What To Wear And When To Wear It

There are times when you will be invited to celebrations or occasions where men’s dress codes are required. A basic understanding of these dress codes removes the confusion that so many gentlemen face when deciding what to wear. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Men’s Dress Codes – Casual 

casual dress guide

An invitation marked with “casual attire” tells you that the hosts are not concerned with a high level of formality. You want to be relaxed and be yourself, but you should still look like you made an effort.

In these cases, leather shoes and shirts with collars are preferred. Neckties are not needed, but a casual sports jacket can be worn. Jeans are acceptable but they should be dark and fitted. Work jeans or anything with rips and tears is not advisable.


Men’s Dress Codes – Business Casual

Casual-Business dress

Men’s dress codes for “business casual” require a pair of comfortable slacks (not jeans) and a collared shirt, in addition to leather dress shoes and socks to match the trousers. The most conventional business casual outfit is a navy blue blazer with light to medium gray slacks or khakis. This is the bare minimum.

If the word “casual” is on the invitation a fair amount of flexibility is permitted. While sports jackets are the dressiest part of the look, sweaters or dress shirts without a top layer are more dressed-down.

In general, show up with a jacket and tie. You can always remove one or both if you find yourself overdressed. It’s easy to dress a blazer or sports jacket and slacks down, but hard to dress a plain shirt up.


Men’s Dress Codes – Business Dress

mens dress code

If the invitation requested “business dress”, for the most part, this means the more formal end of men’s suits. It is best to err on the side of formality and wear a dark, solid colored matched suit. When paired with a white dress shirt, a tie, and black leather oxfords you can’t go wrong.

On the other hand, if the invitation says “suits and ties for men”, there is a certain amount of flexibility for these social events, particularly daytime ones. So if you prefer a lighter gray suit or a dark brown one, those are acceptable.  This is a request you will see occasionally on invitations, particularly to light-hearted affairs like brunch or church outings.


Men’s Dress Codes – Black Tie Semi-Formal

Gentlemans dress code

Don’t be fooled by the phrase. Men’s dress codes for semi-formal attire will be the strictest dress code most of us will wear in our lives. Semi-formal attire changes based on time of day and most guests are not aware of the distinction.

During the daytime, the stroller, a relaxed alternative to morning dress, is appropriate. While in the evening, it is the black tie (tuxedo) ensemble that is donned most frequently.

Some gentlemen own their tuxedos. For the most part, this is a dress code requires attendees to rent attire. Give yourself plenty of time for the rental process. You can expect it to take several weeks from the outfit selection until the clothes arrive and can be adjusted.

Make it clear to the sales staff that you are interested in true black tie attire. Most of the offerings at rental outlets are for high school proms and novelty weddings, not real semi-formal wear.


Men’s Dress Codes – Creative Black Tie 

Creative Black Tie Dress

This is a variation on standard Black Tie dress. It allows an opportunity to showcase your personal style in terms of color, accessories, and lapel style. Here you can opt for an uncommon lapel or a slim cut tuxedo in a color like a midnight blue. The choice of a colored jacket or a brightly colored bow tie is all acceptable here.

Opting for a black shirt rather than white can also add creative flair. Although this dress code offers some flexibility, it is important to keep in mind it is a formal event. Any modifications should still honor a the atmosphere of the event. Wearing a standard tuxedo ensemble with “black tie optional” qualities is also perfectly acceptable.


Men’s Dress Codes – White Tie Formal 

White Tie Formal Dress

The term “formal attire” is misunderstood in today’s society and does not mean suits and ties. It is a significantly higher dress code, that requires clothes that most men don’t own. If you don’t belong to an extremely wealthy or upper-class set, understand that you’re going to go through the rental process.

Formal wear, like semi-formal wear, changes depending on the time of day. In the daylight hours, it means morning dress with a tailcoat and vest. While at night it means a white tie. Both options are extremely strict dress codes.

You should expect the ensemble to be equipped with a black tailcoat worn over a white starched shirt,  a Marcella waistcoat and a white bow tie worn around a detachable collar. In addition, cuff links, white gloves, and a top hat can also be worn.


Optional Men’s Dress Codes

There are times when dress codes will come with the word “optional” attached. With an optional dress code, it is always appropriate to meet the listed code, however, you do not exceed it. Wearing a white tie to a “black tie optional” event is never recommended.

It is acceptable for you to wear an ensemble similar to the requested dress code at a lower level of formality. For example, if the event is “black tie optional” and you don’t want to rent a tuxedo. You can opt for a dark matching suit with a plain white shirt and a conservative necktie. This gives the same impression as a tuxedo, but without the fuss and expense of exotic attire.


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