Going casual? Join the club

First Posted: 9/27/2013

Chalk this one up to another sign of casual times.

After 140 years, the formal attire of jacket and tie are no longer required in the first-floor dining room at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre.

The change at the private club on South Franklin Street follows the relaxation of the dress code in the upstairs dining room more than a decade ago.

The changes also are part of a growing national trend among private clubs, one of the last bastions of formal dress.

Westmoreland Club General Manager Robert Williams said relaxation of the formal-attire rule for the first-floor dining room went into effect on Sept. 23 and follows the move to business casual in the second-floor dining room in 2002. That changed a policy that had been in place since the club first formed as the “Malt Club” in 1873.

The club describes business casual as collared shirts tucked into tailored slacks and appropriate shoes for men; tailored slacks, skirts, blouses or comparable attire for women.

Williams said the most recent change was not “earth-shattering.”

“Very few members used the formal dining room on the first floor,” he said.

With the policy change, formal attire is required only at some Westmoreland events.

The club’s board based the new policy on a member survey, Williams said.

“Some of our members don’t wear a jacket and tie to work, but those that do prefer business casual (when they come to the club),” he said.

The change to casual attire in the club follows a trend at affiliate private clubs in other parts of the country. Williams cited The Hamilton Club of Lancaster and The Union League of Philadelphia as well as private clubs in Boston as examples.

Because he has been in the job for just 17 months, Hamilton Club General Manager Tom Foutch said, he could not speak to the club’s change to business casual at least a decade ago. But he could speak to the growing trend he saw over the 20 years he worked as a consultant to private clubs around the country. He saw more clubs relaxing their dress codes to allow business casual in most cases.

He said thinks there are “a number of reasons for it.”

One reason is society in general is becoming more casual.

“The business environment has become more casual,” he said. “There used to be casual Fridays; now a number of businesses are casual (every day). They don’t want to go home and put on a coat and tie to go to the club.”

Members want a more casual atmosphere. But private clubs still are trying to maintain higher standards by requiring formal attire in some instances.

“Back in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, the largest dining room in most clubs was the formal dining room,” Foutch said. “That’s no longer the case.”

He said it’s a case of simple economics for private clubs to respond to their market while trying to maintain higher standards.

At The Union League of Philadelphia, club policy still requires a jacket for dining, said Patricia Tobin, assistant general manager.

“We do relax the dress code for summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” she said. “But it’s still jacket required in the dining rooms. There’s been some times where it’s come up for a vote, but members have decided to keep it the same.”

Williams, of Westmoreland, noted he attended three receptions a few weeks ago at three private clubs in Boston — Harvard Club of Boston, The Union Club of Boston and Chilton Club — and the attire was business casual at all three.

Members of the Westmoreland Club have access to more than 100 private clubs in this and other countries for meetings, a meal or overnight stays, according to the club’s website. The Westmoreland is affiliated with clubs in 30 states plus Canada, China, France, England, Scotland, South Africa and Spain.