Formal affairs, particularly those during our formative years, are often riddled with ill-fitting rented suits, hefty tie knots and square-toed shoes. In reality, the dress code isn’t all that difficult to navigate – not the essentials anyway.

What it whittles down to is the wearing of an appropriate suit with a shirt, tie and smart shoes. Hardly rocket science. Getting the details right is what really counts, especially when looking to make yourself stand out among a sea of penguin suits.

With the basic structure of formal (black tie even more so) already set in stone, it’s important not to attempt to deviate. While some say it’s OK to break the menswear rules when you understand them, this is one instance you should not be testing the water under any circumstance.

Sneakers or a t-shirt don’t make black tie young, cool or different – just juvenile. It is the fit, colour, accessories, shoe style and shirt collar etc. that will be the defining points of your look, not your insubordinate Converse or rebellious band tee.

With all that in mind, today we’re going to take you through a selection of looks, from timeless classics to some more unorthodox takes on event dress that bend the codes without breaking them.

Traditional Outfit Inspiration
Traditional Lookbook Inspiration

Instead of boring you with endless images of a black tux with black shoes and a white shirt, we have decided to instead try to inspire with the lookbook images below.

Whether you choose to wear a classic tux with precision or simply utilise your black suit with a contrasting bow tie, pocket square or tie, it is up to you to decipher the dress code, dress appropriately and put your own stamp on your outfit:

Men's Traditional Formal Dress For A Prom or Ball

CERRUTI 1881 Ready to wear ss13Gieves & Hawkes aw13the kooples ss13ramsey ss12marks & spencer aw13Berluti aw12el burgues aw13essentiel antwerp aw12CERRUTI 1881 Ready to wear ss13
Look One: Timeless Tuxedo

Rental tuxes often get a bad name – and for good reason, if the large number of ill-fitting examples is anything to go by. That said, spending time sourcing a flattering suit is a great solution to the black tie issue, rather than spending a fortune on a ‘non-essential’.

Pair a well fitting tuxedo with a freshly pressed white shirt and polished black shoes for the shell of a timeless look. A black tux offers a traditional option whilst a midnight blue or navy variation presents an opportunity to remove some of the penguin tag.

In this case we’ve opted for navy tailoring to complement a burgundy bow tie effectively. Finish by accessorising with a simple white-bordered handkerchief and rakish lapel pin to bring individuality and a touch of flair to your look:

  • Asos Smart ShirtAsos Smart Shirt
  • Topman Paul Smith London Navy Abbey Slim-fit Wool TuxedoTopman Paul Smith London Navy Abbey Slim-fit Wool Tuxedo
  • Topman Port Textured Bow TieTopman Port Textured Bow Tie
  • Lanvin Buttonhole Flower PinLanvin Buttonhole Flower Pin
  • Hackett Border Handkerchief 147430Hackett Border Handkerchief 147430
  • Reiss Toronto Double Sole Toe Cap Derby Shoes BlackReiss Toronto Double Sole Toe Cap Derby Shoes Black
Look Two: Spruced Up Suit

The tuxedo is traditionally considered quite a stiff piece of tailoring. More often than not, its only use is at a black tie party, where the bar frequently becomes your best ally in the fight to survive the monotony. Therefore, it may be worth splashing out on a slightly more versatile black suit, rather than a tuxedo rental, and simply sprucing it up a bit.

The other advantage of investing in a classic black suit is that you will get extended wear out of it well after your event. As you are likely to be moving into the world of professional employment, a black suit is versatile enough to be worn to job interviews, special occasions and everything in between.

Stick with a smart white shirt and accessorise with a printed silk bow tie to really differentiate it from customary office wear. A printed pocket square can offer a similar amount of panache as the bow tie; keep the colour similarly monochrome. Patent shoes are non-negotiable when seeking to bring the look to a sleek, sophisticated finish:

  • Topman Black Slim Suit JacketTopman Black Slim Suit Jacket
  • Reiss Zinc Two Button Poplin Shirt WhiteReiss Zinc Two Button Poplin Shirt White
  • Reiss Carr Textured Silk Bow Tie BlackReiss Carr Textured Silk Bow Tie Black
  • Topman Black Slim TrousersTopman Black Slim Trousers
  • Beams Plus Prince Of Wales Check Silk Pocket SquareBeams Plus Prince Of Wales Check Silk Pocket Square
  • Dsquared2 Vernice Leather Formal ShoeDsquared2 Vernice Leather Formal Shoe

For anyone going this route, you would be wise to read some of our previous articles:

Alternative Outfit Inspiration
Alternative Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Alternative Prom/Ball Outfit Inspiration

unknown1next winter 2012Gieves & Hawkes aw13cerruti 1881 paris ss13ramsey ss12unknownzara man august 2012Gieves & Hawkes aw13SANAHUNT SS13
Look One: Burgundy Brilliance

In previous mentions of the burgundy suit, the question “Where could I wear this?” frequently arises. The answer most certainly leans appropriately in the direction of a prom or ball.

The hue is a definite statement, without being too brash or overbearing. Instead, burgundy tailoring offers a break from the repetitive palette often utilised in these settings and therefore makes it a perfect stand out option for such an event.

Opt for a pair of velvet slippers to bring some breezy charm to your outfit. Ensure your trousers are tapered correctly and of the proper length to avoid drowning them under an extended trouser break.

Allow a polka dot handkerchief and textured black silk tie to act as the cherry on top of this dapper, contemporary ensemble:

  • Burton Burgundy Slim Fit Suit JacketBurton Burgundy Slim Fit Suit Jacket
  • Slim Fit ShirtSlim Fit Shirt
  • Rake Lounge Textured Silk Tie 144250Rake Lounge Textured Silk Tie 144250
  • Burton Burgundy Slim Fit Suit TrousersBurton Burgundy Slim Fit Suit Trousers
  • Reiss Winehouse Modal Polka Dot Pocket Square WhiteReiss Winehouse Modal Polka Dot Pocket Square White
  • Topman Black Velvet SlippersTopman Black Velvet Slippers
Look Two: White Winner

The white suit is a perennially tricky piece, often avoided at any cost in fear of getting it wrong. However, with its recent rise to prominence – a result of Baz Luhrmann’s latest on-screen work – it’s time to tackle the hue head on.

Bold and uncompromising, the white suit doesn’t take any prisoners. Nonetheless, when worn right, it looks arguably less Tony Montana and more Jay Gatsby.

Great for a summer ball or the more obvious ‘white party’ dress code, it is the perfect spring/summer statement piece – which can also be utilised as separates after the event.

Pair with a darker shirt (unless you’re attending the aforementioned white party) and patterned tie in order to make maximum impact on the neutral canvas.

Finish with black loafers or white Derbies/bucks and a coloured pocket square for a Gatsby-esque formal look:

  • Asos Skinny Fit Suit Jacket In PolywoolAsos Skinny Fit Suit Jacket In Polywool
  • Paul Smith London Micro Gingham Cotton Shirt 148148Paul Smith London Micro Gingham Cotton Shirt 148148
  • Drakes Swiss-dot Slub Silk TieDrakes Swiss-dot Slub Silk Tie
  • Asos Skinny Fit Suit Trousers In PolywoolAsos Skinny Fit Suit Trousers In Polywool
  • Topman Navy Border Pocket SquareTopman Navy Border Pocket Square
  • Bass Weejun Larson Black LoafersBass Weejun Larson Black Loafers
Look Three: Statement Separates

Create a point of visual interest by splitting up your suit. This stylish, summer-ready take ensures even your existing collection of suiting is kept fresh by the varying trouser and jacket combination. Tailored separates also provide a great way to inject a statement piece, such as a white dinner jacket or velvet/patterned blazer, into your formal attire.

Keep the rest of your look simple to let the blazer do all the talking. Similarly with accessories, if the jacket is patterned consider forgoing a pocket square entirely so as not to dilute the boldness of the print.

Grey or black trousers act as the perfect anchor to the bold top layer and, as usual, black formal shoes are the essential black tie go-to:

  • Reiss Carraway Oxford Shirt WhiteReiss Carraway Oxford Shirt White
  • Topman Teal Velvet Skinny BlazerTopman Teal Velvet Skinny Blazer
  • Gucci Unstructured Jacquard-woven Cotton BlazerGucci Unstructured Jacquard-woven Cotton Blazer
  • Alexander Mcqueen Tortoiseshell Embroidered Silk Tie 156502Alexander Mcqueen Tortoiseshell Embroidered Silk Tie 156502
  • Reiss Garth T Classic Trousers GreyReiss Garth T Classic Trousers Grey
  • Aldo Pizzaro Toe-cap Smart ShoesAldo Pizzaro Toe-cap Smart Shoes

Timelessly stylish or statement stand out, prom and ball event memories (and their pictures) can last a lifetime. This is why it’s imperative to avoid the possibility of sartorial blunders haunting you at every turn. Nail formal or black tie the first time round and you’ll get it right every attempt after (trust us when we say this isn’t a one-off occasion).

Hopefully this article has inspired your own prom or ball look, whether you’re opting for traditional attire or not.

So now we want to hear your views:

  • Which look do you prefer?
  • How do you intend to dress for your next/upcoming formal event?
  • For those of you who have long passed prom, how did you style it?
  • Any sartorial nightmare that you care to share? What about triumphs?

Let us know in the comments section…