The Queen's Garden Party: An Opportunity for Morning Wear

The Queen’s Garden Party: An Opportunity for Morning Wear

Among menswear enthusiasts there are those with a special affinity for morning dress; I count myself one of this group. At age 22, years before I truly understood what formal wear was, I wore a morning coat instead of a suit or tuxedo for my Las Vegas wedding—in 100-degree weather no less—because it somehow felt right. A challenge often shared by morning dress aficionados, though, is finding occasions to wear it.

The Queen's Garden Party is one of the few places for which morning wear is the standard attire for men

The Queen’s Garden Party is one of the few places for which morning wear is the standard attire for men

Sartorial Travel: The Queen’s Garden Party

North Americans generally have very few chances to put on morning dress compared to their brethren in the UK and Europe, where it’s more common at ceremonies and events taking place before 6 PM. Living in the Midwestern United States, I have barely an opportunity for a tuxedo let alone its daytime equivalent. Most American weddings don’t feature morning dress, so you couldn’t attend dressed this way unless you are intent upon upstaging the groom and the whole wedding party. Thus, fulfilling the desire to put on morning wear really requires “sartorial travel”: combining a vacation with events in which such dress would be appropriate. This usually means attending Royal Ascot in England, where morning dress is welcome whether or not you get into the Royal Enclosure. However, there’s another overlooked possibility for morning dress: the Queen’s Garden Parties.

Vintage Garden Party Invitation

Vintage Garden Party Invitation; note the dress code, which remains the same today

Each year in May and June, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, assisted by members of the British Royal Family, hosts four afternoon parties where the gardens of Buckingham Palace and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh are opened to 30,000 guests by invitation only. Citizens of Commonwealth countries–Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, for example–are eligible to enter a lottery for pairs of tickets through their nation’s High Commission. Applications are taken in the first few months of each year via the Commissions’ websites. Not many people know about this, so Gentleman’s Gazette readers have a decent shot at tickets provided you or the applicant is a citizen of the aforementioned countries. I scored tickets on my first try, so I’d say the odds aren’t bad.

Queen Elizabeth II meets guests during a garden party, with men in morning dress in the background

Dress code for men at the Garden Party is not as strict as at the infamous Royal Enclosure at Ascot—a “lounge suit” (the antiquated term for a business suit, specifically in darker colors according to the authoritative Debrett’s guide) and morning dress are both permitted. Yet, since the goal is sartorial travel, the choice is obvious. Having gotten an invitation, I consulted the Gentleman’s Gazette Morning Dress Guide and set out to document my experience with the choices surrounding morning wear and at the party itself.

Dr. Christopher Lee in his morning suit

The author Dr. Christopher Lee in his morning suit

Finding Morning Wear

Those who expect to pursue future opportunities to wear morning dress should consider purchasing. When preparing for the Queen’s Garden Party, I was surprised how easy it was to find purveyors of morning dress in the UK; unlike in North America, almost all menswear stores from the big chains, like Moss Bros, Hackett, and Charles Tyrwhitt, to smaller tailors, like Oliver Brown and Neal and Palmer, stock them. Even Suitsupply UK had a morning coat available, though the US site does not. Given these options, it’s recommended that you purchase from the country that invented morning wear. Prices range from £399 to around £1000 ($500-$1300) for coat, trousers, and waistcoat.

SRS in a morning coat

Sven Raphael Schneider in morning attire; his ensemble consists mostly of vintage pieces with new Fort Belvedere accessories

A budget-friendly alternative is to go vintage, like Gentleman’s Gazette founder Sven Raphael Schneider, whose 1920’s morning coat remains a prized possession. A search on eBay (again, the UK version) reveals a range of morning coats for sale from the 1920’s and later for $80-$229. Be sure to check items for damage or particularly dated features like unusual lapels, and remember to budget for necessary alterations. The end cost of a full outfit may come close to the lower end of buying new, but the quality of vintage morning wear will likely surpass the offerings of the chain stores.

Piccadilly Arcade

Neal & Palmer is located in the famous Piccadilly Arcade in London

I ultimately opted to try a rental to determine how a UK hire would compare to my wedding experience of renting from an American mall where I ended up with clothes at least a size too large. If renting, my recommendation is to search for a reputable small tailor in London, of which there are a number on Jermyn Street and in the Picadilly Arcade, rather than going with a chain. I elected to use Neal and Palmer, trusting a British bespoke tailor would have familiarity with morning dress as well as better quality items. The result was good; only the sleeves of my morning coat were a little too long, something not unexpected off the rack.

Traditional British Style Required

An important lesson I learned during my preparations is that morning dress requires you to embrace British style. If your personal taste tends toward the Italian, like mine does, be prepared to accept something different. Morning wear doesn’t admit sprezzatura like a crooked tie knot or a double-cuff shirt without cufflinks. Instead, it’s all about order and regulation, and therein lies the essential difference between the two great European tailoring traditions.

Black Captoe Oxford with dark grey dress shoelaces by Fort Belvedere

Black oxfords (shown with an alternate dark gray dress shoelace by Fort Belvedere) are de rigueur for morning attire

Since dressing to match the occasion is a basic tenet of being properly and well dressed, I yielded to the demands of the setting. I usually wear monk straps or loafers for the panache and casualness they bring to an outfit but purchased a pair of black captoe oxfords without broguing because that’s what morning dress demands. A willingness to follow the requirements and try something different makes for an optimal learning experience.

 

Prince Charles with a Brigg Umbrella

Prince Charles favors a gray morning suit

This is not to say there aren’t opportunities for individuality and personality with morning dress. If you like greater color variety and the complexity of sport coat/trouser combinations, for example, you might choose a black morning coat with gray striped trousers and a waistcoat in sky blue instead of the matching gray tailcoat, waistcoat, and trousers of a “Morning Grey” suit, preferred by Prince Charles.

The Waistcoat

Another opportunity for variety involves choosing between a double- or single-breasted waistcoat. Single-breasted waistcoats tend to elongate the physique. Similar to the way peak lapels on a suit draw sight lines outward and broaden the chest, the open V formed by the points at the bottom of a single-breasted waistcoat provide the impression of extended torso length while the horizontal waistline of a double-breasted truncates, strongly separating the torso from the legs. This can create a sense of stockiness. However, the double-breasted has a more historic and more formal appearance; it is, frankly, more traditional. And, it competes less with the cutaway front of a morning coat than the sharp angles that form the bottom of a single-breasted waistcoat. Colors are usually light gray, buff or sky blue. Gray creates a series of monochrome gradations from the black tailcoat to the charcoal trousers to the lighter gray waistcoat. Blue would add a splash of spring color. For versatility in choosing a tie, and to add more warmth to the ensemble, buff might be the choice.

Morning attire can be worn with a range of ties, including classic wedding ties in silver and black

Morning attire can be worn with a range of ties, including classic wedding ties in silver and black

The Tie

The selection of tie is another way to work individuality into a morning wear ensemble. A more formal silk print business tie, such as one with stripes or dots, is safe; solids tend to fade back and a pattern is definitely needed here to bring the tie forward under the waistcoat. As someone who prefers textures and different fabrics, like shantungs and linens for my ties I experimented with a beige and brown striped silk and linen tie that I already owned and found it successful in complementing the buff waistcoat while adding visual pop. And in this way, I got to sneak in nod to my more casual style.

Morning dress alternate accessories combination

Morning dress alternate accessories combination

Pocket Square and Boutonniere

Accessorizing morning wear needs to be done carefully. Continuing the overall theme of restraint, a plain white linen pocket square is most common, in a simple TV fold. At his wedding, Sven Raphael Schneider wore a fold that complements the floral theme of his white boutonniere flower, which is a unique possibility.

Sven Raphael Schneider in his vintage Morning Coat from the 1920s

Sven Raphael Schneider in his vintage Morning Coat from the 1920s and a white linen pocket square

The boutonniere is itself sometimes overlooked in morning dress. A Fort Belvedere carnation would have been a perfect addition, either in white to duplicate the pocket square or in a different hue to add a splash of color. Overall, the flower should be small, not the large spray that is all too common during weddings.

Prince Andrew in buff 6x3 morning vest & patent leather oxford shoes

Prince Andrew in morning dress with a simple black umbrella

Umbrella

An item that one often sees in internet photos of morning dress is a walking stick with a ball knob. While these may be appropriate at a wedding, the comparable item for formal British outdoor events is a tightly rolled black umbrella, a dual-purpose item that also suits the variable and often wet climate of England. Attending an event like the Queen’s Garden Party can be the perfect excuse to purchase a handmade “brolly” from either Mario Talarico in Naples or Francesco Maglia in Milan, the world’s foremost artisans. Of course, you can use such a work of quality craftsmanship for the rest of your life, whether or not you ever attend another formal event.

A Sea of Top Hats at the Queens Garden Party

A Sea of Top Hats at the Queens Garden Party

Top Hat

Perhaps the most important morning dress accessory, though an optional one, is a properly fitted top hat. Whereas men from all social classes wore one daily in the nineteenth century, it goes without saying that you would be stared at for wearing a top hat on the street today. Therefore, morning dress is an occasion to indulge. Since I had neither a light gray waistcoat nor a gray suit, I opted for black given the choice between gray and black. Among seasoned wearers of morning dress, including the Queen’s staff, I spotted a number of antique top hats, either in silk or beaver felt, obvious by their beautiful sheen and matted nap. I was envious!

Dr Christopher Lee

Dr. Christopher Lee keeps his morning ensemble classic

Men’s Style at the Garden Party

At the Garden Parties and events like Royal Ascot, women tend to get more notice (witness the famous “Ladies Day”) for the attention-getting dresses and hats. However, I directed my attention to men’s style. While queueing up to enter Buckingham Palace, and, later, on the garden lawn, I noted some stylish gents as well as some faux pas. One man stood out in the queue for wearing a flannel windowpane sport coat with light trousers, directly contravening the dress code. I also saw some light-colored suits that did not strictly fit the definition of “lounge suit,” including those in more casual fabrics like cotton. Sadly, I also saw several pairs of trainers or sneakers and tie/pocket square sets that matched exactly.

 

Prince Charles in his 3 piece morning suit with black silk top hat & winchester shirt with cornflower boutonniere

Prince Charles varies his morning dress ensemble with a Winchester shirt, a cornflower boutonniere, and a pink tie

For the most part, though, the gents looked sharp. The weather was clear, but attendees who brought umbrellas with their morning dress seemed to look more dapper, and I would include one as an accessory myself should I attend a similar event in the future. Hooking the umbrella handle over one’s forearm while strolling the gardens certainly looked elegant. When I came to the party, I was also not a fan of contrast-collar shirts, though I was aware that many gentlemen prefer them to white while in morning dress. However, seeing in person the added dimension and depth of color provided by a light-blue striped shirt with contrasting white collar I knew that it was something I would seek to emulate.

Conclusion

The most important lesson I learned from the experience, though, is not to take dressing up too seriously at the expense of enjoying the experience. When I realized it was sufficient to be dressed well enough, I was able to remember the purpose of attending the event in the first place: to relax, to eat some cucumber sandwiches, to enjoy the general splendor and to socialize.

Where do you find the opportunity to wear morning dress? Would you attend the Queen’s Garden Party?

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The Queen's Garden Party: An Opportunity for Morning Wear
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The Queen's Garden Party: An Opportunity for Morning Wear
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Learn all about the Queen's garden party & how to look dapper in your morning wear.
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Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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18 replies
    • Mark in OZ says:

      The next British Commonwealth Games are to be held in Australia .
      Members of the British Royal Family will most certainly attend and one member will do the honours of the opening.

    • Dr. Christopher Lee says:

      Correction noted, Christopher. I’ve been doing a lot of work on post-colonialism recently, so that may have seeped in!

  1. JCP says:

    Nicely documented. I have never had the occasion for a Morning Dress, but I appreciate the elegant tradition. Congratulations, well done Dr.

  2. David says:

    Hello Sven:

    Very good article, thank you.
    I have sent to you several emails requesting your opinion on the suitability of a detached wing collar with Morning attire. I have also asked you where to find the traditional silver and black striped necktie. I have never received any reply from you. My haberdasher in London tells me that the wing collar is inappropriate. I do not agree.

    May I kindly have a response to these questions? Thank you.

    • Gareth Evans says:

      Hi,

      With regards to the matter of detachable winged collars and morning dress – it is generally not the done thing anymore. Whilst you could theoretically “get away” with it, you would look more like you are trying to dress historically than formally (which, incidentally, also applies to the cravat when worn with morning dress). It is a similar matter to how we see lots of people in the UK wearing frock coats at their weddings – they look very grand and impressive, but they are not proper formal dress anymore and, again, come off looking like a costume.

      Just my thoughts.

  3. Tom Fisher says:

    Has anyone found a good source for light grey morning suits with a double breasted waistcoat off the peg? So far I’ve only seen one from Gieves and Hawkes.

  4. Forrest L Howe says:

    So how do those of us who left the British Empire years ago get an invite? This would be so exciting. I think my wife’s mother was born a British subject, at least Canadian and never renounced. How long does it take to get dual citizenship. Hmm. I do know a lady who lives in UK, maybe she could get the invite and I could accompany her. This would be so exciting, Oh, I guess I said that already.

  5. Mark says:

    Nicely composed report! I made the fortunate decision as a young man to get married in morning dress. I was only dimly aware of sartorial convention but as Dr. Lee mentioned, it just felt right for a noon wedding. As I looked at my wedding photo while reading this article I realized what a great decision it was. I perhaps have the only wedding picture in my family that is difficult to date. Even though it was a rental, the overall classic style is holding well 28 years later and my beautiful bride had a dress of classic and impeccable taste to set the standard. I’d love to have another occasion to wear morning dress. I may have to convince my children to do the same when they marry or find a good friend in the UK to accompany to the Queen’s Garden Party.

  6. Daniel Howard says:

    Any opportunity for Americans to attend? I’d love to go!
    I wear a Streseman to opera matinee on a regular basis, but have never had an occasion to wear morning dress. Should have worn it at my wedding!

  7. Borys Medicky says:

    Did men “from all social classes” really wear top hats? I have trouble believing that the down-and-out, of whom there were a great many in former days, could have afforded such a luxury.

  8. Gareth Evans says:

    Hmm… Just a shame us Brits can’t apply for tickets, we have to specifically be invited. To be honest, even we do not have enough events where morning dress is appropriate (although I do appreciate that we are more fortunate than most in this matter).

  9. Yorkman Lowe says:

    Actually as an American I wear morning dress 10-12 days per year.
    I volunteer as a docent at tours of Victorian and Edwardian homes & other period bldgs, also I attend the West Coast Ragtime Festival (3 days long) every Nov in Sacramento California. I also occasionally attend dances with Victorian or Edwardian themes.

  10. Mars says:

    Dear Mr. Schneider, dear Gentlemen,

    I wear morning dress – since I’ve indulged myself in a bespoke one about two years ago – about once in a month. Certainly not to the Royals Gardenparty – I live in a republic in the middle of Europe… I was searching a lot on e-Bay for second hand one, but had not courage enough to buy some; tryied then special stores, on-line possibilities… – and was rather dissapointed by the “half-mast” trousers and “fashionable” features – so I’ve decided for bespoke one. – By the way – I’d like to thank You for a great deal on inspiration and usefull information, I’ve found in this website of Your’s (and the morningdressguide.com site, too), – which helped me by “be-spoking”! My tailor is a freelancer-lady, and although it was her first morning dress at all, I think, she did a very good job. (I don’t know, whether links are permited here – but I’ll try: http://www.modnipeklo.cz/detail-fotky/?imageId=157044&load=a%3A3%3A%7Bs%3A4%3A%22sort%22%3Bs%3A0%3A%22%22%3Bs%3A7%3A%22options%22%3Ba%3A2%3A%7Bs%3A6%3A%22typeId%22%3Bi%3A800%3Bs%3A8%3A%22objectId%22%3Bs%3A4%3A%221082%22%3B%7Ds%3A13%3A%22cacheLifeTime%22%3Bi%3A0%3B%7D&target=www.modnipeklo.cz%2Fkrejcovstvi-svadlena%2Fjana-jelinkova-ateh%2F – sorry for the unspoken language of the website…) It’s a traditional full-canvas, most of it hand sewn; heavy wool-flanel for the coat. The whole thing with extra trousers for about $600. It maybe just needs the right country…

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