August 9, 2012
A dress code at a restaurant? Here? Huh?

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I recently dined at a restaurant that does something very unusual - it informs people when they call to make a reservation that they are expected to dress appropriately for dinner - and that does not mean men showing up in shorts and flip-flops.

This led me to wonder: where have all the dress codes gone? Are they a relic of a bygone era? Do we have any standards for evening attire these days? Does it matter?

In Sacramento and throughout much of Northern California, the answer is simple: there are no standards. Sure, the French Laundry (in Yountville) still requires men to wear jackets, but there aren't many places like that left. More often than not, anything goes, including baseball caps in white-tablecloth restaurants.

Men, especially, have been dressing down more and more for dinner. The gender divide may be growing, too. If there is a disparity gender-wise, women tend to dress more appropriately for the occasion. These days, it is very common to see a woman in a stylish dress accompanied by a man in jeans and a T-shirt.

Since I feel like I'm in the minority on this topic, I wanted to consult with an expert. So I called Ryan Douglas Hammonds, the 32-year-old owner of R. Douglas Custom Clothier, which makes and hand-delivers custom suits, blazers, slacks and shirts for men. He recently introduced a line of men's dress shoes. Check out the company's website here. His clothes look great.

Hammonds thinks the overly casual trend for men is fading and that more and more men are paying attention to what they wear. When I asked what he sees at Sacramento restaurants, his reply made me think we still have a long way to go.

"It is troubling to see," Hammonds said of men in shorts and T-shirts at places like Biba and The Firehouse. "A lot of them are blaming the economy and this or that, but the truth is I just think they're lazy."

But there's hope, he says. When it comes to dressing up for dinner, we've hit bottom and are bouncing back.

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"I think there is a shift. Dressing up is becoming more appealing to men," Hammonds said. "I am in the custom clothing business, so my clients look forward to getting dressed up - and going out to eat is an excuse to get dressed up."

People will argue that they should be able to wear what they think is comfortable, that they are free to be as casual as they wish. Maybe.

But wearing cargo shorts and an un-tucked dress shirt to a mid-level to upper-level restaurant may have unintended consequences. For one thing, it shows a lack of respect to the restaurant and its staff. If your waiter is dressed better than you are, that's a sign you may want to rethink your attire. It also can be disrespectful to guests who are out for a special occasion, only to be seated at a table next to a guy wearing his Jerry Rice jersey.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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