November 9, 2012 7:34 pm

Blue is the colour

What should be worn if not a smoking jacket? Guests settle for a dinner jacket, but worn with an open-neck shirt

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

My fellow columnist Moneypenny asked recently what exactly the dress code of “smoking jacket” entails. And what should be worn by her husband as he does not possess a smoking jacket. I will attempt to answer her cri de coeur.

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David Tang

Tommy Cooper said: “I sent my smoking jacket to the cleaners and got a blazer back!” For a while, in England at least, the practice was white tie for going out to dinner, black tie for dining in, and smoking jacket for wearing in front of the fire at home. Precisely because the smoking jacket was worn in one’s own house, one would never wear it elsewhere! Therefore the dress code of “smoking jacket” is a modern invention, seemingly favoured by some of the gentry who regard themselves as progressive by loosening the formality of the black tie that had hitherto been de rigueur. This trend has taken hold in the country, particularly at shooting dinners. At one such dinner only this week, the Duke of Marlborough told me that the smoking jacket worn “away” must only be in blue, and neither green nor burgundy, the other two usual colours. At that precise moment, in came a prince of the realm in a green smoking jacket! “Egad,” I said to His Grace! I am still wondering if he was right or the prince was wrong! All I know is that hardly anyone nowadays possesses a smoking jacket, as exemplified by Mr Moneypenny, who has the extra excuse of being Australian. So the tendency has been for sartorially impoverished guests to settle for a dinner jacket, but worn with an open-neck shirt to satisfy the intention of informality. If Mr Moneypenny were inclined to give his outfit a little edge, he might produce a flowing cravat underneath his open collar. He need not, however, feel too sensitive about an inadequate wardrobe. He is in good company. Samuel Pepys, in 1666, recorded in his diary that he couldn’t afford to buy a smoking jacket but rented one in order to have his portrait painted wearing one.

. . .

I enjoy your acid sarcasm and irony but allow me to set the record straight as far as Peruvian food goes. While I, like you, dislike cau cau, there are other wonderful examples of Peruvian dishes that could rival some of the greatest dishes in any cuisine; ceviche and tiraditos, causa, ají de gallina, saltado de lomo, arroz chifa, my favourite chupe – an extraordinary fish soup – and the aceituna de botija (probably the best olive in the world). So I think it is a little unfair to dismiss Peruvian food so lightly as you did in your recent Agony Uncle column.

I have received many emails, especially from Peruvians, accusing me of ignorance or chastising me for my declared lack of appetite for Peruvian cuisine. But why should you all be so sensitive? Why should any of us be disallowed to express our own taste in gastronomy, just as we express our opinions on almost everything else? Let’s be honest, when non-Peruvians say they “love” Peruvian food, they would never eat it as a staple diet. I love Indian curries and Moroccan tajine, but I wouldn’t eat them too often. It is unreasonable and illogical for any race to expect another race to eat their food in constant appreciation. So please, let’s be relaxed: we must be prepared to swallow our national pride over our own national cuisine. Martians flying over Canton in China would see my compatriots eating stewed dogs or fried cockroaches or monkeys’ brains, yet I wouldn’t blame them for thinking, erroneously, that Chinese food is disgusting!

. . .

Is it acceptable to hang in one’s home reproduction paintings of famous masterpieces such as Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” or Monet’s “Water Lilies”?

No, it most certainly is not. The worst is to hang anything resembling the kind of kitsch that one would find on sale on the railings of Bayswater Road or Piccadilly on a Sunday, brought up from the suburbs in a convoy of dirty and battered estate cars. Particularly nasty are all the cheap frames in which these unspeakable works of revulsion are found. Suburbanites and the likes should appreciate that a plain white wall would be much more acceptable than to have on it any insipid paintings, or worst of all, flying ducks stuck on in ascendency! If one were to be shameless, then at least stick on larks and have Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending playing in the room, which would at least be a bit of a lark!

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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