Dressing to the nines in New Orleans

New Orleanians like to dress up, discovers Kaye Holland

Last week I was in a restaurant in New Orleans (or N'Awlins as they say down south) when a local lady next to me beckoned her waitress over. After much polite whispering, the waitress showed the New Orleans native and her dining companion to a different table. Given that she had been sitting at what must have been one of the best seats in the house (a corner table by the big window that looked out onto the buzzy yet elegant Royal Street), I couldn't help but wonder: why had she voluntarily chosen to change tables?

I looked at the adjacent table - perhaps her neighbours had been particularly odious? But after a few minutes of studious ear dropping, I deduced them to be perfectly pleasant Californians who weren't in the least bit brash or braying.

While I gorged on gumbo (the quintessential Louisiana dish) I caught the New Orleans lady shoot a couple of glances at the Californian couple who were seemingly oblivious and, after polishing off a portion of bread pudding (a delicious New Orleans dessert), paid the cheque - as Americans are wont to refer to the 'bill' - and left.

Not long after I got up and made motions to do the same when the lady and her partner waved me over. Was I curious as to why they had sacrificed such a fantastic table, they asked? When I confessed that yes, I was just the tad bit perplexed, they revealed all.

It transpires that the New Orleans couple were affronted by what the Californian couple had worn to the upscale restaurant. "Eating out is an occasion in New Orleans," the lady - whose name was Amy - explained and ranks right up there with going to the theatre or opera. "We have a dress code," she continued "and I found it offensive that the Californian couple would show up on Saturday night at Antoine's [Antoine's, dear reader, is one of NOLA's most revered restaurants] in t-shirts and shorts. It was an insult to me, to Antoine's and to New Orleans so I had no choice but to change tables."

Was Amy's reaction a tad over the top? Absolutely. A little snobbish? Sure, but nonetheless I couldn't help nodding my head in agreement. I love that New Orleans residents still make the effort to dress up - be it for All Saints Day, Mardi Gras or a mid week dinner - and wish that, in the year of norm-core clothing, more of us would follow in New Orlean citizens' fashionable footsteps.

Furthermore Amy's overzealous response taught me two things. Firstly just because it is now sadly acceptable to wear flip flops to both to the beach and a bar, doesn't mean that should. Secondly when travelling we must all remember to show some respect and adhere to that old adage: when in Rome...