Traditional Morning Dress

Traditional full morning dress consists of a morning coat, waistcoat, trousers, often a top hat, and a variety of accessories and extras, many of which are optional. You can read about these garments in detail in the elements section, and here we will describe how to successfully combine them into a coherent outfit.

Combinations

Morning dress is by no means a uniform and you have a lot of choice when it comes to selecting the different elements to make up your outfit, but it is important to make sure that all of the elements get along nicely, or you may have a riot on your hands. To a limited extent, this is about making sure that your colours don’t clash, but there are a million websites that will tell you about which colours go well with which others, and hopefully our illustrations will give you an idea of what colours look good.

Classic

There are several classic combinations that can be seen throughout the history of morning dress which, by any consideration, look pretty fantastic. These are the outfits that you see the best dressed men of the modern era sporting time and time again and, if it’s good enough for them, it’s probably good enough for the rest of us, at least to begin with.

The first classic outfit that we will look at is probably the most common you will see at weddings, and has been the standard hire outfit from the 1930s to the present day. It has proved so enduringly popular due to its simplicity and understated elegance. For the man who wants to look good without having to search for items not readily available, this will probably be the oufit of choice.

Moss Bros. Advert

Many purists will tell you that morning dress that isn't all cut from the same cloth isn't a suit, but people have been calling it a suit for many decades now so don't let the pedants get you down

Black morning coat, double breasted grey waistcoat and black houndstooth tie

Black morning coat, double breasted grey waistcoat and black/silver houndstooth tie.

This perennial outfit consists of the standard black morning coat matched with cashmere striped trousers and dove grey single or double breasted waistcoat. Neckwear in silver or grey tones, usually with some kind of fine pattern, is most often seen accompanying this kind of ensemble and the whole combination is generally displayed atop the blank canvass of a plain white shirt.

There are several variations on this standard outfit, all of which have an equally respectable pedigree, and most are defined by different combinations of shirts and ties. The out-and-out best of these, in our opinion, is a buff waistcoat with burgundy and white polka dot tie, as seen in the picture at the start of this article. Here it is for real:

Buff and Burgundy

Black morning coat with cashmere striped trousers, buff double breasted waistcoat and burgundy and white polka dot tie.

Black morning coat and waistcoat by Ede & Ravenscroft

A sombre waistcoat balancing bold statements elsewhere in the outfit

All-in-one

The beauty of wearing matching coat, waistcoat, and trousers is that it removes many decisions from the equation so more time can be spent weighing up the relative merits of this or that tie, or whether one should spend £250 on a new pair of balmoral boots (…one should). However, it is a look which can look exceptional in the right hands, and despite what some might say, it is not only appropriate for wearing at the races.Here is the Prince of Wales wearing his at the wedding of Zara Phillips recently:

Charles and Camilla sneak back into the service after nipping out to join the Royal Mile high club...

Charles and Camilla sneak back into the service after nipping out to join the Royal Mile High Club...

If you like grey, you are in for a treat as well, as three piece matching morning suits come in a dizzying variety of shades. This Moss Bros suit from the 1950s is cut from a much thicker and more luxurious cloth than Charles’ and is also quite a bit darker…

Beautiful... if only it had a double breasted waistcoat it would be perfect!

Beautiful... if only it had a double breasted waistcoat it would be perfect!

It is nothing, however, compared to the suit that John Bercow wore to the Royal Wedding. We assume this is a charcoal grey, but there is an outside possibility that it’s black… which would be rare indeed!

Shame it's too big for him... and his suit is a bit on the large side too...

Shame it's too big for him... and his suit is a bit on the large side too...

One more for good luck! This is Andrew Parker-Bowles, ex-husband of Camilla.

Nice - he could have ironed it though...

Nice - he could have ironed it though...

Waistlines old and new

Depending on preference you can reckon your waistline to be in a number of places (just above the hips; the narrowest part of your torso; as high as possible), but it can really only be in one place at any time. In the ‘golden age’ of morning dress, as in the above L Fellows picture, a very high, narrow waist was popular, yet nowadays a lower waistline is preferred by many. Morning dress has the potential to look absolutely awful if you dress your waist too low, not least because it often results in the untidy rupturing of shirt cloth from the gap between waistcoat and trousers. Also, a combination of very low rise trousers, a waistcoat, and the sweeping cut of a morning coat can make one’s legs look foreshortened and inelegant. Short of that, however, there is no reason why you can’t wear your waistline relatively low and still look smart.

Modern M&S morning coat with Hackett single breasted notched lapel waistcoat and red and white linen tie

Modern M&S morning coat with Hackett single breasted notched lapel waistcoat and red and white silk seersucker tie

Care should be taken when combining new and old garments to ensure that the waistlines roughly conform.

Morning Dress by Favourbrook

Morning Dress by Favourbrook

The above outfit by Favourbrook is quite a modern cut but with a vintage inspired look. Note that the waistcoat is quite long to accommodate the contemporary trouser style. The button on the morning coat is placed such that it is roughly half way down the ‘buttoned up’ section of the waistcoat. If the morning coat were buttoned up, the amount of waistcoat showing above and below the button closure would be about equal, which creates a sense of balance and proportion.

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