That is how formal dress codes work: they require the person who doesn’t have the right clothes either to turn up defiantly without them and stand out like a sore thumb, or to spend money buying or renting clothes in order to fit in, however awkwardly. Most would rather pay the financial rather than the social penalty.
Plenty of people who didn’t grow up in a world of balls and gowns gladly don evening dress when asked in order to integrate themselves into this elite world. Brown eventually put on the more formal white tie for a dinner with the Queen. In October, even Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK Labour Party, sacrificed some of his socialist firebrand credentials by turning up to a dinner at Buckingham Palace in white tie. I don’t blame either of them for conforming in unique circumstances. But to me, when others roll over and conform too easily, that means colluding with structures of exclusive privilege. The tie that binds is also a uniform that alienates many others.
Refusing to wear black tie isn’t simply a matter of asserting one’s own ‘authentic’ individuality against the pressure to subsume that identity within a group. It’s more complicated than that. Even in ordinary dress, people are judged because of their accents, their names or where they were educated. When we are made acutely aware of class and privilege, we are also made aware of how our own identities are not simply the product of our own free choices and will. We cannot escape our histories, especially in cultures where people are so finely attuned to the markers of class.