Alas, my schooldays are far behind me, most of what I learned in science class has vanished without leaving so much as a shadow on the Harper cortex. But one fundamental law has remained with me: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Thirty years ago, many resorts in the Caribbean still required men to wear neckties for dinner. On one particularly humid evening at the Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, half-strangled and about to expire inside my navy blazer, I remember thinking, “I'm just not going to do this anymore.”
But then Newton's Third Law kicked in, dress codes disappeared, and today, even at New York's legendarily starchy “21” Club, ties are now “preferred” rather than mandatory for dinner.
This relaxation of the social norms causes me no distress. What does drive me crazy, however, is the trend taken to extremes. The other day, I was enjoying a fine meal at Pierre Gagnaire's new restaurant in Las Vegas. Halfway through the guinea fowl, the sound of an arriving party made me glance up. I could hardly believe my eyes: eight people were sitting down at an adjacent table, all of whom appeared to have arrived directly from the gymnasium.
It was not just that their attire looked ridiculous; it was the manifest lack of respect for the chef and his staff that struck me as unforgivable. When a master of his craft has labored for hours on your behalf, surely the least you can do is put on a clean shirt and a jacket!
I once asked a dear friend in Rome about the concept of bella figura, to which he replied, “We Italians think that it is important to dress for others, as well as ourselves.” Quite. An appropriate degree of formality is no bad thing. Call me stuffy if you will, but I reckon that dress codes are due for a revival and that a reaction is long overdue.
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