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These days, even palatial hotels will welcome guests who arrive wearing sweatpants. Flip-flops make their way into gilded dining rooms, and celebrities everywhere seem to turn up in whatever they darn well please. The sartorial travel world has come a long way since its glamorous heyday, or even since the 1960s, when the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel famously kicked out Mia Farrow for wearing trousers.
And yet a handful of high-end hotels around the world bravely maintain traditional dress standards. Not that these stately properties have been immune to change: Take the somewhat typical case of Ashford Castle. When the 350-acre estate (formerly owned by the Guinness family) became a luxury hotel in 1939, it had no dress code because it didn’t need one. “People dressed appropriately for every meal—basically suits for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” says Robert Bowe, veteran manager of Ashford Castle’s main restaurant, the George V Dining Room.
But when tourism picked up in the ’70s, sartorial standards slipped and the hotel started requiring men to wear a tie and jacket in all public areas after 7 p.m. By the ’80s, that requirement pertained to only the evening meal. Now casual dining options have sprung up all over the property—and even at the opulent George V, neckties are optional.
As a rule, dress codes at hotels and their restaurants are aimed at men, presumably on the assumption that their female counterparts either will respond accordingly or don’t need reminding. As Antonella Chiesa, director of marketing and PR for Italy’s preeminent summer resort, Villa d’Este, puts it: “No dress code for women. They are always elegant.”
From both a business and customer-relations standpoint, it is risky for a hotel to take a firm stance on what its guests can and can’t wear. But for those properties that do so, preserving a rarefied atmosphere takes precedence. “A dress code is a reflection of the sense of place here,” says Robert Conte, resident historian at West Virginia’s storied Greenbrier resort. “I mean, I wear blue jeans and ball caps—just not in a room with silk curtains and $30,000 chandeliers. It ruins the decor.”