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Described by The Telegraph as ‘the empress of etiquette’, Jo joined The English Manner in 2019 from Debrett’s, where she spent over a decade as a tutor and the editor of more than fifteen acclaimed books on etiquette and modern manners.

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20 November 2023


Love them or hate them, dress codes must be observed, and they really do matter.

If you are invited to an event with a dress code on the invitation (whether it is printed or digital), as a guest, it is good manners to attend dressed appropriately. As my colleague William Hanson often says, if you don’t like the dress code, don’t go to the party.

A sense of exclusivity?

The dress code for the audience at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in East Sussex, UK, is ‘Black Tie’ (dinner jackets or tuxedos). Tickets for this prestigious, world-class opera festival are hard to come by and are a true treat and privilege. 

This sense of exclusivity, however, is not the reason for the Black Tie dress code. Glyndebourne states that they request that their guests wear such smart attire as a mark of respect to the performers.

A mark of respect for all

This principle of a dress code being worn as a mark of respect can be applied to any special event. A gala ball, a special party, or even a state banquet – a formal dress code is worn as a mark of respect to the hosts.

Perhaps it goes even further than just the hosts, however. Often, these special events are held in beautiful, prestigious, historic or exclusive venues, so turning up in ordinary day clothes or even in a smart-casual outfit would not elevate the event to the level that befits the venue in which it is held.

A sense of occasion

A dress code also adds to the sense of occasion. At Royal Ascot – an annual summer horseracing meeting in the UK, near Windsor Castle – racegoers in the smart ‘Royal Enclosure’ are required to wear Morning Dress (formal day dress), so the men are in tailcoats and top hats, and the women their smartest special day dresses and hats. 

Every year, the best outfits are in the newspapers, and if Royal Ascot ever amends their specific dress code details, then it hits the UK headlines. Royal Ascot would not have the same prestige and reputation without its dress code – it would be just another horseracing event.

Dress codes, however, aren’t all about exclusivity. In fact, it’s best to think of them as an inclusive concept. Let’s take the example of a corporate Christmas party held at a hotel with a dress code of Black Tie. By choosing this dress code, it creates a sense of community, and in many respects, it is a leveller. 

While the women may have a more challenging time choosing the right dress for the occasion, the men are essentially wearing a uniform – after all, the chief executive will be wearing the same outfit as the intern.

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