Underdressed in public

Sep 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Those who believe in interpreting dreams would say that nightmares about arriving somewhere not properly dressed are deeply symbolic of some profound insecurity, could they not just be nightmares about turning up not properly dressed?

Right back in Bible times turning up in the wrong outfit could land you in trouble, something so widely assumed that Jesus could use it in a parable:

When the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Even First Century listeners would have understood that most awful moment in the film “Bridget Jones’ Diary” where poor Bridget arrives at a party dressed as a bunny girl, only to find the other guests are not in fancy dress.

It always seems safer to be over dressed than under dressed.  Once as a guest at top table at a university dinner, I  arrived in my best suit and with an academic gown borrowed from one of the Dublin clergy. My host wore his professorial gown as we lined up to enter the dining hall. Alongside us was a young lecturer, dressed casually and with no gown.

Suddenly the young lecturer said, “Oh no! The Provost is here and I didn’t bring a gown. Aghh! There goes my career”.

I didn’t take the man very seriously until my host said, “Ian, would you do him a great favour and lend him that gown? Academics are expected to be properly dressed.”

I took off the gown and the young academic wrapped it gratefully around his shoulders and avoided catching the eye, and presumably the wrath, of the Provost. My host smiled, “I never understood that story in the Bible about the man not having a wedding garment”.

With the wedding garment story and visions of poor Bridget Jones in mind, I heeded the Best Beloved and picked up the telephone.

“Ian”, she had said, before leaving for the North, “that dinner you are attending is formal”.

“It’s not”.

“It is, look at the ticket.  It says ‘ball’, that means evening dress”.

Better to err on the side of caution.

“John, just a question on etiquette.  Is it black tie tonight?”

“It should be”.

“It doesn’t say on the ticket”.

“No, but it’s better to avoid weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

I’m glad we know the same bible stories.

I hope the dinner jacket is clean.

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