A Gentleman’s Guide to Dress Codes
No one wants to be remembered as the guy who turned up in jeans when everyone else was wearing tailcoats or vice versa. This is why we start fretting over what to wear as soon as we receive a formal invitation, unless the hosts kindly make their expectations clear by specifying the dress code.
For your convenience, we’ve put together a breakdown of the most popular dress codes but do note that standards vary slightly per country and our list mostly applies to the UK. If you find yourself abroad, you may want to do a quick check of local customs.
If you receive an invitation to a white tie event, you should feel very honoured indeed. This is the most formal dress code and nowadays mostly reserved for royal receptions and state banquets.
Men wear an unbuttoned black single-breasted tailcoat with silk peaked lapels, a white low-cut waistcoat, black trousers with two braids down the outside leg, a white shirt with winged collar, patent or polished oxford shoes and a white bow tie. Any decorations must also be worn.
You may find that some trousers come with satin stripes instead of braids but braids are most appropriate and will make you stand out. Similarly, although buttons are not out of the question, the proper shirt for this dress code will bear cufflinks and studs.
Women wear long evening dresses.
Black tie is the most common formal dress code these days and one that you are bound to come across at least once. It appears on invitations to formal dinners and balls, awards ceremonies etc.
A typical black tie outfit consists of a black dinner jacket with silk peaked or shawl lapels, a black cummerbund or waistcoat (although neither is essential), black trousers with a single braid down the outside leg, a white evening shirt with cufflinks, patent or polished oxford shoes and a black bow tie. A white pocket square in presidential fold is advisable but not mandatory.
Some hosts may call for a “creative” interpretation of this dress code, which means that guests are encouraged to add a discreet personal touch. Due to the popularity of the black tie outfit, we have dedicated an entire blog to it, where you can find more details.
Women wear an evening dress, preferably long or at least down to the knee.
If you’ve ever been to Ascot, or even just seen photographs, you have a rough idea of what this dress code looks like. It is formal but reserved for events that take place before 6pm, such as weddings, daytime functions etc.
Men wear a black or grey single-breasted morning coat with peaked lapels, a grey waistcoat, grey trousers which may be striped, white shirt with a turndown collar, polished oxford shoes, tie or cravat and, obviously, a top hat.
Do note that although both the white tie and the morning dress code call for tailcoats, their style is different as, in the latter, the coat curves naturally towards the tail whereas the former is shorter in the front.
Women dress smartly and avoid revealing outfits. A hat is advisable and, in some occasions, such as Ascot, essential.
From business events to wedding and christenings, you have likely come across this dress code already. What it basically means is that you are expected to make an effort but the outfit you need is probably already in your wardrobe.
Men wear a 3-piece suit, shirt with turndown collar and a tie. Although the suit colour depends on the time of day, if you are unsure, it’s best to go dark. Our collection of limited edition lounge suits is an ideal choice for this dress code and can give you some sartorial inspiration.
A 2-piece suit is not out of the question but will clearly tone down your outfit and it’s best to be slightly overdressed than underdressed. You may find that “lounge suit” is used interchangeably with “cocktail” but most experts take the latter to mean that a tie is optional.
Women wear a cocktail dress but the colour, accessories and amount of flesh showing will depend on the context and time of the event.
This is the most difficult dress code to interpret and, in fact, there is no set outfit that is right either for men or women. A lot depends on the occasion, the venue and the time of day and all we can say is that you should not show up in beachwear or pyjamas. After all, the mere fact that the host specified a dress code on the invitation suggests that they expect you to take a look in the mirror before you show up.
For example, a smart casual dress code for an evening dinner could be interpreted to imply suit trousers with a shirt but you could also add a jacket which isn’t matching the trousers (so not a suit). Then again, a smart casual dress code in the countryside means that you could probably get away with a nice pair of jeans.
For women, things are equally complicated and the possibilities are endless. Try to extract as much information as you can from the invitation and even ask the host, if you must.
To be fair, with the exception of white tie, black tie and morning dress, society is not as rigid as it used to be and most hosts are open to creative sartorial suggestions. The one thing guests are absolutely not allowed to do is completely ignore the dress code as this is rude and could be taken to indicate contempt towards the host or occasion. For more tips on how to be the perfect party guest, read our blog and don’t forget to get in touch and tell us what other topics you’d like us to cover.