Dinner dressing etiquette

Dinner dressing etiquette

Q. You wrote recently that a man should not “dress down in an athletic-looking fleece hoodie to a restaurant.” Can you explain to men how embarrassing it is when they wear shorts to a nice restaurant? I know that jackets (let alone ties) are rarely required in most fine restaurants anymore, but that doesn’t mean they should wear shorts and a T-shirt.

A. As you can certainly guess, I strongly agree with you. Clothes may be distinguished in several different ways. Not only are they divided into attractive and unattractive categories, but, of even more importance, they are often divided into appropriate and inappropriate. Closely linked to whether or not a garment is appropriate is where it is being worn. I have always insisted that men – in fact, both men and women – should consider whether they are dressed appropriately, especially if it reflects on more than just themselves.

“Everyday” and favorite clothes do not suit every occasion. For instance, hoodies and shorts are garments that any man might want to have in his closet. Some are strictly for super-casual shooting-baskets-in-the-driveway wear, and some are attractive and versatile enough to wear for more occasions. But, even the most attractive of these are not appropriate choices for wearing to a nice restaurant.

When trying to determine a garment’s appropriateness, a key element is respect. Respect for the location itself and the other people who are in attendance. If you are dressed totally casually when pulling into a fast-food drive-thru, no one will notice or care. However, if you dress that way in a nice restaurant, you are being disrespectful to the place itself and also to the other people who are dining there . . . maybe even enough to somewhat diminish their enjoyment of a festive evening out. Why would you want to do that? I can hear men responding, “to be comfortable,” but wonder whether their nicer clothing is that uncomfortable and whether they and their companions are really comfortable.

Specifically, I know that wearing shorts is a thorny issue for men. Many love the comfort, and I’ve even been presented with, “What’s the difference between a nice polo and shorts vs. a sun dress?” On the one hand, I see their point, on the other hand . . . No, I don’t. We are all aware that young men (boys) who are dressing for their proms pay attention to looking their best. That makes me wonder: where does this instinct go when they “grow up” and forget how, and why, to look good? 

I’ve noticed another subtle expression of this same impolite attitude. Recently I attended a religious special event on Zoom, and again became aware of a jarring pattern. The women were all nicely “dressed up” in good-looking outfits and beautiful high-heeled shoes, while many of their escorts wore casual sweatshirt-like tops – without jackets and, worse, with sneakers. In my opinion, this sends a few messages: among them, a lack of respect for the occasion, for the location, for the other guests in attendance, and, in particular, for the person they are escorting. While there is often a certain discrepancy between the way the two halves of a couple are dressed, I cannot imagine that one’s partner would be happy with what appears to be a disregard for their social time spent together. 

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

Categories: Male Call