Morning Dress: Formal Day Wear

When a Suit Won’t Do (and a Tuxedo Shouldn’t)

Many North Americans visit this site for guidance in assembling a traditional black-tie ensemble for their afternoon wedding only to discover that such attire is inappropriate for daytime functions.  This comes as a disappointing shock to fiancé(e)s who have been conditioned to believe that no wedding is truly formal unless the groomsmen are clad in tuxedos.  However, our British cousins know better.  


Like most formalwear etiquette, the proscription against donning evening wear during the day is not simply an arbitrary custom but a matter of aesthetic logic.  The tuxedo and tailcoat take their black color from their after-dark surroundings and in this context they imbue their wearer with elegance, power and even an air of mystery.  When worn in broad daylight, however, black suits look dull and lifeless and tend to make (Caucasian) men’s faces appear ashen which is what makes them so appropriate for traditional funeral director attire. 


Conversely, while formal day coats are also usually black they are typically the only occurrence of ebony in morning dress (the traditional term for formal day wear).  Their somberness is offset by non-matching gray trousers – which are themselves enlivened with striped or checked patterns – and by the addition of tastefully colored ties, waistcoats and even shirts.  The end result is an ensemble immensely more suitable for daylight and delightfully more open to personalization than a tuxedo is, yet at the same time significantly more formal than a regular suit.  It is no wonder this genteel tradition remains commonplace in Britain and at the same time perplexing that it became highjacked in America. 


Basic Etiquette

Generally, morning dress is meant for formal affairs held in the morning or afternoon.  Special considerations for weddings that begin in the afternoon and continue into the evening can be found in the Formal Evening Weddings page.

Formal Morning Dress

As with evening dress, there are two categories of formal day dress.  The most formal version is by far the most popular and features a type of tailcoat known as a cutaway (morning coat in UK).  In Britain it is worn by grooms, groomsmen and guests at formal church weddings and for formal daytime events in the presence of The Queen such as Royal Ascot and Trooping the Colour. 


In America its appearance is largely limited to formal weddings prior to 6 o'clock and even then is extremely rare – although perfectly correct.

1. coat
 (cutaway / morning coat)


    · black is most formal
    · dark gray ("charcoal" or "oxford" gray) is also acceptable
flannel or worsted wool, plain or herringbone pattern

single-breasted, closing with one button (traditionally a link front)

curved cutaway front with tails that fall behind the knees

peaked lapels

welt breast pocket only (no waist pockets)


2. trousers


    · black-striped dark gray material is most formal

    · gray houndstooth or herringbone is a less formal alternate

       (some authorities recommend these with gray coats)

cut for suspenders (high enough rise for waistband to be covered by the relatively short waistcoat)

one pleat down center of leg is traditional

no cuffs


3. waistcoat

color can be:

    · light gray ("dove" or "pearl" gray)

    · creamy yellow ("buff")

    · black (although Debrett's says it is now only for mourning and

       certain daytime London functions)

    · pale colors as an alternative

model can be:

    · single-breasted with or without lapels

    · double-breasted usually with lapels

white slips are optional (a piece of white cloth attached underneath each rever that creates the impression of an under-waistcoat)


4. shirt

turndown collar shirt is preferred:

    · white collar, preferably the stiff detachable kind

    · white or pale color body (cream, blue, pink, white with blue


    · French cuffs
wing collar shirt although very formal is old-fashioned and acceptable only under the following specific conditionsand even then some authorities still consider it "quite inappropriate" for weddings:

    · collar must be the high, stiff, detachable variety

    · must be worn with dress ascot 

    · white fabric

    · can only be worn with black coat


5. neckwear


    · four-in-hand tie with turndown collar

    · self-tie dress ascot (aka plastron, or dress cravat in the UK)

      with wing collar; not to be confused with informal day cravat

      (see sidebar)


    · pale gray or silver in subtle patterns such as houndstooth or

       Macclesfield are most traditional, especially for groomsmen

    · pastel colors are acceptable alternative


6.  footwear   

well-polished black lace-ups, capped or plain toes
black button boots with cloth tops are old-fashioned alternative
black silk or cashmere hose is traditional, other fine fabric is acceptable  


7. accessories


optional pocket watch and chain

single flower such as rose or carnation for wedding boutonnieres

Debrett's suggests pale yellow chamois gloves with black coat, gray suede with gray coat; usually carried

optional white linen pocket square

optional walking stick or, preferably, tightly rolled umbrella



optional top hat (obligatory at Royal Ascot):

    · black silk is smarter and more formal but very hard to come by

    · gray felt with black band

Morning Suit

In Britain the morning suit is a less formal version of morning dress appropriate for races and summer weddings.  This suit differs from formal morning dress only in that the cutaway, trousers and waistcoat are constructed from the same light or mid-gray material.  Note that the term is often used as a synonym for morning dress although technically this is incorrect as only a jacket and trouser of matching fabric are by definition a "suit".  (The word is derived from the French suite which means “to follow” as in the trouser fabric following the precedent of the coat fabric.)


The morning suit is not worn in countries outside of the UK.

Semi-Formal Morning Dress

Just as the suit-like dinner jacket was an informal replacement for the evening tailcoat, the suit-like stroller (black lounge in UK) rose to popularity on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1920s as a less formal replacement for the morning tailcoat.  But whereas the dinner jacket eventually supplanted the tailcoat as formal evening attire, the stroller faded into obscurity after World War Two leaving the morning coat as standard formal day wear.  Although rarely seen today this alternative remains equally acceptable, and arguably more much more versatile.

1. jacket (stroller /
black lounge)

suit-like jacket in same colors as morning coat

single- or double-breasted, single with one, two or three buttons

usually peaked lapels but notch acceptable

no vent or two side vents

besom pockets


2. trousers

as per formal morning dress although there is more latitude for informal patterns


3. waistcoat
as per formal morning dress


4. shirt

as per formal turndown collar shirt although detachable collar is not as important


5. neckwear
as per formal four-in-hand ties


6.  footwear   
as per formal morning dress


7. accessories

as per formal morning dress


8. outerwear

optional black homburg or bowler


sources: The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style, Emily Post's Etiquette (2004 edition), A Well-Dressed Gentleman’s Pocket Guide, Debrett's A-Z of Modern Manners, Men’s Style: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Dress, History of Men’s Fashion: What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing, Mr. Jones’s Rules and The Indispensible Guide to Classic Men's Clothing.