For those unfamiliar with the Jeeves and Wooster stories (and subsequent British television adaptation), they feature Bertie Wooster, a junior member of the idle rich in the 1920s and ’30s who has to be continually extricated from societal misadventures by his improbably wise valet Jeeves. In the 1938 novel The Code of the Woosters Bertie is anxious about a potentially awkward encounter at an upcoming dinner and his trusted manservant suggests a refined method for calming one’s nerves:
‘If I might suggest, sir – it is, of course, merely a palliative – but it has often been found in times of despondency that the assumption of formal evening dress has a stimulating effect on the morale.’
‘You think I ought to put on a white tie? Spode told me black.’
‘I consider that the emergency justifies the departure, sir.’
‘Perhaps you’re right.’
And, of course, he was. In these delicate matters of psychology he never errs. I got into the full soup and fish, and was immediately conscious of a marked improvement. The feet became warmer, a sparkle returned to the lack-lustre eyes, and the soul seemed to expand as if someone had got to work on it with a bicycle pump.
Note that Jeeves specifically recommends full dress. Apparently a dinner jacket is too ordinary to do the trick.
Thanks to reader A.S. Moncrieff for suggesting this post.