Last time I brought you a round up of some outfits that would see you stylishly to a variety of smart-casual outings. Today it is the turn of the more formal attire. I will guide you through a number of looks that will safely ensure you’re not left sartorially upstaged at formal events.
Getting dressed up for a formal occasion should not be met with the moans and groans akin to that of an adolescent preparing for prom. An event with a strictly formal dress code should be embraced as an opportunity to don one of mans’ only true uniforms (and look good doing it.)
Before we get started I would like to add that it is a rare occurrence that a rented suit or tux fits like it should, and if this is the case, I would definitely suggest buying a cheaper suit and having it tailored to nail the perfect fit.
An invitation that simply states the dress code as formal is in some part straightforward. The rest? Well this is left open for interpretation and it’s also the part where a stylish man will excel.
Logic dictates that we start off with the basics. The first rule of formal dressing is that you will be wearing a suit. Whether that suit is black, blue, grey, burgundy (or if you’re Mark Ronson, cerise) it’s still a suit. If it comes in two parts or three, velvet or tweed, one breast or two, single or double vented – it’s still a suit.
Colour and fabric are the two main areas in which a suit can be manipulated to your advantage. Fabric-wise, velvet is currently the trend of the party season – something I covered in a recent article, ‘How to Wear: The Velvet Blazer’.
Tweed is also a big favourite at the moment and has been covered in depth by both Matt and Jos. Beware of tweed as a formal fabric. If the event were a ball of some sort, tweed certainly wouldn’t be my first choice.
When it comes to coloured suiting, darker shades are essential and much easier to work with. With any non-neutral colour be mindful of accessories by keeping them complimentary to the hue of your suit. Coloured attire over neutral does limit your options tie-wise but that isn’t a case for avoidance, it’s a case for an education.
Now that we’ve established the foundation, it’s time to move onto the details (we all know how important they are) to ensure you’re kept looking sharp.
Firstly, I can’t emphasise enough how important accessorising is to pulling off a killer formal look. Of course, matching your metals and co-ordinating your leathers are no-brainers but pocket-squares, ties and cufflinks, among others are where the lines become blurred.
Matching your pocket square and tie to the letter is considered taboo by some and a necessity to others. Personally I’m on the side of some and would suggest complimenting your tie and pocket-square both colour and design-wise. Below is a mini-guide to complimentary tie and pocket square combinations that do not run the risk of appearing to have been bought as a collective.
Accessorising a suit doesn’t have to start and stop with your tie and pocket-square. If you’ve gone the way of the waistcoat, perhaps consider a pocket-watch – the chain leading across offers a great piece of subtle detailing that will really set you apart.
A collar pin should also warrant some thought. These are great because it will frame your tie knot but won’t throw off your look.
Finally, give your cufflinks some consideration. Ensure they match any other metals you may be wearing and make them a little personal to you or somewhat of a signature; for example David Gandy has been known to favour a steering wheel design.
A final caveat: accessories always maintain a ‘less is more’ ethos and by overdoing it your whole ensemble can come across as rather forced. So if you’re opting to rock a pocket watch chain, maybe leave the collar pin at home and vice-versa.
Now we’ve cleared up any lingering doubts over which accessories to wear, let’s move on to what many consider the most important part of any outfit – footwear.
There are of course a few rules that accompany formal footwear but in the face of formality, we adhere to them all the more stringently. So here are our three footwear edicts for formalwear.
I shall end this section on footwear by addressing a little debate concerning a FashionBeans footwear favourite – the loafer. The loafer as a formal shoe has been met with occasional resistance and should be used with caution when used to decode the formal dress code. If you do decide that a loafer is the formal shoe for you, opt for one in with a heel in dark leather or velvet and also keep the socks on the conservative side – one shade above or below that of your suit.
The first of our two formality-inspired outfits makes use of a navy three-piece suit.
Start by breaking the suit down into a two-piece – this could be either the trousers with the blazer or trousers with a waistcoat. Underneath, a slim fit burgundy hue turtleneck will add some Parisian sophistication and a pair of polished tan pointed lace ups will work well with both the navy and burgundy base tones.
If you’ve opted for a waistcoat, accessorise with a pocket-watch and if you’ve favoured the blazer a patterned pocket-square will do nicely.
Finally, finish off with a leather strap watch, co-ordinating the leather of the shoes to that of the strap – remember they do not have to match exactly.
Our second outfit focuses on the tactile and utilises a velvet blazer as a focal point. With velvet, it’s a good idea to keep the shirt and tie simple in white and black respectively.
You can add some detailing to the tie with a subtle tiepin. Black trousers and patent shoes finish off the simple but decadent look.
Well that just about wraps up our decoding of another dreaded invite of the party season, ‘formal attire’. Look out for part three which will take on the height of formality. Penguin suits at the ready for ‘black tie’.
As we introduced to you last week in our wrap up, remember that with any dress code (especially one that is particularly ambiguous), it can occasionally be difficult to judge how to dress for the setting. If you do get it wrong (we all do occasionally), then forget about it, be confident, style it out and use it to your advantage – what better conversation starter?
Hopefully between our lookbook and suggested outfits you’ll be getting it right much more than wrong and while we here at FashionBeans can claim to have had a hand in your appearance at the start of the night, we can hold no responsibility for the morning after.
Finally, make sure you let us know in the comments below your favourite ‘go-to’ outfit combinations for formal occasions.
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