Fashion etiquette. There's a contradiction in terms. Fashion refers to what's trendy; etiquette to what's traditional. As much as we like to disagree with the role etiquette plays in terms of style and taste, and how we love to prattle on about how much we have progressed beyond the days of dressing for dinner, we are less progressive than we think we are.
Can one wear stockings with sandals? What about wearing white to a wedding or keeping our hats on inside? Well, yes of course we can;z we can do pretty much exactly what we wish (to a point). The problem is we would end up feeling slightly silly. Nylon tights of course (when worn with open-toed sandals) will look utterly bizarre, while wearing white to a wedding will only make us appear slightly desperate. Keeping our hats on inside (unless you are Jay-Z) is quite frankly rather rude.
Who says? If you were to ask an etiquette expert how these rules came to be, chances are she won't be able to explain it. It's like holding cutlery correctly - it shouldn't be important but it just is.
Let's start with the don'ts. When it comes to pairing colours, beware of mixing two colours of the same tone. That is not to say that mixing red and pink together or orange and yellow is wrong; in fact, it is often the slightly jarring pairing of colours that make an outfit interesting - think Miuccia Prada. Wear what combination is kind on the eye, but never try to pass off two shades of the same colour in the same fabric (like green-black and blue-black).
Tights with sandals, unless you are making a fashion-forward statement with coloured tights, is just not done. Nor should your skirt ever be longer than your coat; the idea of a skirt dangling out of a coat only symbolises a post-war austerity that we were more than happy to pass over. Your skirt and coat length must be in harmony to create a streamlined silhouette.
For once, men don't have an easy ride, either. Unlike in womanswear, men should always match their belt with their shoes. This is a good rule to follow, and should set the tone of the rest of the outfit - dark brown or a rich tan is a good starting point. Most of the serious rules apply when it comes to black tie, which confusingly means quite the opposite. Men, ensure you wear a dinner jacket shirt with vertical pleats and French cuffs, and make sure to stick to a black cummerbund; anything else will only appear costumey. The same goes for cufflinks; there is nothing more disappointing than "ironic style" in a man.
Know what is acceptable and standard, and learn that to be underdressed is a whole lot worse than to be overdressed. At least with the latter you can pretend to be a non-conformist.
The familiar dark suit and tie is the standard professional attire. However, don't be afraid to experiment; you have the freedom to choose, such as which colour you wear with which suit or which tie will go with that shirt. Try changing your style of tie: there are solid-coloured ties, patterned ties, thin ties and varying degrees of texture.
"Off-duty" is not to be feared, it's simply about loosening standard tailoring ideals : patches, pockets, or a finish that falls somewhere between rumpled and wrinkled is a modern outlook. And don't be afraid to mix patterns - even horizontal and vertical stripes. As long as everything is done in moderation, it won't cause a fuss.
When it comes to etiquette, your outfit should command a respectful golf clap of admiration; anything with too many oohs or aahs needs to be re-evaluated.
This week's highs and lows
SLEEK FEET Giuseppe Zanotti's designs for men are so chic they make us envious we can't get them in our size.
ALWAYS A BRAG Little Miss Perfect, Jessica Alba, says her previously poor fashion taste was because she was "being objectified" by her role in Dark Angel, which prevented her from looking "chic and elegant". It's sad when you can't own up to your mistakes.
GREAT SHADES Lanvin's square cream sunglasses are perfect for protecting our eyes from the summer sun.
SUMMER PRESSURE The hot months are already here, and with colleagues and friends boasting about their vacation plans, the pressure is on to make our own.
NEW BREED Super hot brands such as Marni, Kenzo and Nicholas Kirkwood will soon be available at Net-a-Porter. As if we needed more of a reason to shop on the website.