Restaurants As Casual Chic?

Audrey Hepburn as My Fair Lady

If you saw the glorious fashion parade in My Fair Lady, you will know exactly what to wear when Her Royal Highness invites you to Ascot to bet on the horses.

The rules are clearly spelled out: “A hat must be worn to cover the crown of the head, and shoulders must be covered. Overseas visitors are welcome to wear the national dress of their country. Uniforms may be worn.”

The national dress? Now, right away, here’s a problem. Obviously it wouldn’t be right and proper to show up barefoot and draped in a leopard skin or indeed any other kind of animal skin that reveals not only bare shoulders but other naked parts too.

Native Indians would feel horribly out of place wearing feathers on their heads. Feathers are permitted but they must be affixed to hats. Exposed knees are never ever proper unless a Scotsman is wearing a kilt. Western religious garb is socially acceptable; clergy may wear clerical collars and black raiment, but ladies would not be expected to show up in the Royal Enclosure enveloped in a blue burqua.

Similarly when a fine dining restaurant allows you to “come as you are,” it definitely doesn’t mean that you can expect the welcome mat if you arrive in your brown work togs if you have a job at McDonald’s or UPS.

Numbered, orange-colored, one-piece jump suits and ankle bracelets are distracting for other diners.

Shirts should never be worn as reading material.

Except in Texas, it is not considered normal to wear a cowboy hat indoors though, some think it stylish to wear cowboy boots.

Sombrero’s and reversed caps advertising a feedlot or oil company are uncouth.

Uniforms identify police and firefighters, nurses and masked surgeons, astronauts and train conductors, airline pilots and beekeepers, mechanics and cheerleaders and judges, bathing beauties and baseball players, speed skaters, bikers and ballerinas, and, ever so briefly — brides.

Bubble-wrapped Brideand gowned academics, bikers and ballerinas, and, ever so briefly — brides.

It is rare for any of these people to show up at a nice restaurant, clad in their ‘work’ clothes, saying “ Four for dinner please.”

Jaws would drop. Conversation would cease. The sky would fall.

Even queens leave their tiaras at home when they go out to eat.

It’s not accepted behavior to wear jewels on your head, but it is socially satisfactory to flash diamonds around your neck or on your fingers. Rings through the nose and tongue are upsetting.

Piercings are permitted in the ears but only if costly baubles dangle from them.

Permanent tattoos are generally unwelcome though more transiently-painted faces and hands are highly desirable.

Breathtakingly-plunging neck lines and skirts slit all the way up to the “howdy doody” are only to be worn on formal occasions, when there are more than five glasses at each place setting. A gentlemen guest is required to remain tightly buttoned up in his tuxedo,

Some restaurants refuse to seat a gentleman, who is not wearing a length of colored fabric knotted around his neck. A jacket is required to eat the lobster if it has been pried out of its shell. A bib is worn to eat a whole lobster.

Can a restaurant insist the gentleman not only wear a jacket but also keep it on until he leaves the premises? What if he drapes it over the back of the chair and reveals his suspenders? Should he be reprimanded?

What if Larry King comes for dinner? Is it O.K. for him to reveal his suspenders to many but not to few? Most restaurants request “casual chic” attire in the evening. This highly ambiguous phrase seems to mean different things to different people.

Joe Baum (right) with Alan Lewis & Chef Andre Renee at Windows on the World

So to make things perfectly clear we should remember the words of the late, great (inscrutable) Joe Baum, chairman of Windows on the World and The Rainbow Room, and inventor of 167 other dining entertainments.

He said, “A restaurant doesn’t create the times as Dior creates a fashion. A restaurant reflects the times. Restaurants are living things and reflect the generations in which they exist. Like religions, they keep changing and adapting.  We are organized, equipped and staffed to supply pleasure, at a profit. This means that any threats to pleasure are bad for business.”

Deciding what to wear when dining at a topless bar may not be the most pressing problem of the day but the topic of dress codes in restaurants is an issue that gets a lot of people hot under the collar. Arbiters of good  taste may consider a job as a teacher of dining etiquette.