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Decoding Men’s Dress Codes

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 • Timeless Wardrobe Tips2 Comments

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Whether it’s a holiday party, wedding or another important event, men’s dress codes can be confusing. Black-tie, white-tie, black tie optional/creative, semiformal, business, cocktail, and business casual are the most popular of the dress codes, but what do they mean and what should you wear?

Dress codes are a formality that instruct guests what to wear for the occasion. We may not always feel comfortable in the desired dress-code, but think of following it as a gesture of gratitude towards the people who invited you. Wearing the proper attire will allow you to easily blend with the other guests. You still have the opportunity for small personal touches, but the key is to keep them to a minimum. If you get noticed, you either missed the code completely or you nailed it in a memorable When in doubt, ask your hosts for clarification and if you’re still in doubt, it’s always safer to attend over-dressed, within reason (i.e. don’t wear a tux to a Some social settings have thrown these rules out the window, stating old laws of how to dress for a party have expired. Just know that the outfit you wear sets the tone for your night, party or event. If you decide to take some risks, before you walk out the door, just be sure you look like yourself—a snappier version of him, that is.

White Tie

Also known as “full dress,” the White Tie is the most formal and strict dress-code. Typically, it’s only worn for royal events, stage dinners and formal balls. The full look is complete with a black tailcoat (with silk facings), white wingtip collar shirt (minimum decoration), white waistcoat, white bow tie, black pleated trousers and black formal shoes (patent pumps, velvet slippers and classic oxfords are accepted). Proportions are very important when it comes to full dress.

Black Tie

This is your traditional and famous, black tuxedo. The attire includes a single breasted tuxedo (with or without silk facings), black cummerbund, black bow tie, either a white “turn-down” spread collar shirt or “wing-collar” (both with pleated fronts) and black formal shoes, such as oxfords. The modern tuxedo is tailored, slim and sharp. This classic piece doesn’t make you a square, it makes you a gentleman. To add some flair, the “Black Tie” code and tuxedo is now accepted in midnight dark blue and you might be able to swing a velvet jacket (black is your safest option, but can be played up). Another variation, commonly seen in warm weather, is a white dinner jacket or tuxedo jacket with black pants and black bow tie.

Black Tie Optional

A more relaxed variation of the traditional black tie, this dress code is common for weddings, stylish events, formal dinners and galas. Black Tie Optional accepts a dark suit with a tie or bow tie instead of the tux. If you have a tux, wear it, but if you don’t have one or the means to rent one, the hosts gives you another option.

Ultimately, you get to decide. If you opt for the suit instead of the tux, a polished black or dark charcoal gray suit
works best. Wear it with a plain white dress shirt, vest, conservative tie (more formal colors and design such as solid black and silver or a black tie with a fine pattern), dress socks that match your suit color and a pair of well-shined shoes, such as monk-straps or oxfords.

Black Tie Creative

This variation on the standard Black Tie category allows the party goer to showcase his personal style in terms of color, accessories and collar and lapel style. Your style may sway towards a shawl lapel or a slim cut tuxedo in a dark saturated color like midnight blue or maroon. A colored jacket, colored wingtip shoes or a brightly colored bow tie are all fair game. Also, a black shirt instead of white offers other areas of creativity.

Although this dress code is more flexible, it is important to remember that if the event is “Black Tie” in any format, it is still a formal event. Wearing a standard tux or a “black tie optional” ensemble are perfectly acceptable.

Cocktail Attire

Cocktail is the most popular of all the formal-dress codes, as it is still formal but leaves more room for creativity, so you may liken it to semi-formal wear. In these cases, you can wear a dress shirt in white or another muted color, a patterned tie and in some cases, colored socks. However, suits and ties should always be in dark hues but never black. Bold patterns are not easily accepted, but a well-fitted windowpane suit could work well. Finish you look with a pair of well-shined shoes such as brogues, oxfords or monk-straps.

Business Attire

Business attire can range widely, and it often depends on your industry, culture and company policies. Traditional business attire means a suit, dress shirt and a neck-tie. You have much more freedom to combine your clothing, just as long as your patterns work well together.

Darker suits, such as charcoal gray and dark blue are considered more traditional and conservative. For that reason, they are often the best choice for a job interview. In warmer weather, tan and beige suits in combination with brown dress shoes, a matching brown belt and a necktie are quite popular.

Business Casual

business casual mens dress codeThe least formal of all dress codes, this code allows you to forgo the tie if you choose. Also welcomed are patterns, textures, button-down shirts and dark jeans (no holes, no effects) and khakis. Classic wool sport fabrics like tweed and windowpane are always recommended. Chukka boots, loafers or brogues are some great shoe options. Get comfortable mixing traditional business attire elements with more relaxed pieces like denim. Invest in one or two suits that fit your body really well and then add fun details like socks, shoes, a great watch and glasses. Pick and stick to a color scheme and then vary your patterns. Contrast adds an element of flair to the overall look and confine the boldest pattern to a limited area.

If you feel like you’re looking too informal, you probably are… first, try tucking in your shirt. Also, make sure not to wear a suit jacket as a sport coat.

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Knoxville, Tennessee 37917

Phone: 865.637.6441
Fax: 865.523.6435

1803 North Central Street
Knoxville, Tennessee 37917

Phone: 865.637.6441
Fax: 865.523.6435


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