The late 18th century daytime formal attire of morning dress consists of a morning coat, waistcoat, and striped trousers. This style of dress was fashionable until around 1910 and today is largely reserved for weddings, the races, or governmental or royal functions. This form of dress originates from the tradition of gentlemen riding horses in the morning - the cutaway front of the morning coat allowing ease of movement when on horseback. The riding coat that preceded the morning coat finished at the knee and was cumbersome when riding so tailors began to cut them shorter for convenience. The two buttons at the back of morning coats originally allowed the wearer to open the front quarters of the skirt of their jacket and keep it in place while riding.
The morning coat is the test of a tailor’s abilities. The aim is to achieve a beautifully sculpted back that follows the curves and hollows of the body to flatter the wearer. A horizontal seam at the waist and three seams at the back are key to attaining the perfect line. While a poorly fitting morning coat can look untidy, one that is well cut can look stylish and contemporary.
How to wear morning dress
Although a morning coat is most often worn with striped trousers, those cut from a matching cloth can also be worn – creating a morning suit – but this is considered slightly less formal. According to English tradition, for weddings only the groom, the father of the groom, or a Viscount may wear a matching morning suit. Morning coats are traditionally cut from worsted wool or flannel in black or grey herringbone or plain designs; when a fully matching grey suit is worn it is referred to as Morning Grey instead of a morning suit. Morning Greys are most commonly seen at Royal Ascot. Wearing a matching black morning suit is most appropriate for funerals.
Trousers worn as part of morning dress should not have cuffs and should be worn with braces, never a belt. Braces pull on the trouser legs, improving the line of the drape and creating an elongated effect – especially on striped fabrics. Trousers should be worn high enough so that the waistcoat covers the waistband and braces. Traditionally, shirts are usually white, with a collar that is long enough that the edges rest just underneath the waistcoat.
Key accessories for morning dress include a fresh carnation boutonnière (preferably white) in the buttonhole of the morning coat lapel, and a white linen handkerchief in the chest pocket. A four-in-hand knotted tie in a discreet silk in a subtly patterned grey is most commonly worn, and you might consider wearing a tie pin for the finishing touch. A top hat is obligatory for Ascot but optional for weddings.
Of course, rules are made to be bent and broken, and your personal preferences are most important – especially when dressing for your wedding day.