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Royal Wedding Gives Hope for Lounge Suit

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I've not seen this mentioned in the recent royal wedding threads, so here goes. The wedding gives me some confidence that the lounge suit, or at least the lounge jacket, is not an endangered species. There is an abundantly-confirmed theory, discussed by James Laver and other dress historians, according to which a garment will sooner or later die out when it becomes fossilized into ultra-formal-wear, and is endangered when it is just one step in formality below the fossilized but still worn ultra-formal garment. The day dress coat died in the 1850s to be replaced as ultra-formal day wear by the then-half-dress frock coat which died in the 1920s to be replaced by the then-half-dress morning coat. The theory also says, I think, that this happens after a period in which the mass of the population do not see the garment in actual--i.e., non-costumey--use.

It is true that this is not the only process by which garments die out, or nearly die out. For example, the morning jacket suit/black lounge and formal trousers/stroller is more nearly dead than the more formal morning coat. But it does seem to be the process at work in the frequently complained-of pressure put on the lounge suit in the last two decades or so. As we all know, there are social pressures to make the lounge suit an ultra-formal garment, appropriate only for weddings, funerals, formal evening events, and ultra-formal business events. As Sator and others have frequently said, once that step is taken, it can only be a few decades until the lounge suit is just as dead as the day dress coat.

If all that is right, then I think those who love the lounge can take heart in the royal wedding and especially the viewership it received. For what attentive viewers saw included:

A day dress coat: Prince Charles's dress naval uniform [1st attachment]
(At least) Two frock coats: the Prince of Asturias's dress naval uniform [2nd attachment] and the King of Tonga's dove gray double-breasted frock coat suit [3rd] (You can see them both in the 4th attachment, Asturias a bit left of center and Tonga on the far right. Nice silk facings on Tonga's lapels. And does his coat lining match his tie?)
A Prime Minister whose spokespeople had declared he would wear a lounge suit http://www.styleforum.net/showthread.php?t=238268 appearing in a morning coat with a double-breasted waistcoat! [See 5th attachment]

It is true that these garments are worn at an ultra-formal event. But they do not look costumey, to my eye.* They look appropriate and elegant at the same time. If they can be worn in a non-costumey way, and have millions of viewers see them, then the morning coat probably will not die next year of the fossilization process. So the lounge suit will not become the ultra-formal garment next year. It can play the half-dress role that the morning coat did in 1905 or the frock coat did in 1830. Moreover, Prince Albert of Monaco's light gray morning coat with lighter waistcoat
, and Nick Clegg's light charcoal morning suit (if that's what shade it was) , show that the morning coat can be made less formal or played with, and hence less fossilized. They show that it is more flexible than many people now think. There is reason to hope that many people planning their weddings will see all these images and conclude, "Hmph, the morning coat looks good and is not as stuffy as I thought." If some of them do end up wearing it to their wedding, the lounge suit may have another few decades ahead of it as the half-dress option among live garments: garments wearable if you're not a royal at a royal wedding.


P.S. Charles's day dress suit, which has to count as ultra-full-dress nowadays, makes me wonder what the evening wear version would be. If the morning coat's evening equivalent is today the evening dress suit with white bow tie, then would the day dress suit's be an evening court suit?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_u...ve_court_dress

* They are ultra-formal costume, of course. But that is costume in the sense of costume-I-wear-to-play-one-of-the-roles-in-my-life, not costume in the sense of costume-I-wear-to-play-a-role-I-never-play-in-real-life.
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post #2 of 15
Great post. I think I'm going to keep a mention of the morning coat in my video series on suits just to do my part in keeping it in memory. 99% of men don't even know that the modern suit should be referred to as a lounge suit... In recent generations there has been terrible institutional memory of appropriate dress, perhaps because these things haven't been passed down from father to son as they should be.
post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the kind words, Mr. Sartorial. That's a great idea. I agree, and think you make a good point: it's sad that non-sartorial people think the word "suit" refers only to a lounge suit, and think that the only other suits of clothes are track suits and leisure suits. I wonder whether the current practice of calling a dinner suit "black tie" has contributed to people's thinking it's a highly formal and intimidating garment. "Dinner suit" sounds a lot more relaxed, and it's hard to think of a tailored garment that is more relaxed in cut than a 4x1 DB shawl dinner jacket.

Nice site and Youtube channel, by the way.
post #4 of 15
Thread Starter 
The more I think about it, the more I think that fans of the morning coat and the lounge suit should thank the King of Tonga for doing his bit to keep their garments alive and well. In a way, he ran interference for the survival of the morning coat by wearing a civilian garment that's a notch more formal. By comparison to his frock coat suit, many of the morning coats worn at the wedding look much less formal. For example, Prince Albert's dove gray morning coat and lighter gray SB waistcoat [1st attachment] and Elton John's morning coat, buff SB waistcoat, and purple tie [2nd attachment]. By wearing the frock coat suit, Tonga pulled the formality level of civilian dress at the wedding up a bit, thus making the less formal morning coat suits look a lot more relaxed and easy-going. To the extent that they do look like that, and are seen to, they get a new lease on life from those who saw it. For those people, the fossilization process is halted and perhaps even reversed a bit. Of course, it's hard to tell how many saw clear images of both Tonga in his frock coat suit and Albert in his non-matching morning suit. But on those who did, this de-formalization mechanism should have worked.

This phenomenon has a similar structure to that when you attend a party wearing a blazer and tie, and see that nobody else seems to be wearing a tie. You think, "Uh-oh, I overdressed." But then you see another guest wearing a lounge suit and tie, and you relax and feel you can keep the tie on. Probably that guest will feel relieved on seeing you, too. There must be a term for this sort of sacrificial protection of the second-most formally dressed, since you find it all the time in social events. But I don't know the term.

Needless to say, the fossilization theory implies that every life supplement given the morning coat means two given to the lounge suit.

It also seems to me that the King of Tonga's attire was in fact just as correct as the morning coats. The dress code was: military uniform, morning coat, or lounge suit. So, literally interpreted, a frock coat suit violates the code. But the code really meant to refer to "morning DRESS." It used "morning coat" because it feared--reasonably--that some people would think "morning dress" meant a dress. Absent that fear, the protocol chiefs at Buckingham Palace would have written "morning dress." But what "morning dress" really means is "morning full dress attire." Lots of authorities like Cunnington & Cunnington say or imply this. So the code implied that the most formal kind of daytime civilian garb was acceptable. Now, morning coats are required to enter the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. Nothing less will do. Yet Royal Ascot cannot be as formal as the wedding of the monarch's grandson, especially when it is an event the monarchy uses to display all its pomp and magnificence. So viewed, it seems that something more formal was acceptable, on the principle that garment X is acceptable at event A if: event A is a notch more formal than event B, garment Y is a notch less formal than X, and Y is the minimum standard at event B. So even though Tonga broke the dress code on a literal interpretation, it seems to me that his attire was quite within its spirit. Despite what seems to be the stare of disapproval from some man farther down his pew, Tonga's dress was not that of the dandy breaking the code for the sake of showing off. Rather, it was a case of matching one's attire to the spirit and intention of the event, with due respect for the dress code. In a way, he was as correctly attired as Prince Charles in his dress coat uniform and Prince Felipe in his frock coat uniform.

The one thing I'd have liked to see, which would have bolstered the continuance of the morning coat, but didn't see, was variants like the following. The double-breasted morning coat [3rd attachment]. Worn without a waistcoat, it is less formal than even the light gray morning suit of matching fabrics. Less formal on the principle that a two-piece is always less formal than a three-piece of the same length. That might be a way of keeping the morning coat alive. Probably we didn't see it because the DB morning coat is said to be tremendously difficult to cut: it's hard to cut away correctly from the wrapped fronts. Still, it's an interesting option. Also, the very short morning coat, so short that it's only a few inches longer than a lounge coat [4th attachment]. This would have been perfectly appropriate for the wedding, and would have shown how much flexibility and life there is in the morning coat cut. Also, I imagine that a shawl collar morning coat [5th attachment] would have looked like quite a live and even daring garment in a dove gray morning suit of matching fabrics. (Thanks to Dr. Kilroy, from whom I stole these three images. DK has excellent threads on these little-seen cuts at AskAndy and the Fedora Lounge.)
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post #5 of 15
Enjoying this thread, a very interesting point of view.

I guess it's not really news, but while the royal wedding might signal some hope for lounge and morning suits, it also showed beyond a doubt the death of formal men's hats. Apart from the King of Tonga's top hat and the military hats, I don't recall any other evidence of men wearing hats. Based on what the current fashion literature suggests, I held some hope for at least some kind of minor resurgence, but it seems that this piece of menswear is well and truly defunct.
post #6 of 15
HRH The Prince of Wales was NOT dressed in Court Dress rather the formal day dress of an Admiral of the Fleet plus the sash of a Knight of the Garter.

Prince Albert and the Right Honurable Nicholas Clegg MP were on the informal end of the scale and were perhaps expecting to go to the races afterwards but had made a respectable effort. HM The King of Tonga was presumably dressed in an interpretation of the requirement fitting with his own country and could reasonably be described as 'compliant' by any yard stick.

No one of any sense would interpret "Morning Dress" as a requirement to wear a dress. It is a very common term. Likewise 'Evening Dress' would nlot lead to a man wearing a long frock! Royal Ascot is in fact more formal than this weddding in that a lounge suit is NOT suiatble attire for the Royal Enclosure and would lead to a refusal of admission. Here the requirement was genuinly relaxed so that the broader reach of the invitations to the Abbey Wedding did not leave anyone to feel excluded or else the need to spend money on hiring suitable apparel.
post #7 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by GBR View Post
Likewise 'Evening Dress' would not lead to a man wearing a long frock!

That rather depends on the gentleman in question, don't you think?
post #8 of 15
pls summarize in less than 6000 words
post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
tgt, I think you are spot on. The lack of non-military men's dress hats was conspicuous. It's sad. Also a bit strange, since a morning coat is only a bit more useful than a lounge coat in terms of protection from the elements. In fact, a closed lounge coat usually protects your crotch better than does a cutaway coat! But having a wide-brimmed hat available in London is definitely more useful than not having one available.

GBR, thanks for the good points. I'm not sure who said that Prince Charles was wearing court dress. I said that he was wearing a (military) day dress coat, which he was. It has tails and a cut-in, ergo, a dress coat. Basically the same cut as Mr. Bingley's coat in the first photo, except that Bingley's is cut not to close.

Agreed that no one of any (sartorial) sense would interpret "morning dress" as a requirement to wear a dress. Unfortunately, the majority of people have less and less sartorial sense. I think Buckingham Palace knows that, and built it into the invitation as a hedge. Otherwise, why didn't they just write "morning dress?" I doubt it was because they thought someone might want to wear a civilian frock coat, and decided to forbid that.

You make an interesting point about the event's formality. I suspect that we really agree, and are using "more formal event" in different senses. If by "X is more formal than Y" you mean "dress code for X sets a higher minimum standard than dress code for Y," then of course you are right. For the wedding's code allowed a lounge suit, and the Royal Enclosure at Ascot doesn't. But if "more formal" means "dress code and spirit of event X allow you to wear something dressier than the maximum usually seen at event Y, so long as you don't look totally outlandish beside everyone else," then I think the wedding was more formal than Royal Ascot. Myself, I don't think "more formal" implies "more exclusive, setting a higher minimum threshold." I think that, at least in today's world, which values inclusion, it implies "allowing more dressiness."

However, it could be that I'm defining "formal" so that it basically means the same as "dressy." Maybe that's going too far. The distinction between formality and dressiness is tricky. Maybe it's not so much that the meaning of "formality" has changed in today's world, as that formality is gradually being replaced by the allowance of dressiness. Upon reflection, I'll concede you the point, and instead say that while the wedding was less formal in dress than Royal Ascot, it was more dressy. That seems right, since Prince Charles's dress coat is nothing if not ultra-dressy, and so is Prince Michael of Kent's uniform [see attachment].

I still maintain, though, that the King of Tonga was correctly dressed by British standards. If, as I've argued, the event's spirit meant that the dress code allowed more dressiness than usually seen at Royal Ascot, then a civilian frock coat suit was entirely correct by British standards. His attire evidently was not meant to be a national interpretation of the dress code, in the way people talk about "national costume."

Thanks for getting me thinking about this!
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post #10 of 15
A very interesting thread.
post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks, jhcam8. Just going to stick the first four linked pictures in the first post into attachments, in case the websites take them down and forumites want to see them later.
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post #12 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by pebblegrain View Post
pls summarize in less than 6000 words

Peeps seen fancy threads at bigshot wedding, not gonna be dissing suits no more.
post #13 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tgt465 View Post
Peeps seen fancy threads at bigshot wedding, not gonna be dissing suits no more.



Edit: It also appears that there were at least two naval frock coats. Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands wore one too.
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post #14 of 15
Im about to get married in the next 6 months and I need ideas for my wedding attire anyone?
post #15 of 15
Thread Starter 
Check out this excellent guide to men's wedding attire, written by one of Styleforum's most knowledgeable members, Manton. Lots of ideas and images.
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