Dress codes can be daunting for men. They are usually enforced to set expectations and avoid any potential embarrassment on the day. While dress codes are not completely static, they set limits in terms of the acceptable level of formality for the occasion. It’s up to you to adapt your own style to these codes through different accessories, design, fabrics, colours and patterns.
Men’s dress codes apply to a range of occasions. Many might think about a work/office dress code, work events, such as award ceremonies or perhaps social events, such as weddings and parties. It can be tricky to decipher the two-word explanation, commonly referred to as a dress code.
This guide will show you the expected attire to wear for different dress codes, including, black tie, white tie, business formal, smart casual, sport casual and advice when there is an optional dress code, or even no dress code at all.
The white tie dress code is the most formal of all. This dress code was historically referred to as formal attire, a phrase which has become more commonly synonymous with business. That however is not the case.
White tie events are generally restricted to diplomatic events and high society. This isn’t simply a tuxedo and bow tie affair, expectation is higher still. The definition of white tie can vary depending on the time of day.
Formal day dress (or Morning Dress) should consist of a top hat, a black or grey morning coat and tails, mid grey or beige waistcoat, matching grey trousers (black stripe acceptable) with a tie or cravat and well-polished, patent black shoes.
For the evening, you should be wearing a black tailcoat with matching black trousers, a white winged collar shirt and bow tie, with white waistcoat, once again, with well-polished black shoes.
It’s unlikely that you’ll have this level of dress in your wardrobe, so you’ll likely require a reputable hire shop. If you have been invited to an event with formal dress code, it would be worth clarifying what level is required, as unless you have friends in high places, it’s unlikely to be white tie!
With such a strict code, there is little room for manoeuvre to add your own personal touch.
Business awards, ceremonies, weddings and cocktail receptions are where black tie is traditionally worn. While not as strict nor formal as white tie, this is still at the sophisticated end of the dress scale. The minimum expectation is to be in a dinner suit / tuxedo but allows a little more freedom in terms of colour and accessories.
Black tie is often associated with tuxedos and dinner jackets, depending where you’re from. Think James Bond and you’re pretty much there. A plain black suit is simply not enough. The jacket of a tuxedo differs as it has a contrasting lapel.
Traditionally, a bow tie is worn but a tieless approach is sometimes worn in more modern times. It’s probably worth rolling with a bow tie and you can remove it if the moment arises. Be sure to wear a winged collar.
A black dinner suit is the safe option, matched with a white shirt and bow tie and black oxford or patent shoes. You can add a little bit of colour through the bow tie, pocket handkerchief and cummerbund but be sure to make sure the colours match. Midnight blue is a good alternative colour for the tuxedo. Avoid white unless you’re sure you can pull it off.
Black tie can sometimes be called Eveningwear / Evening Dress. Cocktail attire is occasionally used, albeit incorrectly. If you’re unsure, once again, speak to your hosts.
Business Formal Dress
As the name suggests, this is probably mostly associated with the office and especially the corporate world, since modern life has lessened the requirement of formal attire in the work place. It is often worn for exhibitions, events, high-end conferences, meetings, pitches and even some weddings.
The minimum expectation for this dress code is a matching suit (shirt, trousers), shirt and smart leather shoes, such as Oxfords. A long tie is often expected, especially for more formal occasions.
Darker colours such as black, charcoal and navy are often considered smarter but lighter greys and blues can work well. Always aim for your suit to be properly fitted, a badly fitted suited can be extremely unflattering. You should be able to just button up the jacket and should not be baggy around the sleeves, trousers or shoulders.
In less strict office settings, dress expectations may be lower. If business casual is defined, then a tie is optional but can still be worn. If no tie is worn, go with an open shirt. A smart sweater could be worn on top.
There is no requirement to match jacket and trousers, as there would be in business formal. Chinos or other coloured trousers can be worn with a jacket, as opposed to a suit. Less formal shoes such as brogues and loafers would also be acceptable.
Accessorise with a pocket square and be sure to match your belt and shoes.
A small step down from business casual. As a rule of thumb, if you’re not sure of the level, it’s safer to dress smart and then adjust when you can compare with other attendees.
No tie is required, smarter, well-fitted jeans can be worn. No jacket is required but it can be a good look when paired well. A collar is preferable, be it a regular shirt, or polo shirt however a plain t-shirt could be worn with a jacket.
No trainers is still a good rule to stick to here.
Casual does not mean free-reign. Some form of effort is still required. Relaxed and comfortable but not like you’ve been lounging at home.
For some general rules, avoid anything with a distressed look and scruffy or well-worn trainers. If you need to wear trainers, stick with something plain. Short pants and sandals are also off limits.
A highly-relaxed dress code, suitable for Summer months and outdoor activities, lunches, picnics and barbeques.
Again, this does not mean anything goes and should not be confused with sportswear. Think towards office dress down Friday at work, relaxed but again, not like you’re dressed for an afternoon of Netflix. It borrows design cues from sportswear but does not encompass it.
Sport casual is like regular casual attire but shorts, lighter jeans and sandals are acceptable. You should probably look to wear t-shirt and jeans but still best to avoid distressed looks with holes and rips. With shorts, think more along the line of cargo than anything worn for doing sport. The same rule applies to trainers, avoid anything designed to be worn for sporting activity.
Optional Dress Code
Where optional is included in your dress code, this generally means that it’s what your hosts will be wearing. The chances are it’s what they want you to wear too but they want to be as polite as possible and give you the option not to.
The sensible thing to do, is to treat it as if it’s not optional at all or at least try and match it as closely as possible. For example, if the occasion was Black Tie Optional, you could probably get away with a black suit and a regular tie but do make the effort to be as close to possible if full black tie is simply not possible.
Alternative and Creative Dress Code
Sometimes, a dress code will specify either alternative or creative. This is your chance to shine! Follow the guidelines but look to change the look up in terms of traditional colour and material.
What to do if there is no dress code?
If no dress code is specified, ask the host if possible or ask around other attendees if you’re able, to see what their expectations are. The top tip here would be to dress smart and adjust later. It’s unlikely that the dress code will be Black Tie without being specified so aim for smart casual, you can always dress your outfit down while you’re there. You can dress an outfit down, but you can’t dress it up.