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Save the morning coat - Simon Brocklebank-Fowler

Blog | By Simon Brocklebank-Fowler | Oct 21, 2022

Hugh Grant sparked a morning-coat revival in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

The morning coat disappeared during the pandemic. Simon Brocklebank-Fowler is starting a fightback, wedding by wedding

The season is under way.

The Chelsea Flower Show launched two months of public display before society heads ‘abroad’ for August – to Scottish grouse moors or the straits of the Isle of Wight.

But what should you wear to all those occasions? The death of the tie has been declared for the office, promoting it to dress wear for formerly black-tie events such as Tory or grand City dinners.

The lounge suit’s poshest daytime cousin – the morning coat – is therefore demoted to the endangered list, struggling to retain its niche even at the swankiest weddings.

When I worked in the Foreign Office in the 1980s, senior mandarins still wore morning dress with a short-black-coat option. Ancient days.

Still, over the course of my lifetime, the value of investment in this singular outfit only ever goes up, as financiers never say of anything else. Given that a London flat is out of reach for most of us, buy a morning coat now.

I will have worn my morning coat five times by the end of this season, about the annual average in my adult lifetime. This coat long outlasted the marriage for which it was bought. No tailor has better earned his payment.

What is remarkable about the morning coat is not how anachronistic it has looked since Chamberlain’s Munich photo call, but that it has survived at all. It is the stayer of a gentleman’s wardrobe – for weddings, funerals such as Prince Philip’s last year, Royal Ascot, the Derby and Buckingham Palace garden parties.

Hugh Grant may have passed the garment on to a new generation with his appearance in Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994. One recent Gloucestershire wedding I went to combined morning coats with Top Gun, as penguin-liveried ushers used a helicopter for the honeymoon getaway vehicle.

But the sad truth is that COVID has dealt a near death blow to the outfit. For two years of house arrest, the good times did not roll and my morning coat stayed at the back of the wardrobe.

At the wedding of a senior groom in Chelsea this spring to a rather younger Swedish bride, a number of British guests turned up in linen suits, some without neckwear, ignoring the footnotes on the invitation. The Nordics, though, were all in black tailcoats. Stockholm is still the capital of the white-tie family reunion.

The British excuses for failing to dress up included weight gain, moth attack and ‘I left it in Monaco’.

I recently made the mistake of wearing a white linen suit to a wedding in Turin – the dress code was ‘summery’ – only to find the body of men, including a former British prime minister, dressed for a funeral scene in The Godfather in black suits, white shirts and dark ties. My morning coat would actually have carried the day. It’s a lifetime regret that I didn’t wear it.

I did, though, wear it for several recent events: another wedding; two days at Ascot (where it is obligatory in the Royal Enclosure, its last redoubt). I will wear it, too, to discharge my father’s ashes – maybe illegally – into his river in Scotland.

At Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards this year, we were advised to wear a morning coat and top hat to salute Her Majesty. I complied. Even so, in prior years, dress has been mixed, including in the VIP stand.

Now my morning coat is showing its age, my mender has suggested something new in grey, as sported by an octogenarian former courtier, who told me it had the merit of not looking as if it was rented from Moss Bros.

But I am resolute and loyal to my old morning coat, even if it is a little tight these days. There is no surplus left for my ‘easing’ my way into it. I will have to resort to an extreme procedure – ‘panelling’, where extra material is added to the suit.

My policy from now on will be to wear the only morning coat I’ve ever owned at all qualifying occasions.

The morning coat is the sartorial apex predator, triumphant over all other forms of formal clothing.

It is the king of slow fashion and the dress of our civilisation.

Simon Brocklebank-Fowler is a former diplomat. He attends a lot of events