Cracking the Formal Dress Code for Men

Cracking the Formal Dress Code for MenFormal dress codes are 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 attire must still adhere to fairly rigid rules in order to be considered acceptable.

Dressing within these confines is actually quite important, because it shows respect for the host or hostess, who has doubtlessly expended a lot of time and energy on the event you are attending. Therefore, try to avoid “dressing down” for an event, even if you are amongst close friends and family.

You can use this guide to decode the dress code rules and determine what you should be wearing to a given event.

White Tie

This is the most formal style of evening dress, and these days you are not very likely to see it on an invitation. However, if you do find yourself attending a white tie event, you will need to be prepared. Wear a black tailcoat and matching trousers with a single braid down the sides. Men’s dress shirts should be white with a stiff front and a wing collar, and they should take studs instead of buttoning. Add a white bow tie and a white vest. Fasten your shirt with white or mother-of-pearl studs. Complete the look with black shoes and socks and white gloves. Black or gray outwear is acceptable, but should be removed indoors.

Black Tie

Black tie is more common at modern events than white tie, and many upscale weddings and galas are black tie events. For a black tie event, wear a black tuxedo jacket and trousers. Midnight blue tuxes are also acceptable, but do not deviate from those two colors unless the event is designated “creative black tie.” And a dress shirt with a stiff front (pleated is okay) and a wing collar, as well as a black vest of cummerbund. Wear a black silk bow tie, black shoes and socks, and no gloves. Add black or gray outwear on the way to and from the event if needed.


Semi-formal events are a big step down in terms of dressiness from black tie, which means that you can relax a little. A dark-colored business suit (pants and matching jacket) is ideal for these types of events, paired with a white or light-colored dress shirt. Add a conservative tie and leather dress shoes and socks in your choice of color. Vests are optional. Outerwear can be any color as long as it is conservative and looks nice.

Business Formal

Business formal events tend to be ones hosted by a company or industry, so always abide by your company’s dress code even if it overrides this guide. Dress for these types of events much the same way you would for a semi-formal event, only a little more conservatively. For example, if you are the type to wear a patterned tie to semi-formal events, wear a plain one to a business formal meeting. Likewise, if you generally wear pastel dress shirts to semi-formal events, consider wearing a plain white one when dressing in business formal.

Style tips provided by Peter Millar Clothing

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