As evocative quips go, my favourite among them is, “I don’t know nothing ’bout birthing no babies”, uttered by Scarlett O’Hara’s servant Prissy when commanded to aid in the impending arrival of her progeny. My go-to comeback has always been “I ain’t got no morning suit” each time my dear friend Ahmed ‘Shary’ Rahman, a man whose largesse overflows like the sweet goblets of wine in Valhalla, has invited me to Royal Ascot, the most fabled horse-racing occasion in all of Christendom.
O.K., so here’s the deal. It is ironic that as the individual that started a magazine about style, to my greatest shame I am not so secretly something of a slob. The comedic value of this was made abundantly clear to me at the previous Pitti Uomo, when the temperature shot to nearly 40 degrees and, unlike my immaculately dressed brethren, I was the first to sartorially tap out and don a pair of Rubinacci Gurkha shorts paired with a shirt more appropriate to the doorman of a moderately priced south-east Asian brothel. Of course, I’d forgotten that was the day I was to meet Ring Jacket’s President, Kunichi Fukushima, son of the company’s legendary founder, Jhoichi-san, a man with a style that is nothing less than regal. Upon being introduced to me as “the founder of The Rake”, he did a double-take at my garish ensemble and replied earnestly, “Are you sure?” Those acquainted with me in Singapore know that I am likely to turn up for most occasions dressed like the assistant ukulele player at a Hawaiian Luau. So the idea of getting decked out to the nines in morning dress — an ensemble considered the most formal of daytime wear — to attend a horse race in the middle of summer seemed a recipe for discomfort.
For neophytes to morning dress, like me, the morning coat has its origins in the 19th century, when gentlemen would ride their horses in the morning wearing a long jacket with a cutaway front. By the 20th century it overtook the frock coat as the preferred means of formal daytime dress. The most formal and correct morning coat is a single-breasted peaked-lapel jacket with a link closure that cuts away in the front and falls to the knees. Indeed, it was explained to me by the amazing Dario Carnera, head cutter at the mythical Huntsman tailors of Savile Row, that you gauge the quality of a bespoke morning coat by how perfectly it tucks to the back of the knees. It is accompanied by a grey, buff or black double-breasted shawl- or peak-collar waistcoat, and both the jacket and waistcoat can be piped and should feature dress slips, a layer of white fabric that just underlies the top edge of the waistcoat to give the illusion of a second layer beneath it.