).

If your groomsmen adhere to the standards I’ve written about above, they will look cohesive on the stage or altar.  My own groomsmen wore their own suits, in solid gray or blue, with white shirts, black shoes, and wedding ties, and everyone looked lovely.  They will also look like real people who have chosen to be there.

Rentals

Basically all rentals stink.  The high cost and low quality of rental clothing is a powerful argument for lounge suits in most American weddings.  Of course, if you have a small party, or you’re comfortable asking (or providing) more financially, purchasing clothing beyond a simple lounge suit is a great idea.

Military and Other Traditional Clothing

We say: go for it.  If your branch of the military service has uniform clothing appropriate for weddings, our you come from a culture with traditional wedding dress, then by all means embrace those traditions.  One note: if you want to wear a kilt, you should actually be Scottish.  Not just a kilt enthusiast, or 1/8 Scottish on your mom’s side, or a guy who once went to a Highland Games.

A Final Note

Weddings are a celebration of love.  They’re also a very serious ceremony, one of the few we have left.  We wear traditional clothing because it shows that we care about this commitment we’re making.  It’s a commitment not just to your partner, but also to your family and community.  Wearing traditional clothing demonstrates respect both for the person you’re about to marry and for the community of friends and family hat will support you in marriage.

PS

Seriously, don’t wear a tuxedo during the day.  You’ll look like a tool.

Resources

For some great information even more pedantic than what I’ve provided here, check out Michael Anton's speech to wedding planners here, and blacktieguide.com for information about evening dress.