This week I will be attending several nice receptions and dinners as part of the kind of work I do at Industry level. I work in an industry that employs a lot of scientists and people I would describe (entirely positively) as having interesting and wide ranging experiences so they are usually quite fun affairs (although clearly the food and wine always helps). I have been lucky enough to be attending these sorts of things for over a decade now, but I am struck by how things have changes and fell into a bit of a reflection on whether changes were for good or ill.
About a decade ago, such a do would have been much more formal. It would be black tie for a start. Now let me quickly explain, because not everyone gets what I mean here. I was lucky enough to get into Oxford (I’ll be frank – I used the word lucky – or if you prefer, blessed – as I am not bright enough but was good at exams and essay writing under pressure, which fitted the entrance system at the time. If I had to compete on the level people do now, with the grades that are required at a minimum I doubt I would have got in; but hey, it is now a matter of history). Going to that kind of institution teaches you somethings about dress code quite quickly. For example, certainly in the 90s (I mean the 1990’s although this could apply to any previous century come to think of it) if you turned up to your Final exams without the correct dress – dark suit, white shirt and white bow tie, gown and mortar board (although you could just carry that) you would not be allowed in and consequently fail. Not a great get up to take an exam in, especially in the heat of June 1992 (in my case). Half the problem was getting to exam halls on time as you are waylaid by enthusiastic tourists wanting to get a picture of themselves with funnily dressed and very stressed students. I do not know if this still the case – I suspect so. Things do not change quickly at such places.
Anyway, Industry dos – and work Christmas parties come to think of it – used to be Black Tie. Dinner jacket and dress trousers, dress shirt, black bow tie, and ideally a cummerbund to keep the gut in. It is an outfit designed to look smart and flatter, as much as is possible, even the most prestigious paunch – when correctly done. If you wanted to go a little further, then of course you must learn to tie your own bow tie – not a mean feat, but really, when is clip on anything classy? – and it is worth it as the evening moves on and becomes less formal you can undo it and go all a bit louche. If you can get a nice lady to undo it for you (and yes, I can testify many are up at least for this intimacy) then all the better.
I stopped wearing my Black-tie outfit to industry and work dos a long time ago mainly because I could see I was now in the minority. The abomination that is ‘lounge suit’ had taken over; basically, guys you just mean a normal business suit. Very sad, in some ways. I do sometimes dig out my white DJ and one of my bow ties because (1) I can tie it and the Lovely Wife likes to undo it and (2) In my fantasies this is the closest I look to James Bond – it’s enough Roger Moore for me anyway. But honestly I’ve given up now and frankly usually ditch the suit for smart trousers and a nice casual shirt; no one seems to mind; it means I get to carry less luggage and in some ways, it is more me… I have never been and never will be a Sharp Dressed Man. But part of me does feel that it all feels a little less special without the opportunity to dress up.