Milan Fashion Week: Dressing for the Casino Through the Ages

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Perhaps the latest fashions on display in Milan will cause you to take a serious look at what to wear in a casino.

This week is the February/March Milan Fashion Week. Starting today the world’s most brilliant designers and beautiful runway models will converge upon the Italian city for six days to show us cutting-edge new designs. Act accordingly. If that isn’t enough motivation to ditch the torn sweatpants and soiled tank top and don something dignified then nothing is.

All of the fantastic and tastefully outrageous pieces have us obsessed with fashion. We got to thinking: what role has fashion played on the casino scene throughout the years? If you sit down at a blackjack table or American poker room today you are likely to see men smelling like a construction site and women still in their pajamas. But has it always been this way? The nostalgic in me wonders if things were difference once…

This piece will take a stroll through the ages, paying attention to what people wore when visiting the casino. For most of history, the answer lay somewhere closer to Milan Fashion Week than to the excessive casualty seen in most places today. But as you will find, there are still a few havens out there for the luxuriously inclined.

Las Vegas attire

Today, few Las Vegas casinos have dress codes. They are more concerned with making money than maintaining an aura of elegance. That doesn’t mean that you should show up looking like a homeless person. Shorts and flip flops will be accepted but frowned-upon. Men are advised to wear slacks and collared shirts. Women are advised to wear a dress or skirt and blouse. Come on, it’s Las Vegas, not a British internet casino. But these are informal guidelines, not rules. You can technically wear whatever you want, and many people do.

• Britain’s 1968 gambling law opened casinos to the public, and subsequently eroded fashion standards

• While many Las Vegas casinos have never had strict dress codes, it was once expected to dress up for the casino

• Casinos in Monaco still have require formal attire to enter

Once upon a time things were not so casual in Sin City. For one thing, women largely stayed out of casinos, primarily the domains of men. During the 1960s no self-respecting man would walk into a casino without wearing a jacket a tie. Women who did enter would don a dress and most likely curled hair. Some casinos had rigid dress codes; most only had informal guidelines. Whether required or not, dressing up to go to a casino was simply something that people did.

Recall the scene in the Martin Scorsese classic Casino where Robert De Niro’s character muses on the changes that Las Vegas has undergone over the years. The nostalgic image of men in tuxedos and women in luxurious ball gowns fades and is replaced by one of retirees in sun visors and khaki shorts. That pretty much sums it up.

The UK gets casual

Prior to a 1968 revision of British gambling laws the activity was only allowed in private member clubs. Most of these places had very strict dress codes. Tuxedo, bow-tie, dress shoes. In some, even a white tuxedo wasn’t classy enough to be let in. Either go black or go home. Most of the gambling scenes in the James Bond series feature our protagonist dressed to the nines and placing obscenely large bets in a private member club.

Things changed a lot in that fateful year. The new law legalized commercial casinos open to the public at large. Opening the doors to more people eroded the high fashion standards which exclusivity allowed. We can see a parallel to what happened in Vegas, but on a much grander scale. Casinos became casual almost overnight. The trend kept going. By now, the days of the black tuxedo and bow-tie are long forgotten. Like in casinos across the pond, you can pretty much wear whatever you want.

Time stopped in Monaco

If you took the Milan fashion week to heart and want to visit a casino that takes attire seriously, give Monaco a shot. The famous Mediterranean principality represents everything that Las Vegas and the UK should be. The casinos here have maintained the strict dress codes of days of yore, which stretch long before anyone had ever heard of Las Vegas.

Take the Grand Casino Monaco for example. Men must wear a tie, jacket and dress shoes or will be politely stopped at the door. The Casino De Monte Carlo also has a strict dress code; no exceptions under any circumstances. Of course, these are not ordinary casinos, even by the highest standards of Las Vegas or Macau. Billionaires from across the globe can be seen handing chauffeurs the keys to Rolls-Royces before entering in style. If you can’t handle that, you can always play online poker in Monaco.

Monaco is a throwback to the old pre-Vegas days, when resort casinos were reserved for the rich and famous, and everybody else could pack into the sweaty neighborhood card room. In 1796 it established itself as Europe’s “legal location” for gambling. From the 19th century to today it has been the preferred destination of celebrities like the Baron de Rothschild and Alexandre Dumas.

Put a little bit of Milan back in the casino

As we’ve seen, the general casino experience does not put much emphasis on fashion these days. Casinos in Vegas and the UK have become much more casual than in decades past. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t turn heads by showing up dressed to impress. Feel free to let Milan Fashion Week rub off on you the next time you go for a night out at the casino. And for the true high-rollers, Monaco casinos still have the uncompromisingly strict dress codes they’ve always had.

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