Illustrious guests in Westminster Abbey on Friday will include two Most Reverends, one Venerable, one Lady Mayoress - and Elton John. Fine for them, they've all got their costumes sorted.
It is the poor schmo with neither surplice nor tiara in her closet who needs to worry about how to dress for the occasion.
I am such a schmo.
Of course, I'm honoured to be the only Canadian journalist in Westminster Abbey. Prince William had apparently asked for an invitation to be extended to a journalist from each of the three realms he's visited in an official capacity: Canada; Australia; and New Zealand.
My name was submitted by London's Foreign Press Association, and I got the nod from the obliging folks at Clarence House. I will be sitting with the Aussie, the Kiwi, and a bunch of British journalists who all know how to pronounce "Cholmondeley."
Henceforth, due to my exalted status, I would prefer to be addressed as "The Honourable Ms. Schmo."
"Dress code:" reads the note from Clarence House. "Morning Suit or Lounge Suit and Day dress for Ladies with hat."
One part of that was easy: The last time I checked, I fulfilled (most of) the qualifications for Lady. The other bit was not so easy. I knew, having once been invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace, that "day dress" is a minefield, a veritable Ypres of hidden social clues visible only to the eye of someone with a hyphenated last name.
In essence, "day dress" means no cleavage, no miniskirt, no bare shoulders. Sleeves are a must. Spandex is less welcome than the Duchess of York. Smart suits are acceptable, but I possess no such item because it's not 1964 and I'm not Joan Holloway (except in my dreams). In addition, white is a no-no and black - well, my grandmother would die if I wore black to a wedding. Although she already has passed to the great sofa in the sky, I thought it best to stick to her rules.
Sofa! That's what I needed. Something chintz and floral. How much easier is it for men, who can wear their military uniforms, a morning suit - i.e. tails and a top hat - or a nice business suit. (And who, thanks to the doggedness of gender stereotypes, are seldom asked to write about their clothing choices.)
But it turns out they're tripped up by invisible social signifiers, too: Prime Minister David Cameron had originally said that he would opt for the more casual business suit at the wedding, perhaps hoping his pleb camouflage would finally convince people that he understands the working stiff's plight. Realizing that this man-of-the-people ruse was visible from the moon, he changed tack and said he would, after all, wear the toff-tastic waistcoat, top hat and tails. You can bet he owns at least one morning suit, unlike Labour Leader "Red Ed" Miliband, who has also said he'll wear a morning suit - but his will be rented for the day.
You could spend a lifetime deciphering these clues.
Apparently Victoria Beckham has been dithering for weeks over what to wear to the wedding; Kate Middleton's dilemma has been even more prolonged. I had the luxury of approximately three hours' browsing in Selfridges, but with the secret weapon of my sister-in-law, a professor of economics, who is so laser-guided in her shopping focus that she makes a cruise missile seem lazy.
Fifteen dresses later, we'd rejected each one: Too Charo. Too Roseanne. Too RuPaul. Had all the "day dresses" in London been snapped up by women named Tiggy and Celerie?
No, they were probably wearing their mothers' dresses from Princess Margaret's wedding and would look soigné even if covered in Labrador hair. Finally I hit the motherlode: A soft, draped grey dress that almost reached my knees. Fine for a demi-Lady.
As to the accessories, both the BBC and Debrett's informed me that gloves and hat were advisable, but not de rigueur. In fact, says Debrett's guide to wedding etiquette, "It is notoriously difficult to socially kiss while wearing a wide-brimmed hat." However, since necking with some Bulgarian prince is not on my itinerary, I sought a proper hat: The last time I was hanging with my pals the royals, at the Queen's garden party, I ended up running into three women wearing the same fascinator. Let's put it this way: We all had a lot of Marks & Spencer bags at home.
The woman in the hat department was astonishing in her precision, the Muhammad Ali of millinery. "Try that one," she barked, pointing to a silvery hat adorned with a Calder mobile of black feathers. I would never have chosen it, but she was right.
It was only when I got home that I noticed what was printed on the hat band: "Do not wear in the rain." In other words, it's a hat made in England entirely unsuited for use in that country. But it will never rain on a princess's parade. Right?