Does your brain seize up when you start trying to decipher all the different dress codes that exist? Have you ever been to a black tie affair? How about white tie? Highly unlikely. If you were invited, would you know how to dress? We’ve got you covered with a simple breakdown of various dress codes that will ensure that you’re always dressing the part, as opposed to dressing as a schlub.
In the casual realm, anything goes. You could show up in your pajamas and you’d still be welcome at the door. We don’t recommend wearing your pajamas, though, and we certainly don’t recommend basketball tank-tops without an undershirt — regardless of how chiseled your cannons are. Hats, jeans, sneakers: A-OK.
If you want to take your casual style to the next level, consider personalizing and accessorizing your daily get-ups. The example on the right may not be something you’d ever wear — I wouldn’t — but notice how the dude looks completely… casual. That’s the point. Be comfortable. Dress to your personality.
What is smart casual? Well, it’s smarter than casual. Honestly, if you’re looking to make an impression and sell yourself as someone who takes pride in their appearance — especially if there are ladies present who you’re hoping to impress — smart casual is a good way to go.
It’s best to keep smart casual fairly neutral. In other words, no flashy logos. Avoid all denim except for dark denim. Up top, go with a collared shirt of the button or polo variety. Layer up with a light sweater if it’s cool outside.
For smart casual, you’ll need a jacket. We’re talking about blazers here, not parkas. If you don’t know where to find a great jacket, start at a thrift store. This is especially true if you live in an urban environment. And always — no exceptions — have your jacket tailored to fit. It’s not very expensive to do and it’s worth every penny.
Avoid sneakers if you can. If you’re a hipster, you can ignore that last sentence — you gotta do what you gotta do. Boots, loafers, deck shoes and casual dress shoes are all acceptable.
Business casual will depend on the business you’re in. If you work in the legal field, obviously you’re strutting into the office a little differently than if you work for a record label. Therefore, you can break this category down into business casual corporate, or business casual relaxed.
For business casual relaxed, you’re pretty safe with the smart casual look and dress shoes. You might opt for a Henley if you can pull it off well. If you feel that you’re overweight or you don’t pull off a Henley well, stick with the collared dress shirt (and avoid French cuffs). Also, do your best to avoid denim.
For business casual corporate, never wear jeans. You’ll need a high quality trouser matched with a collared, button-down shirt. You may also consider a sweater, tie or jacket, depending on the season. If you’re not sure about the tie, slip it into your back pocket and you can always throw it on quickly in a restroom.
Remember: The shoes make the man. Choose wisely.
Informal / Black Tie Optional
O.K., gentlemen. This is where it gets a little tricky. You hear informal, and you immediately think casual. No. Not even close. This distinction is crucial. Informal is suggesting that you can be comfortable at an important event at a nice location. What does this mean? Suit and tie. That’s your best option.
- Collared shirt. White is safe. French cuffs, cufflinks
- Matching jacket and pants — vest is O.K., but not necessary
- Dark socks and shoes — shoes should be lace-up
Black Tie / Semi-Formal
From the informal base, we’re gonna take it to the next level. A black tie event means tuxedo. If you’re going to attend several black tie/semi-formal events, invest in a tux. Otherwise, it’s okay to rent.
- Tuxedo jacket
- Formal pants
- Satin tie or satin bow-tie (preferably black or very dark)
- Vest or cummerbund — the pleats face up. (Yes, you’ve been calling it “cumberbun” for years. It’s O.K. — now you know.)
- Tuxedo formal shoes — or an impressive, lace-up alternative. Avoid toe-caps and ornate decor
Long ago, it was customary to wear a hat for black tie affairs. It is still quite acceptable, but it can be tough to pull off for anyone who isn’t really, really stylish. Consider a Bowler, Homburg or Fedora for evening events — if you think you can do it without looking dumb.
Accessories can be omitted, or modified, for black tie events as necessary: Studs, French-cuffs and cuff-links are preferential to buttons. If an overcoat is needed, the classic Chesterfield coat is the way to go.
Chances are, you’ll never attend one of these events. However, if you’re ever elected President of The United States, or are invited to an Inaugural Ball, you’ll want to be sure you get it right. In regards to the traditional rules of white tie, the one thing you absolutely must get right is wearing the pique white tie. A perfect example of white tie dress: Fred Astaire in Top Hat.
- White button shirt — single cuffed and winged
- White cotton pique bow tie
- White pique vest
- Black jacket – swallow tailcoat cut
- Black formal pants – traditionally with two satin seams along the pant leg. No belt loops. Worn with suspenders or inner adjustment
- Black socks
- Black formal shoes
- Traditionally, you’d also arrive in cloak and top hat