Suitless in Soho Blame the Bankers! At My Club Downtown, Suits and Ties Are Banned

The young receptionist at the front door of my downtown club, a trendy London import I’m not supposed to name or else I could lose my membership, looked us up and down and grimaced.  She said suits were not appropriate and that we should at least remove our ties. 

“Club policy,” she said. “It’s about a relaxed ambience.”

Suddenly, we were feeling anything but relaxed. I inflated like a puffer fish.

“Are you kidding?” I sputtered.

“It’s what the management wants,” she said. 

I paid no attention last spring when the new no-tie rule appeared in a club memo to discourage bankers and lawyers and “to stay true to our creative roots.” But when you’re with creative people who are dressed up and get such a harsh dressing down, it gets your attention. Did I have to explain that we weren’t bankers, but innocent publishing folk coming from a benefit for poets and authors?

I get why bankers are unpopular, especially in the wake of the economic crisis. But does a tie alone signify you’re unpleasant and uninteresting? And isn’t there something to be said for a diversity of looks in any bar or restaurant?

In Williamsburg, you see plenty of skinny ties and V-neck sweaters. Thom Browne is doing gangbusters with little suits and ties. Pee Wee and his bow tie are back. And, according to last Thursday’s Styles section, wing tips are hot and trendy, too. “People are dressing up again,” says stylist Stefan Campbell, soon to be seen as an arbiter on The Fashion Show on Bravo. “And the hipsters have taken back the tie.”

Go for it, kids. But then again, formality appeals to me–from thank-you notes to school uniforms and seated dinners. When the White House barred a visiting boy last month (whose grandfather was a war hero) because he was in shorts and a T-shirt, it made sense. Sorry, son, we’re talking about the White House, not Six Flags.

Imposing the right kind of standards is exactly what makes a place feel special. Perhaps that’s why the Harvard Club decided against allowing Eliot Spitzer to join last month. And that’s why most uptown clubs ban jeans and will put you in a jacket and tie from their supply if you aren’t wearing your own. The Bel-Air country club in Los Angeles forbids wearing backward baseball caps. San Francisco’s Union Club forbids working or even reading about business. At New York’s Union Club, two people told me to go to the booth in the coat room to use my phone, instead of using it in the foyer. 

“The members don’t want to see you doing business here,” a front door attendant told me. “Just turn off the phone, get off the computer and you’re home.”

Good for them, I thought.

In fact, one of the things I loved about my club when it opened was the no-cell-phone rule. Too bad it’s not the rule they were enforcing the night we showed up.

We refused to ditch our jackets and ties. And we went upstairs to the lounge and managed to have a relaxing evening even though we weren’t in T-shirts and sneakers. Imagine! If they want to keep the bankers out, they should do it during the application process, not at the door. Besides, so many creative icons, including Spike Jonze, the director; Gilbert and George, the conceptual artists; and Ozwald Boateng, the fashion designer, wear suits as their uniforms. 

But I guess they aren’t welcome. Perhaps they can go down the street to the Standard. The guest list for the rooftop bar there may be tough, but as far as I know, suits and ties are still welcome.

The Standard has its own standards. But none of them require that you look like a slob.

Suitless in Soho Blame the Bankers! At My Club Downtown, Suits and Ties Are Banned