Dress Codes Explained: For Men

Like me, I am sure many of us guys out there have struggled to understand exactly what we are supposed to wear to an event, to work, for an interview, or even to a birthday party. Standards are constantly changing, but we can all take comfort in the fact that most of the ‘traditional’ standards remain the same; namely black-tie, business and business-casual. Most of my experience comes from a more conservative, corporate environment where standards are stricter, but being overdressed is always preferable to being under-dressed!

The above infographic nicely illustrates the most common dress codes, from the super formal, super rare white tie code all the way down to sloppy. I will focus on the three more common dress codes in greater detail, but I do want to briefly explain each of them. White Tie is a dress code you will probably never be expected to adhere it, as it is generally reserved for diplomatic and state affairs. The grand majority of us will never even own the prerequisite parts, like the top-hat or waistcoat. And if you do ever get an invitation to, say a wedding, asking for white tie, double check with the host, as that’s probably not what they’re going to be wearing.

One basic rule of thumb when considering what to wear; ask your host and match them.

Black Tie and Black Tie-Optional are the upper end of what most of us will ever be expected to wear; this would typically be for weddings or formal events such as a gala or ball. Black Tie means quite simply to wear a tuxedo, maybe you wore one to high school prom, but this one’s got to be much more formal and polished. Black Tie calls for a tuxedo, a crisp white tuxedo shirt with french cuffs, tuxedo studs in place of your shirt buttons, a black or similarly reserved bow-tie, and polished leather shoes, typically Oxfords. Black-Tie Optional does mean that it is optional to wear all of that, in place you could wear a normal business suit with tie, but it is good practice to wear what your host will be wearing!

Semi-Formal or Business is common for work outfits in more corporate and professional environments, as well as less formal events. This code calls for a matched suit, for example, a black jacket with matching black pants and a white shirt and reserved tie. Just as with the White and Black Tie dress codes, you are expected to wear a reserved, AKA plain, tie. No crazy colors or patterns here. You can wear any color suit, provided it matches and is black, grey, blue or brown. No crazy suit colors here, either.

And our third most common dress code: business casual. In my opinion the most confusing, because there is so much leeway, which can be a blessing or a curse. Remember, when in doubt do more, it’s much easier to take off an un-needed tie or jacket than to scrounge one up when all you wore was a shirt and pants. Typically, business casual is the same as business, except that your outfit does not need to be matched, and the jacket and tie are optional. A typical outfit would be a grey or blue blazer with dark slacks or khakis.

Smart casual, or just casual, is a bit deceiving. Sometimes hosts will put just casual on an invitation when they really mean smart casual, aka a nice shirt tucked into nice jeans or khakis. And finally we have ultra casual and street-wear…which means wear whatever you want!

I hope that you, dear reader, have found this guide helpful. I’d say I’d post a guide for women in the future, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand women’s fashion, so don’t bet on it. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you!

You can check out a longer, more detailed guide from Real Men Style here!

This post was authored by Faiz Mandviwalla, a senior at Temple University and an Assistant Firm Director for PRowl Public Relations. You can follow me on Twitter here and LinkedIn here!

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