Dress Code 101: This Is How A Man Should Dress


Men's dress code 101: This is how you should dress

The dress code for men remains one of the most challenging subjects when attending, organizing, or hosting an event. Whether it's a wedding, graduation, or festivities at the White House, this dress code guide will point you in the right direction. The article will help discover the correct outfit for any occasion!

Men often find themselves wondering whether they should wear a tie, bow tie, or perhaps none at all. Or if the khaki's you bought last month are the best choice for the upcoming graduation of your niece.

Well, we are glad to say there is no need to wonder anymore. We have put together a list of all possible dress code etiquettes and compiled them on to a simple, straightforward list. From now on, refer back to this article when you are stuck wondering what to wear or when to wear. Bookmark this if you have to.

In this article, we will list all dress codes for men from most formal to least formal. Under each dress code etiquette, we will explain what to wear in the most simplistic manner possible. Let's dive into the men's dress code guide!

THIS IS MEN'S DRESS CODE 101

1. White Tie

Dress code: White tie

White tie is the most formal dress code etiquette available. It is mostly used by high-class people (presidents, kings, royalty, etc.) who invite hundreds, or even thousands, of people to attend the occasion. Typically, white tie events take place in the evening, are ceremonious, and require strict to fairly strict manners.

The dress code white tie is sometimes mistaken as an event where men are, indeed, required to wear a white tie. However, this is not the case. The proper men's outfit to a white tie occasion is a black long-tailed three-piece tuxedo (jacket, trousers, and vest), white dress shirt, patent leather shoes, a white pocket square, and, finally, a white bow tie. In the 20th century, men would also wear a cylinder hat along with white gloves to a white tie event, but it is not mandatory today.

When attending a white tie event, make sure to leave out unnecessary accessories. You can forget about bracelets and sunglasses. Even a wristwatch that peeks from the sleeve is considered a clear fashion mistake at a white tie event.

White tie dress code outfit:

✔ Black long-tailed three-piece tuxedo (jacket, trousers, and black or white vest)

✔ White bow tie

✔ White pocket square (lapel pin is acceptable in addition, or as a substitute)

✔ White tuxedo shirt with cufflinks

✔ Black patent leather shoes (oxford shoes, opera pumps, or derby shoes)

✔ Black cylinder hat (not mandatory)

✔ White gloves (not mandatory)

X Other accessories than your bow tie & pocket square (and lapel pin)

X Other tuxedo colors than black

X Necktie as a substitute for the white bow tie

2. Black Tie

Dress code: Black tie

Black tie is the second most formal dress code etiquette. Typical events with a black tie dress code include weddings, large dinner parties, galas, and other evening events. The vast majority of black tie events takes place in the evening and tends to start at 6 pm or later.

Although a black tie event is not as formal as white tie events, fairly strict manners are still required. If you've watched James Bond movies - most parties Mr. Bond attends are black tie dress code events - you know roughly what men wear, and what type of behavior is required, at black tie dress code events.

A common men's outfit at a black tie dress code event includes a black tuxedo, black bow tie, and patent leather shoes. Although black tux is preferred, white and dark blue tuxes are also somewhat common outfits. Accessories like pocket squares, wristwatches, lapel pins, and rings are acceptable in moderation.

It is important not to overdo it with the accessories. For example, a tux with a black bow tie, white pocket square, wristwatch, and a wedding ring is an acceptable outfit. Add a few more rings, lapel pin, and a couple of bracelets, and you're a walking fashion mistake.

Black tie dress code outfit:

✔ Black tuxedo (white and dark blue are fine, too)

✔ Black bow tie

✔ White pocket square (or a lapel pin)

✔ White tuxedo shirt (or an elegant, white dress shirt) with cufflinks

✔ Black patent leather shoes (with a dark blue tux, go with dark brown shoes)

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (not mandatory)

X Too many accessories can break your look

X A regular suit, even a fancy three-piece suit, will make you underdressed

X Necktie as a substitute for the black bow tie

3. Black Tie Creative

Dress code: Black tie creative

Black tie creative is the third most formal dress code. As the name indicates, it is very similar to the black tie dress code, with the exception that it invites guests to have more color and be more creative with their outfits. A black tie creative dress code is often seen in Hollywood at red carpet events, celebrity-hosted parties, and movie premiers.

Because the black tie creative dress code invites people to be personal with their outfits, very strict behavior is not often required. Black tie creative events invite people to be social, friendly, and open-minded. Simply put, black tie creative dress code is the modern and flexible cousin of the more traditional black tie dress code.

The core outfit for men at a black tie creative event includes a tuxedo, patent leather shoes, and a bow tie. Vivid details such as a colorful pocket square, cummerbund, or vest are, not only tolerated but preferred.

Although a colorful tux is allowed, try not to go too overboard with colors. A nice set of colorful complementary accessories is usually the best way to create a personal style for a creative black tie event.

Black tie creative dress code outfit:

✔ Tuxedo (preferably black, colorful also accepted)

✔ Bow tie (usually black)

✔ Pocket square (usually white) or a lapel pin

✔ White tuxedo shirt (or an elegant, white dress shirt) with cufflinks

✔ Black patent leather shoes (with a dark blue tux, go with dark brown shoes)

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (not mandatory)

X Don't go crazy with the colors (avoid bright tones & too many colors)

X A regular suit, even a fancy three-piece suit, will make you underdressed

X Necktie as a substitute for the bow tie

4. Formal Attire (Black Tie Optional)

Dress code: Formal attire (black tie optional)

The dress code formal attire, also known as black tie optional, is probably the most common formal dress code you will bump into. Many weddings, formal birthdays, and evening galas have formal attire set as the dress code.

When attending an event with formal attire (or black tie optional) set as the dress code, men should wear a dark tuxedo with a dark bow tie, along with a white shirt and black patent leather shoes. A dark suit is an acceptable substitute if you don't have a tuxedo lying around. Also, a dark-toned tie instead of a bow tie is an appropriate replacement. To complete the look, place a neatly-folded white pocket square to the jacket's outer chest pocket.

Accessories such as a wristwatch, wedding ring, personal necklace, or a bracelet are accepted as long as the look stays organized and clean. Large visible accessories, however, are not a regular thing at a formal attire event. 

Don't wear any bright or light-colored tuxes or suits at a formal attire event. Generally, black and dark blue are the only accepted colors of a tux or suit. Moreover, you don't want to be the only person walking around with a light grey suit when other men are wearing black tuxedos.

Formal attire (black tie optional) dress code outfit:

✔ Dark tuxedo, preferably black (dark suit is an acceptable substitute)

✔ Bow tie, preferably black (dark necktie is an acceptable substitute)

✔ Pocket square (usually white)

✔ White tuxedo shirt (or an elegant, white dress shirt) with cufflinks

✔ Black patent leather shoes

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (not mandatory)

X Other colored tux or suit than black or dark blue

X Mistakenly think the "optional" means a tie is optional

X Don't go overboard with accessories

5. Semi-Formal (Business Attire)

Dress code: Semi-formal (business attire)

The semi-formal dress code, also known as business attire, is a fairly flexible dress code. It is globally adopted as the standard businessman look, ergo the name business attire. In addition to the business world, semi-formal attire is often worn at funerals, christenings, and other day-time occasions.

Men's standard outfit at a semi-formal (or business attire) dress code event is a suit and tie with either Oxford or Derby leather shoes. A white dress shirt is an obvious choice, but other colors such as striped blue are also an acceptable option. Usually, the outfit is coupled with accessories like a pocket square, tie clip, wristwatch, or a pair of cufflinks.

Since the dress code is semi-formal, don't wear a tux. Being overdressed can look just as stupid as being underdressed. If you feel the need to look your best at a semi-formal dress code event, wear a three-piece suit. Classy suit accessories like a fancy tie, pocket square, tie clip, and cufflinks can help improve your look without much effort.

Semi-formal (business attire) dress code outfit:

✔ Suit (neutral color like black, navy, or grey)

✔ Necktie (bow tie is an acceptable substitute)

✔ Button-up dress shirt (preferably white)

✔ Dress shoes (Oxfords or Derbys)

✔ Pocket square, cufflinks & a tie clip (not mandatory)

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (not mandatory)

X Wear a tuxedo instead of a suit - don't overdress

X Wearing a sports jacket or a blazer doesn't cut it - don't underdress

X Sneakers are not suitable semi-formal shoewear

6. Lounge Suit

Dress code: Lounge suit

The dress code lounge suit is a versatile etiquette. In its core, the lounge suit dress code requires formalwear but, at the same time, leaves room for personal preference in color selection and suit style.

A lounge suit specifically means a suit that is made from worsted wool. If you don't have a suit made of fine wool, a regular suit is perfectly okay, too. The dress code is generally used at events that take place in the evening time, like when attending an opera or a ballet show.

For men, the required outfit, in general, is a suit and tie. Although it can be a three-piece suit, a two-piece suit is a preferred choice. Your suit color should be adjusted accordingly to the time of the event; a light-colored suit is great for early daytime events, and the later the event, the darker the suit.

When it comes to accessories, your hands are free. If you feel like wearing a red floral tie, go for it. A yellow pocket square, sure, why not! Don't get too carried away with accessories, however. For those who are not too keen on accessorizing, it's fine. Just remember to wear a necktie with your suit!

Lounge suit dress code outfit:

✔ Suit (preferably neutral color like dark blue or grey)

✔ Necktie

✔ Button-up dress shirt (preferably white)

✔ Dress shoes

✔ Pocket square, cufflinks & a tie clip (not mandatory)

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (not mandatory)

X Wear a tuxedo instead of a suit - don't overdress

X Don't get too wild with mixing many colors

X Sneakers are not suitable lounge suit shoewear

7. Cocktail Attire

Dress code: Cocktail attire

Cocktail attire dress code is another very common etiquette. It is a fairly formal dress code that still leaves an opportunity for personal looks. Unlike the lounge suit dress code, cocktail attire doesn't require men to wear a necktie. In other aspects, both etiquettes are very similar. 

At a cocktail attire dress code event, men should wear a suit and matching dress shoes. Although a necktie (or a bow tie) is preferred, it is not a prerequisite. Blazers and sports jackets are also allowed along with substituting dress shoes to a pair of loafers or brogues. Sometimes even fashion sneakers are allowed at a cocktail attire event.

Classic suit accessories such as a pocket square, tie clip, and cufflinks are a welcome accessory. Furthermore, bracelets, necklaces, rings, and other regular accessories are accepted, as well, at a cocktail attire dress code occasion.

When it comes to socks, stick with classic, black or colored, dress socks. Ankle socks and white athletic socks are too casual at a cocktail attire event.

Cocktail attire dress code outfit:

✔ Suit (blazer or sports jacket are fine, too)

✔ Necktie or bow tie (not mandatory but preferred)

✔ Button-up dress shirt (preferably white)

✔ Dress shoes (loafers & brogues are accepted, as well)

✔ Black (or colorful) dress socks

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (not mandatory)

X Tuxedo instead of a suit is overdressing

X Sneakers & jeans are too casual

X Ankle socks & white socks are too casual

8. Business Casual Attire (Dressy Casual)

Dress code: Business casual (dressy casual)

The dress code business casual, sometimes also called dressy casual, is a mix between formal and casual. To be more specific, it is a professional business style with a relaxed vibe. This is a typical dress code for holiday or weekend workdays, Christmas parties, and summer graduations.

At a business casual attire dress code event, men should wear a button-up shirt (polo shirt or formal sweater are a suitable substitute), a suit jacket or blazer, and pressed pants such as slacks or khakis. As for shoes, anything from dress shoes to fashion sneakers is acceptable.

A common mistake is to wear an outfit that is too casual. Wearing a polo t-shirt with light jeans, for example, is a bit too casual. However, combining a pair of dark blue jeans with a matching jacket, a dress shirt, and a necktie is fine. Just don't forget to leave the business out of the business casual.

Accessories are a nice way to bring life into a business casual outfit. A clean wristwatch or a bracelet instantly adds personality and vibrancy into any style. If you are planning to wear a suit, add a colorful pocket square to spice up the look.

Business casual (dressy casual) dress code outfit:

✔ Suit jacket, blazer, or sports jacket (preferable)

✔ Button-up dress shirt, polo shirt, or a formal sweater

✔ Dress pants, slacks, khakis, or corduroys (dark jeans can work, too)

✔ Dress shoes, loafers, brogues, (or fashion sneakers for very relaxed looks)

✔ Dress socks (colorful or black)

✔ Necktie (optional)

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (optional)

X Open shoes are exceedingly informal

X Very relaxed is too casual

X Ankle socks & white athletic socks are not appropriate

9. Beach Formal Attire

Dress code: Beach formal

Beach formal attire is a dress code that offers flexibility inside a moderately formal etiquette. It is customarily seen in beach weddings, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and similar events that take place during summer - preferably near a beach setting. 

At a beach formal dress code event, men should wear a white or light-colored cotton or linen (or silk if the weather isn't too hot) dress shirt, straight trousers like khakis or slacks, and a blazer or a sports jacket. If there is a lot of direct sunlight, a Panama hat or a straw fedora is a suggested addition. As for shoes, perforated leather shoes, loafers, boat shoes, and espadrilles are your best options.

Accessories like a necktie, sunglasses, hat, or a pocket square/lapel pin are recommended, but not necessary, at a beach formal occasion. A classic mistake is to wear too much, in an attempt to look your best, and end up sweating through the whole event. Make sure that you are well prepared for the weather and the possibility of sun and wind.

Although beach formal dress code allows flexibility, there are some things to avoid. These include sandals, short-sleeved shirts, and dark monotonic three-piece suits. You also shouldn't combine shorts with a blazer or sports jacket.

Beach formal attire dress code outfit:

✔ Suit jacket, blazer, or sports jacket (preferable)

✔ Linen or cotton button-up dress shirt (white or light-colored)

✔ Straight trousers such as slacks, linen pants, or khakis

✔ Perforated leather shoes, loafers, boat shoes, or espadrilles

✔ Sunglasses (not mandatory but recommended)

✔ Necktie or bow tie (optional)

✔ Straw hat - Panama hat, fedora, or similar (optional)

✔ A pocket square or lapel pin (optional)

X No short-sleeved shirts

X Sandals are too informal

X Dark monotonic three-piece suit is not appropriate

10. Smart Casual

Dress code: Smart casual

Smart casual dress code, sometimes also called the preppy style, is very common all around the world. It comes with a wide range of flexibility and style variations. Smart casual dress code is typically seen at formal leisure activities, informal work occasions, and even some holidays.

When attending a smart casual dress code event, men should wear a button-up dress shirt, a suit jacket, blazer, or a sports jacket, and fit trousers such as khakis, corduroys, or jeans. Classic dress shoes, loafers, boat shoes, or brogues are also recommended. As for socks, black or colorful dress socks are the proper choice.

Depending on if the smart casual event leans towards the formal side, go with something like slacks, a dress shirt, jacket, and add a necktie or a pocket square (don't add both). However, if it leans towards the casual side, khakis or jeans, a button-up shirt, and a formal sweater are adequate.

Personal accessories such as a wristwatch, sunglasses, rings, bracelets, and necklaces are acceptable, if not even preferred. Colored clothes are okay, as well. Something to make your outfit flatter your personality is always recommended at a smart casual dress code event.

Smart Casual dress code outfit:

✔ Button-up dress shirt, polo shirt, formal sweater, or solid t-shirt

✔ Dress pants, slacks, khakis, corduroys, or jeans

✔ Dress shoes, loafers, brogues, boat shoes, or fashion sneakers

✔ Black or colorful dress socks or ankle socks

✔ Suit jacket, blazer, or sports jacket (optional)

✔ Either a necktie or a pocket square (optional)

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (optional)

X Open shoes are still too informal

X Sweatpants, even black, are way too casual

X White athletic socks are not appropriate

11. Casual

Dress code: Casual

Casual dress code - also known as casual wear, leisurewear, or casual attire - is the least formal etiquette available. It is a common etiquette at non-customer-related workplaces, and during leisure time. Casual dress code means an informal clothing style emphasizing comfort, which still looks professional and appropriate.

When the dress code is casual attire, a man should wear a clean shirt, polo, or a sweater with jeans, khakis, or other straight pants, and clean shoes. The key is to make sure everything you wear is appropriate and presentable. This means the clothes fit well, are wrinkle-free, and don't have stains on them. Oversized hoodies and saggy sweatpants are too informal for casual dress code.

Personal accessories are very natural in casual outfits. If you feel like wearing a hat, sunglasses, and a pair of bracelets on your wrist to enhance your look, go for it! Don't get too carried away accessorizing your style, however. Too many accessories can make your outfit too inappropriate for a professional setting. As for colors in clothing or accessories, everything is acceptable as long as it fits you.

Casual dress code outfit:

✔ Shirt, polo, sweater, or similar

✔ Jeans, khakis, or similar

✔ Clean shoes, sneakers, or similar

✔ Make sure your clothes are clean, wrinkle-free, and fit well

✔ Denim jacket, blazer, or sports jacket (optional)

✔ Few extra accessories to personalize your look (optional)

X Necktie is too formal

X Although the dress code is casual, sweatpants are a no-no

X Too many accessories (6 bracelets on the same wrist, etc.)

GENERAL ADVICE

A few friendly reminders, and some useful information, when getting ready to dress up for any dress code event:

Always make sure your clothes are a proper fit. The clothes shouldn't be too tight or too loose. Even the perfect outfit will look inappropriate if the clothes are not well fitted. If you've recently lost or gained a significant amount of weight, hit the clothing store before heading out.

Clean & wrinkleless is the way to go. If your shirt or trousers have been lying in the closet for too long, they tend to accumulate a collection of fine wrinkles. Iron out the clothes before putting them on to guarantee a professional look.

If you decide to go with an outfit that doesn't include a necktie, roll-up one necktie and put it in your pocket. In case you have to meet with a client or visit a sudden work meeting, there is nothing better than a backup necktie.

Regardless of the event or the dress code, a pair of backup shoes nearby is a must-have. Especially if you decide to try a new pair of shoes, there is a chance they start to chafe your feet. When this happens, it's a relief to switch shoes to ones you know fit you well.

A gentleman always keeps a pocket square with them anywhere they go. In case you bump into someone sad, for any reason, offering a pocket square is part of good manners.

 

That is it. This was a crash course into men's dress code 101. Make sure to bookmark this article for easy future reference.

 

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