Introduction

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.

Men’s Formal Attire Lookbook

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.

Men's Formal Attire Lookbook

The Suit

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.

  • Topman Navy Tonic Skinny 3 Piece SuitTopman Navy Tonic Skinny 3 Piece Suit
  • Asos Double Breasted Suit In Slim FitAsos Double Breasted Suit In Slim Fit
  • Burton Brown Heritage Tweed Slim Fit SuitBurton Brown Heritage Tweed Slim Fit Suit
  • Topman Wine Skinny Suit JacketTopman Wine Skinny Suit Jacket
  • Paul Smith London The Westbourne Mid Grey SuitPaul Smith London The Westbourne Mid Grey Suit
  • Reiss Darnley Velvet Blazer BlackReiss Darnley Velvet Blazer Black
Tie & Pocket Square Combinations

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.

  • Asos Polka Dot Pocket SquareAsos Polka Dot Pocket Square
  • Tm Lewin Red Honeycomb Plain Tie – 43118Tm Lewin Red Honeycomb Plain Tie - 43118
  • Turnbull & Asser Paisley Silk TieTurnbull & Asser Paisley Silk Tie
  • Charvet Silk Pocket SquareCharvet Silk Pocket Square
  • D&g Black White Spot Bow TieD&g Black White Spot Bow Tie
  • Alexander Mcqueen Skull Emblem Silk Pocket SquareAlexander Mcqueen Skull Emblem Silk Pocket Square
  • Reiss Reddick Tonal Polka Dot SilverReiss Reddick Tonal Polka Dot Silver
  • Austin Reed Burgundy Design Silk HandkerchiefAustin Reed Burgundy Design Silk Handkerchief
Accessorising

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.

  • Sekonda Pocket WatchSekonda Pocket Watch
  • Coiless Safety Pins-2-1/4 Gold- 50/pkgCoiless Safety Pins-2-1/4 Gold- 50/pkg
  • Dunhill Classic Engraved CufflinksDunhill Classic Engraved Cufflinks
  • Asos Black Crystal Tie PinAsos Black Crystal Tie Pin
  • Lanvin Mother-of-pearl Insert Tie ClipLanvin Mother-of-pearl Insert Tie Clip
  • Austin Reed Silver Rope Detail Tie ClipAustin Reed Silver Rope Detail Tie Clip
Footwear

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.

Formal Footwear Edicts:
  1. The first is the most obvious, but the one that will also have you lampooned the hardest if ignored. Trainers are in no way acceptable. They weren’t back at junior prom and they certainly aren’t now. ‘Do as you please’ Hollywood black tie is best left to grandstanding celebrities. While we’re ruling out trainers, don’t even consider clunky square-toed footwear.
  2. The second most valuable rule when it comes to footwear (especially formal) is to keep your shoes clean and well polished. Dirty or scuffed shoes will ruin outfit before you’ve even begun planning it. If you’re a tad stuck on how to go about shining your shoes then Mr Colman’s Guide to Shoe Care is an absolute essential read.
  3. Our third and final rule is no brogues after dark! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good brogue as much as the next FashionBeaner [which judging by the forums is rather a lot] but the brogue should be reserved for day wear as the night is the domain of the pointed, patent sort.

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.

  • Trickers Churchill Patent Dress SlippersTrickers Churchill Patent Dress Slippers
  • Hudson Peso Lace Up ShoeHudson Peso Lace Up Shoe
  • Reiss Kelton Pinch Seam Shoe Mid GreyReiss Kelton Pinch Seam Shoe Mid Grey
  • Gucci Horsebit Detail Leather LoafersGucci Horsebit Detail Leather Loafers
  • D&G Black Stitch Detail Patent ShoesD&g Black Stitch Detail Patent Shoes
  • Reiss Barstow Monk Strap Shoe BlackReiss Barstow Monk Strap Shoe Black
FashionBeans Formal Attire Lookbook
Look One
  • John Smedley Belvoir Rollneck SweaterJohn Smedley Belvoir Rollneck Sweater
  • Topman Navy Tonic Skinny 3 Piece SuitTopman Navy Tonic Skinny 3 Piece Suit
  • Topman Burgundy Geo Pocket SquareTopman Burgundy Geo Pocket Square
  • Sekonda Pocket WatchSekonda Pocket Watch
  • Sekonda Brown Leather WatchSekonda Brown Leather Watch
  • Kurt Geiger Ross BarkersKurt Geiger Ross Barkers

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.

Look Two
  • Topman White Smart Long Sleeve ShirtTopman White Smart Long Sleeve Shirt
  • Reiss Darnley Velvet Blazer BlackReiss Darnley Velvet Blazer Black
  • Reiss Brooker Silk Tie BlackReiss Brooker Silk Tie Black
  • Lanvin Mother-of-pearl Tie PinLanvin Mother-of-pearl Tie Pin
  • Allsaints Regent Tux TrouserAllsaints Regent Tux Trouser
  • D&g Black Stitch Detail Patent ShoesD&g Black Stitch Detail Patent Shoes

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.

Key Formal Recommendations
  • Topman White/navy Star Print ShirtTopman White/navy Star Print Shirt
  • Reiss Zinc High Collar Slim Fit BordeauxReiss Zinc High Collar Slim Fit Bordeaux
  • Turnbull & Asser Slim Fit Striped Double Cuff ShirtTurnbull & Asser Slim Fit Striped Double Cuff Shirt
  • John Smedley Belvoir Rollneck SweaterJohn Smedley Belvoir Rollneck Sweater
  • Ralph Lauren Shoes & Accessories Silver Tie ClipRalph Lauren Shoes & Accessories Silver Tie Clip
  • Burton Bow TieBurton Bow Tie
  • Fred Perry Laurel Wreath Maroon Paisley And Stripe Tootal ScarfFred Perry Laurel Wreath Maroon Paisley And Stripe Tootal Scarf
  • Reiss Berlin Leather Braces Mid BrownReiss Berlin Leather Braces Mid Brown
  • Austin Reed Grey Catseye Wrapped Rectangle CufflinkAustin Reed Grey Catseye Wrapped Rectangle Cufflink
Conclusion

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 advantagewhat 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.