In an era when the concepts of formal and casual are increasingly blurred, with jeans accompanying black tie or trainers accessorising business suits, it might be assumed that dress codes are hopelessly outmoded. A quaint throwback to a more hidebound and divisive age. But recent developments show that they’re not only alive and well in some quarters, but they’re even being tightened, perhaps as a buttoned-up reaction to the pendulum swinging too far in a slovenly direction.
Last week, Ascot, the upmarket racecourse that holds its annual royal meet in spring and which has been a bastion of morning coats and extravagant millinery for 300 years, was accused of demeaning racegoers after slapping orange stickers on those men in its premier enclosure who’d failed to wear ties. Cravats and, ironically, ascots have also been banned in the royal enclosure. While women must forego the lure of the fascinator in favour of headgear with a reassuringly sturdy brim and ensure that their skirts or dresses are of, “modest” length.
Meanwhile, Halifax Media, which recently bought 16 local newspapers in the US, issued a memo detailing a revised dress code for its reporters. It banned, “attire exposing cleavage; transparent clothing; frayed, faded or soiled clothing; jeans; and t-shirts”. Some expressed resignation at the prospect of ranks of reportorial dad-jeans merely being swapped for legions of casual Friday chinos. Others expressed puzzlement at the necessity of reminding anyone, even in today’s unceremonious world, that transparent or soiled clothing weren’t the most judicious of workwear options.
But even as some bastions strengthen their defences, others tremulously admit the barbarians – albeit only those who are suitably groomed. From next month, Disney is relaxing a 60-year ban by allowing theme park employees in Florida and California to enter the Magic Kingdom with beards or goatees. ZZ Top lookalikes need not apply, however; the growth must be less than a quarter-of-an-inch long.
However, those random tufts of chin hair known as soul patches remain beyond Mickey’s purview, as do visible tattoos, extreme hairstyles, and piercings displayed anywhere other than the female earlobe.
It all sounds like obsessive micro-management. But the lack of counter-revolutions demanding the right to sport soiled fascinators or transparent jeans would suggest it’s also indicative of something else.
At a time when rules aren’t so much relaxed as slashed to the navel, people are sometimes not only glad to know where they stand, but also the befitting attire to stand in.