Dress codes for men: How to decode the dress code

Have you ever received an invitation to an event and scratched your head wondering what would be appropriate to wear? Even when the host has included a dress code – black tie, cocktail, smart casual – many men are still confused as to what ensemble would be fitting for each dress code.

In this article, I’ll help you demystify and select the right outfit for each of the men’s dress codes.

Black tie

Black tie is the standard formal attire and is usually the dress code for events after 6pm. The ensemble for black tie is the tuxedo: a black dinner jacket with matching trousers, a black formal waistcoat (optional), a white formal shirt, a black bow tie, black dress socks and black formal shoes.

Traditionally, the tuxedo is made from black wool but there are now modern variations on this classic suit. Midnight blue and velvet tuxedos are popular alternatives.

Cocktail

The cocktail dress code is a mix between casual day wear and formal evening attire. As the name implies, this dress code is for cocktail parties. It can also be worn for weddings, anniversaries or formal birthday celebrations.

The tuxedo is too formal for the cocktail dress code; a trousers-and-blazer combo is more appropriate. Cocktail wear allows you to mix and match your outfit. You can play with patterns, textures and colours. I would still recommend that you go for a tailored suit, but feel free to add your personal style.

Lounge suit

The lounge suit is a tricky one to decode as there may be a slight overlap between the cocktail and smart casual dress code. The basic components of a lounge suit would include a tailored suit, a formal shirt (white is the safest colour), a classic necktie, dark socks and formal shoes.

Smart casual

When it comes to the smart casual dress code, think comfort and elegance. Smart casual may allow you to play with a variety of pieces that include different patterns and colours, but remember that you still have to look crisp and sharp. As the old adage says “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed”.

For tops, you can wear blazers, patterned shirts and even t-shirts. For your bottoms, you can wear either chinos or tailored shorts. For the footwear, you can choose from loafers, monk straps, oxfords, brogues or boat shoes. Don’t be afraid to mix and match these pieces, but keep in mind that the goal is to look and feel good in what you’re wearing.

Still unsure? Keep in mind that you can always ask the host for more information. Perhaps you can request a picture of outfits they feel are appropriate for the event. If there’s anyone out there who knows the correct attire, it’s your host. It’s their event after all! And if you’ve got the picture in mind but not sure how to make it work for you, contact a personal stylist who can help you make a perfectly fitted and styled impression.