The correct attire at any function means that everybody conforms to the same standard of dress. Historically only the very wealthiest could afford, and had the opportunity, to dress for the occasion and did so to the extreme. A gentleman would wear a morning outfit including a morning coat at the beginning of the day. The cutaway style of the coat is worn at any time of day nowadays at formal functions and, if correctly fitted, suits most body shapes. It certainly makes shorter, more rotund men look taller and slimmer.
Gentlemen would then change into suitable clothing depending on their occupation or activity. Riding, shooting or travelling would all require different attire and a valet would arrange the appropriate garments for his master to change into.
In the evening one would dress for dinner in evening tails which we now refer to as White Tie (link to appropriate page).
Today we tend to dress to conform whereby nobody feels out of place. Although there are still significant divisions in society, those in the know will recognise who is who, any person considered an outsider will fit in if wearing the correct attire. In many cases this code will be slightly broken with the wearing of insignia, medals and sometimes ties. If, for example, one was invited to a sporting dinner one might wear one's club bow tie. Even then class and status is disguised; only the groups within the assembled guests can determine to which club, society or regiment one belongs. Never cheat by wearing a friends club or university tie as you’ll soon be found out.
In today’s society at perhaps a Mansion House dinner the guests will come from all walks of life and social backgrounds. Whatever his position in society, each guest should dress as the host requests. The most formal types of black-tie affairs include prestigious soirees such as state dinners, business awards and formal evening weddings. In such circumstances refined guests will display their respect for their hosts by choosing attire that meets their requirements, which will most often be clearly stated on the invitation.
Breaking the Rules
Whether you wear the correct attire out of necessity or out of choice, there are still a substantial number of options available. For example experienced guests will recognise that not all black-tie events are created equal and will therefore look to each occasion’s level of formality for clues as to which sartorial variations are appropriate. An outward going personality can be reflected with more flamboyance with one’s dress at the right function but on other occasions even a colourful bow tie would be considered out of place.