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Artful Living | David Coggins Dressing For Dinner

Illustration by Hilbrand Bos

If you’re going out into the world to eat, then why not dress well — and appropriately — for dinner? You can pay homage to the traditions of your cuisine with the nuances of your attire. The well-dressed man looks like himself anywhere he goes while also looking right at home. Here are some ways to offer sartorial tribute wherever you dine.

The French Gastronomic Temple

You don’t need a dress code for an excuse to get a bit formal. When you sit down at a wonderful French restaurant where there are about five forks and the wine list weighs a ton, you’re ushered into a world of elegance where everything has been considered. In a setting like this, you should dress the part.

I’ve advocated for a suit you can lay down in (like corduroy) and there are certainly times for that, like reading a Tolstoy novel by the fire on a weekend afternoon (or pretending to). This is different. You need a truly formal suit, something to meet the moment. I don’t want to frighten you, but it’s time for a double-breasted suit in a dark shade. This ensemble flatters most men by extending the vertical lines, making you appear taller, and, incidentally, slimmer. Ralph Lauren Purple Label always has some strong options. You’ll need a dress shirt (this isn’t an oxford cloth situation), and French stalwart Charvet is as good as any. Add in a dark silk knit tie (Charvet can help with that, too) or a tie with very few, very discreet white dots (I’m getting excited just thinking about this). If you have any handmade shoes, now is the time. Ditto for a luxurious overcoat. When you’re that well-dressed, you deserve a three-hour meal — and don’t forget the Bas-Armagnac.

The Sushi Bar

The best Japanese food appears simple, but like the best minimalist art, the limited elements make everything matter even more. Sartorially speaking, a concise palette is not a default setting. On the contrary, because each shade has to be correct, the stakes are raised. My tailoring friends who obsess over clothes appreciate the many shades of gray. Specifically, a gray flannel suit, which is a good decision for your first tailor-made suit. A warmer, lighter gray (as opposed to a more severe dark gray) is a lovely choice. Add a cashmere turtleneck in cream or almond and some tobacco suede Alden loafers, and you’re a model of thoughtful restraint. You’re in a tonal zone that people can admire. If you’re craving some dynamism, a vivid pocket square offers the perfect counterpoint, like a touch of wasabi.

The Trattoria

A good trattoria is welcoming, bright and straightforward. The Italians may take dressing seriously, but that doesn’t mean they can’t express themselves and have a good time doing it. Bring a little pattern into your life. A herringbone or houndstooth sport coat is the benchmark and should probably be Italian. Look up Milan-based Massimo Alba, who has a way with fabrics, color and pattern. Do you have a shirt with some texture — perhaps a fine corduroy shirt in burgundy or even rust? Give it a try. And moleskin pants are very overlooked; I don’t know why, as they’re the embodiment of comfort and ease, and in a winning color (say a deep gray or a rich green), they’ll quickly become favorites. If a silk scarf is good outside, it can be just as good inside (and if people mistake you for the artistic director of La Scala, so be it). Order an aged grappa and nod to your adoring public.

The Dive Bar

Not everything needs to be classical music. Sometimes you want Tom Petty on the jukebox. Say I’m going to a saloon in Montana — I’ll wear a chore jacket, a chambray shirt and a pair of old chinos with a canvas military belt. The key here is that the clothes are worn-in and unfussy but that they still fit well. You can find this sort of thing for serious prices from Double RL or more reasonably at J.Crew. Or track down high-end versions from cult brands like Beams Plus and East Harbor Surplus. You can even scour eBay for the perfect field coat or, if you’re so lucky, wear one that once belonged to an uncle. 

Even when you’re dressing down, it’s good to have something specific that reflects your personality (or that just brings good luck). It could be an ancient canvas baseball cap, a bandana around the neck (which only works if you’ve done it a lot), an old Filson Mackinaw, a pair of jeans dating back to the Carter administration, or colored laces in your desert boots. A well-dressed man, like a dive bar, should have a few stylish idiosyncrasies. Salut!

A Minnesotan turned New Yorker, David Coggins is the author of the New York Times bestseller Men and Style and writes a style column for Artful Living.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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