Dress Code and Etiquette

The City of London is a historic place with many traditions. Although the business of the City has changed dramatically over the years, losing much of its trade but leading the world in financial services, this is within the framework of gracious and elegant traditions. These can sometimes be confusing and opaque if one is not familiar with them and awkward if accidentally transgressed.

The notes that follow are for the guidance of new Freemen and Liverymen or for Guests who have little or no experience of formal dining in the City and are based on long-held City traditions. It is hoped that these will help to make all such events enjoyable for all who take part and especially for the Guests of the Company.

It is the Court’s wish that these be adhered to and it is hoped that this will not stifle enjoyment but add to it by making sure that all who attend our functions understand and abide by the same etiquette. All are based on courtesy and consideration for others.

The Company has eight main events each year. The most formal, when we entertain the Lord Mayor and other dignitaries, is the Installation Banquet held in Mansion House and for this the dress is evening dress (white tie), which is mandatory for the Officers and recommended for the Court and for Liverymen and their Guests. However, dinner jacket (black tie) is acceptable. The Ladies’ Banquet dress code is Dinner Jacket (black tie), as is the Livery Dinner. For all five Court Lunches, including the Military Awards Luncheon the dress is smart Business Suits with Company Tie. A more detailed dress code follows below.

The definition of a formal event is one where official invitations are sent out specifying a specific dress code, a formal table plan, and where there are toasts (The Loyal, Royal and City toasts). All of the above eight annual events fall into this category.

The basic requirements for those attending are as follows;

  • The proceedings are announced by the Toastmaster (normally our Beadle) on the instructions of the Master or the Clerk. Everybody will take their seats as soon as the meal is announced and according to the table plan. Any delay keeps the procession of the Master, Deputy Master, Wardens and Official Guests waiting.
  • The Master is the first to start eating each course.
  • Only the catering staff serves food and wine; guests should not help themselves other than for Port, which is always passed to the left.
  • The silver and other decorations on the tables should never be touched or moved.
  • If there is Sung Grace then those who do not wish to take part should stand in silence.
  • During the National Anthem, whether played or sung, all should stand erect and unmoving.
  • No one should leave their place until the Master and Official Guests process out.(See exceptions below.)
  • Silence should be observed during speeches, presentations and during any entertainment.
  • Mobile phones and all electronic devices must be SWITCHED OFF.
  • At all events the Master should be referred to as ‘Master’ rather than by name; however familiar one is with him or her.

Whilst the Master is at Table it is not permitted to leave your seat unless in exceptional situations for example due to sickness or when a guest must leave to visit the lavatory. It is understood that this will occasionally be necessary, but on the very odd occasion when someone must leave the table it should be;

  • As discreetly as possible, and if essential during the serving of coffee and by the shortest possible route. The return should be as soon as possible and by the same route BUT should never be during a speech.
  • Under no circumstances should the route take them behind the top table.
  • It is not acceptable to stop off to engage in conversation with other diners.

Only the official photographer is allowed to take photographs at Mansion House. The Master may, in exceptional circumstances such as at presentations or the Installation, permit other individuals to take photographs but this would normally be after and not during dinner. Certain Livery Halls require prior permission to be obtained.

Mobile telephones and similar electronic devices must be SWITCHED OFF, (not in silent or vibrate mode), during the meal. It is rude to the Master and the Official Guests, Other Liverymen and their Guests to be engaged with such devices, even if it is silent and only messages are being read. The implication to others is that their company is less important or interesting than the immediate information being read. Mobile phones should not be used to take any photographs or videos.

Dress Code for Company and other City Events

1. Evening Dress

This is the recommended dress for the Annual Banquet at Mansion House. It is also known as ‘white tie’.  For gentlemen it consists of a black cutaway tailcoat, matching trousers, black shoes, white waistcoat, white evening shirt with winged collar, and white bow tie.  Decorations are normally worn. FORMAL Highland Dress is acceptable but must be worn with a black tie.

2. Dinner Jacket

This is the normal dress for the Ladies’ Banquet and Livery Dinner. It is also known as ‘black tie’. For gentlemen it consists of a black dinner suit, black shoes, white evening shirt and black bow tie. Cummerbands are not worn. Decorations are not normally worn. Note: no other colours are normally seen in the City, and Mansion House has a policy, which reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone not conforming to the above. FORMAL Highland Dress is acceptable but must be worn with a black tie.

3. Business Dress

This is the normal dress for all events where formal dress as above (or Morning Dress) is not specified. For gentlemen it consists of a dark suit and black shoes.  A Company tie is usually worn.

4. Morning Dress

This is occasionally requested especially if royalty are to be present. For gentlemen it consists of a black morning coat and matching black waistcoat, striped trousers, black shoes, a white shirt (or pale coloured shirt with a white collar), Livery tie. The invitation will specify if decorations are to be worn. Note; grey or coloured waistcoats are not worn in the City.

5. Ladies

The rules for ladies are less prescriptive but ladies are generally urged to err on the side of caution and be conservative at all Livery events.

For functions denominated Evening Dress or White Tie, which is our Mansion House Banquet or Dinner Jacket or Black Tie, which is our Ladies Banquet and our Livery Dinner ladies should wear a long dress; shoulders should be covered and the neckline must be modest.

For Court Lunches ladies business suits or dresses or skirts may be worn but should be of a modest length defined as falling at or below the knee. Trousers are also acceptable

6.  Badges of Office

The Master, Deputy Master, Wardens, Past Masters, Court Assistants, Almoner and Clerk will always wear their badge of office (including the Master’s Chain when Gowned) when attending a Company function.  Liverymen will wear their Livery Badge on their right lapel. Wearing of badges at other Livery and City events is in accordance with the invitation.