Men's Formal Dress Code

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An invitation to your old high school buddy’s wedding pops up in the mail, and after you bask in the glow of cherished memories (that will never be shared with his new bride) the worrisome thought of what to wear to the wedding begins to torment your thoughts. In case you’re still wondering if wearing that single vent suit to the wedding will have eyes turning to you for the wrong reasons – stop worrying. Dress code guidelines are not so complicated. Let’s untangle the jumbled jargon of written (as well as unwritten) protocol of dressing up.

You may have found that the most common formal written dress code to many social gatherings and some fine dining is Black Tie Optional. This means your host welcomes you to wear a tuxedo if you’re comfortable dressing the part, though it is perfectly acceptable to arrive wearing a dark (blue or navy) suit and tie. Furthermore, it is highly discouraged that you wear anything other than dark pants and it is expected that a jacket and tie accompany your dress shirt. Black Tie “Optional” does not actually mean the tie itself is an option. If you’re bummed out that you can’t wear your new charcoal gray suit to your buddy’s big day, check out our article on how you can show your style through your dress shirt.

You may also see variations on the classic Black Tie Optional dress code such as Black Tie Invited. This means your host strongly suggests that you wear a tuxedo, and nothing less formal than a dark suit and tie will be appropriate at all.

Black Tie Only invitations have classically meant tuxedos only and would include black trousers, black jacket, white dress shirt, black silk bow tie, black socks, and black leather shoes. Black tie in its most traditional form means bow tie (not necktie). However, more recently in many communities black tie has come to also include dark suits and neckties. Also, Formal Attire is often another way of saying black tie. Though the rules may not seem so “black and white” (for example, in some trendier cities, like Los Angeles and Manhattan, formal attire could mean black shirt, no tie, with a tuxedo), it safest to stick with the traditional definitions of each dress code if you don’t already know otherwise.

The most relaxed of formal wear is Business Casual. This term is often referred to for office attire, professional business events and in many circles it is the expected attire if not otherwise stated. It is also a term used by some restaurants that are in essence announcing, “We’re not that formal, but don’t come here wearing your jeans and a t-shirt!” In other words, unless you are the guest of honor, wearing a suit and/or tie to a business casual event is overdressing; the appropriate wear includes Khakis, slacks, button down collars, and maybe a sport coat if you feel you must have one.

Avoid wearing a clip on tie, unless you're okay being portrayed as a kid.

If you’re still weary of what to wear, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. You’re probably not going to that black-tie event by yourself, and if you are, Mom’s opinion isn’t all that bad.

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