The formal dress code is one of the few areas where men have more rules to follow than women. While women are allowed more flexibility in what they can wear to a black tie or cocktail event, men’s suits and other formal wear must still adhere to rules that are rigid enough to be considered acceptable.
Dressing within these limits is actually quite important, as it shows respect to the host or hostess, who must have put a great deal of time and energy into the event you are attending. Therefore, try not to “dress up” for an event, even if you are among close friends and family.
You can use this guide to decode the dress code and determine what you should wear to a particular event.
This is the most formal of the evening gown styles, and these days you’re unlikely to see it on invitations. However, if you do attend a white tie event, you have to be prepared. Wear a black tailcoat and matching trousers with a single braid down the side. Men’s shirts must be white with a stiff front and wing collars, and must be buttoned rather than buttoned. Add a white bow tie and white waistcoat. Fasten your shirt with white or pearl buttons. Complete the look with black shoes and socks and white gloves. Black or gray outerwear is acceptable, but must be removed indoors.
Black tie is more common at modern events than white tie, and many high-end weddings and banquets are black tie events. For a black tie event, wear a black tuxedo jacket and pants. A midnight blue tuxedo is also acceptable, but don’t stray from either color unless the event is designated as “creative black tie.” And a shirt with a stiff front (pleats are okay) and a wing collar, and a black belted vest. Wear a black silk bow tie, black shoes and socks, and no gloves. Add black or gray outerwear on the way to and from the event if needed.
Semi-formal events are a big step back in terms of dressiness from black tie, which means you can relax a bit. A dark business suit (pants and jacket to match) is ideal for this type of event, paired with a white or light-colored shirt. Add a conservative tie and leather shoes and socks in the color of your choice. Vest is optional. Outerwear can be any color as long as it is conservative and looks good.
Formal business events tend to be hosted by companies or industries, so always adhere to your company’s dress code even if it overrides this guide. Dress for this type of event the same way you would for a semi-formal event, only a little more conservatively. For example, if you’re the type of person who wears a patterned tie for a semi-formal event, wear a plain tie for a business formal. Likewise, if you usually wear pastel shirts for semi-formal occasions, consider wearing a plain white shirt for business formal attire.
Style tips provided by Peter Millar’s clothes