As I browsed the BBC news website this morning, I came across a magazine article about dress code (click here to access it). Specifically it was an article by British historian David Cannadine, who is Professor of History at Princeton University, on “the language of ties”.
Well, the dress code thing, and especially what tie to wear, has been very much to the fore over the past few weeks since I received details about the investiture at Buckingham Palace to receive my OBE. The guidelines indicated that gentlemen should wear “morning suit, lounge suit, or national dress”. No medals! That took place on 29 February, and I wrote about the whole OBE experience – receiving the nomination, the period of secrecy, the investiture itself – in another post.
Morning suit or lounge suit? Over the course of my professional career I’ve never had to wear a suit, and frankly, never really feel very comfortable in one. And I’ve only ever worn a formal morning suit twice – at the weddings of my eldest brother Martin, and my cousin Diana. In the end, I chose what I knew I would be most comfortable wearing, and opted instead for my charcoal grey, lightweight suit that I had purchased only a couple of years ago or so, and had worn only a few times (there’s not much demand for suits in the Tropics). My friend and former colleague, John Sheehy – who received his OBE at an investiture on 14 February – decided on a morning suit, and very elegant he looked too.
So that was the suit sorted. But what tie to wear? I have to admit, I LOVE TIES, and my collection (somewhat eclectic) would be bigger if I could justify the expense. You see, I don’t wear a tie very often either. But while the suit thing is not my style, I sometimes wish there were more opportunities to wear a tie.
In November 2010, on my way to attend a major international rice congress in Hanoi, Vietnam, I’d purchased a couple of silk ties at Birmingham airport. Both were plain colours – no stripes, patterns or what have you. Just plain coral pink and apple green (if plain is the appropriate description).
Now I really like the pink tie, and it goes well with my suit (pink apparently conveys good health and a positive attitude, and also has calming effects). The question was would it be appropriate for an investiture at the Palace. And I agonized over that decision longer than I really want to admit. I even looked for advice on the web, and was amazed to find that there are many sites offering advice on all things ties: colours, occasions, and even what type of knot to tie.
The lounge suit was a sensible choice, and I guess only about half of the men wore a morning suit even if they were being knighted. Only one woman as far as I can remember wore a trouser suit. Most women receiving an honour wore a hat – this must be the most difficult choice they have to make, and from what I observed in some instances, the choice was not very wise. None of my three guests – my wife, my younger daughter, and a former colleague from the Philippines – wore a hat. And it didn’t matter.