Kennedy Center orders white-tie for ‘Nordic Cool’ dinner — but will anyone wear it?

February 15, 2013

George W. Bush and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II arrive on the North Portico of the White House for a formal white-tie state dinner May 7, 2007 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Kennedy Center is trying something it hasn’t done for 13 years: a white-tie dinner. Question is: Who will comply?

To open its “Nordic Cool” festival, the center is hosting a gala Tuesday modeled after Nobel prize dinners: trumpet fanfares, guests at long king’s tables, dress code of “white tie and decorations optional,” just like in Stockholm.

That “optional” should make things interesting. The center’s chairman David Rubenstein and president Michael Kaiser have vowed to don the uber-formal look, as will the ambassadors of Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland and Norway. But white tie and tails are disappearing at even the fanciest Washington events. Most men on the social scene own a tuxedo but only a handful have the cotton piqué shirt, tie, and waistcoat on hand. Plus, it’s less comfortable than a tux: George W. Bush (who didn’t like formal anything) had to be coaxed by his wife and Condi Rice into wearing tails at a 2007 state dinner for Queen Elizabeth II

The last reliably white-tie enclave? The annual Gridiron dinner, where old newspaper types and pols are required to wear tails. Except, of course, when they don’t.

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