Following on from the sage advice of our sartorial specialist, Christopher Modoo, on rakish wedding attire, I thought that it might be an idea to proffer some of my own words of (attempted) wisdom, and suggest a few pointers on a sartorial subject that The Rake, to my knowledge, has never covered: morning dress.
Whether for the races, a wedding or a ceremonial dubbing, the opportunities to really morning dress-up are few and far between nowadays (although I’d like to think that at least a handful of the gentlemen reading this have a knighthood), which makes the art of mastering morning dress even more arcane and mystifying in the modern world. Nevertheless, sources for inspiration and education can be found, and as always in the sartorial sphere, often the best way to create an ensemble that feels forward thinking is actually to turn one’s attention to the great romantic dressers of the past.
Time-honoured proponents of mid-century morning suits, such as Gregory Peck and The Duke of Windsor deftly demonstrate the art of elevating the dress code, but one man above all, should be heralded as the its greatest proponent: Cecil Beaton. Beaton, an uncompromising dreamer and aesthete, possessed a particular affinity with morning dress – perhaps because of its inherently nostalgic quality and association with those uppermost echelons of the haute monde that he worked so hard to infiltrate.
Critiquing one of Beaton’s finest morning looks is rather like penning an ode to a sartorial demi-God. Nothing is overlooked and everything is executed beautifully. For starters, toppers are tall and bow beautifully, to be worn exclusively at a jaunty angle (to hell with propriety), made from either fine blocked beaver pelts or rare French silk. Perhaps most notably, there’s a delicate harmony of proportions at work in each of Beaton’s morning suits. He had several made during his stint as high society’s de rigeur photographer of choice, but they all adhere to the same winning formula: coats are cut close to the chest, much closer than a civilian suit coat of the period – which is necessary given the way that a morning’s coat lacks a skirt at the front to keep it sitting flush to the figure. Tails reach exactly to the back of the knees, lapels are broad with some belly but never too wide (even I, with my penchant for 4.5” wide lapels would suggest going no further than 3.75” wide on a morning coat), and shoulders are clean and simple – without too much weighty padding.
"Critiquing one of Beaton's finest morning looks is rather like penning an ode to a sartorial demi-God."
Beaton also demonstrates most effectively, that waistcoats for morning dress should be short, whether single or double-breasted. The coat’s quarters are quite obviously cut-away from the waist downwards, revealing a good deal of torso and there’s nothing less elegant than seeing two crumpled linen waistcoat tips protruding beneath, much better to see a pair of forward-facing trouser pleats flowing seamlessly from underneath instead. This means of course that your trouser rise will need to be relatively high and supported by silk braces (which The Rake recommends as the most comfortable option for summer) to allow pleats to fall openly.
Morning trousers suit a wider leg without turn-ups and should feature only the lightest of breaks (again, don’t take just my word on this, Mr Modoo’s advice will confirm this). It’s a myth that coats can only be cut in black herringbone or mid-grey worsted, vintage fashion plates and illustrations illustrate that dark, dusty shades of chocolate or earthy grey-brown herringbones are acceptable too, though navy is seen only very rarely and was thought rather gauche even during the 30s and 40s.