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Understated and ineffably English

Timothy Barber
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WHETHER it’s for Ascot or a wedding, wearing a morning suit is a chance for a chap to look at his ineffable best – it should never be seen as a chore. There’s a reason why morning dress is perhaps the most fundamental expression of English sartorial style – it’s simply tremendously elegant. The curve and hang of the tail coat is far more pleasing-on-the-eye than the squared-off cut of a normal lounge suit, and it’s the one opportunity you have to wear trousers that are cut high on the waist, as is the traditional – and more graceful – Savile Row style.

All of which doesn’t mean it’s time to accessorise with florid ties and loud waistcoats – elegance is only elegant if it isn’t trying to impress.

“The Ascot rule is the lady is the one that shines and looks vibrant, while the man should be smartly understated,” says Frederick Willems, head of design for Savile Row’s Gieves and Hawkes.

It’s fine to hire a morning suit, but bear in mind that if you’re going to go regularly to smart weddings as well as Ascot, it may be worth investing in one – it’ll fit better. If you do hire, avoid at all costs ghastly backless waistcoats, which not only prevent you from taking off the coat but bunch up across the torso in all manner of peculiar ways – cough up for a proper waistcoat if you can’t hire one, and keep it simple and muted.

If buying the whole look, you have the option of getting a black morning coat with striped trousers, or a matching, all-grey morning suit of the kind Prince Charles enjoys sporting. Willems suggests the latter is a little grander – it’s a sign of having been specially made, or perhaps inherited which, in a way, is grander still – but neither is more formal than the other.

At a wedding you may get away with a checked shirt – never go for striped – but not at Ascot, where you should stick with white. Go for a plain or gently patterned tie – “a club stripe is too bold, but a subtle polka dot will look smart,” says Willems. Unless you’re an usher at a wedding and the groom has dictated it, steer clear of cravats – they’re showy and distinctly déclassé. Finish things off with a plain white pocket handkerchief, folded neatly into either a square or a triangle.

Finally, there’s the top hat. There’s no rule on whether you go for black or grey – but do try to resist the jaunty angle.