Getting to grips with the subtle style nuances of the nine-to-five, next month’s wedding or just a schlep to the supermarket can render even the sharpest dressers an indecisive mess. Should my belt match my shoes? Is a bow-tie too much? Are tailored joggers work-appropriate for anyone other than a burglar?
Luckily, we’re in the midst of some serious tectonic shifts in menswear, with many of the more established dress codes loosening or collapsing altogether, giving guys more room to manoeuvre and making it easier to pick out an appropriate outfit when the alarm goes off.
A case in point: even politicians are dressing down. The recent announcement that British MPs are allowed to ditch their ties in Parliament caused uproar among some, even though it follows the lead of many major banks and blue-chip firms that have made officewear less formal.
Traditionalists may ask where it all ends – somehow we can’t see the foreign secretary in Supreme – but thanks to a new wave of boundary-breaking designers tapping into the evolving needs of this generation, this is arguably the most exciting time for menswear since, well, ever.
The rise of streetwear, sportswear and gender fluidity are adding verve to our everyday wardrobes and taking it in bold new directions. As sneaker culture and sports-luxe crossover collections permeate the mainstream, tracksuits have become as common as tuxedos on the red carpet. You could even add white trainers to your summer wedding repertoire.
“It’s becoming more and more common to see dinner suits worn with sneakers on the red carpet,” says Charlotte Austin of global fashion search platform Lyst. “Dinner jackets are worn over T-shirts and jeans are worn rolled up with velvet slippers. The lines haven’t so much become blurred but [been] removed altogether.”
With that in mind, here are old dress codes refreshed and updated to reflect today’s freedom and give you an insight into what to wear, when.
The New Style Rules
Old Dress Code: “It’s A Smart Office”
Which means fifty shades of grey, navy and black suits, a white or blue shirt and formal footwear. The drone uniform.
New Dress Code: Tie, Optional
Although the adage, “Dress for the job you want rather than the job you’ve got” might still hold true, when the CEO is turning up open-necked with a pair of New Balance, it’s time to get on board and at least undo your top button.
“Designers are asking what it means to be formal,” says Solene Roure from forward-thinking footwear label Primury. “What does it mean to be ‘dressed up’? A suit is no longer the only avenue to looking sharp.”
Lyst’s Austin agrees, adding that, “With the rise of the notoriously ‘dressed down’ tech industry, [workplace] dress codes have definitely relaxed for men. It’s no longer the norm to wear a suit to the office, jeans and T-shirts have replaced the suit and tie.”
Even if you don’t want to go full Zuckerberg (and you’ll get a like from us if you don’t), there are now hundreds of ways to style a jacket and trousers at the office. Lose the tie and play with layers, separates and colours. You don’t have to clock in looking like a villain from The Matrix.
Old Dress Code: Wedding Suits Should Be Plain (And Boring)
Same grey work suit as everyone else; check. Sturdy Derbies from 1983; check. Matching tie and pocket square; check, check.
New Dress Code: Weddings Are A Place To Express Yourself
The etiquette experts at Debrett’s might disagree, but thinking beyond men’s traditionally limited wedding options is the perfect way to show your sartorial sensibilities.
We’re not suggesting upstaging the wedding party, but invitation permitting (black tie really does mean black tie) there is no harm in bringing a little colour or pattern to proceedings. It’s a shift that’s catching on, too, with names such as British designer Charlie Casely-Hayford and his recent collaboration with Topman packing in everything from velvet to Japanese printed wrap kimonos.
“One man’s traditional is another man’s insane,” says Kieron Hurley, founder of London label Les Basics. “Having said that, most men have become more open to experimenting with colour, silhouettes and combining styles which previously wouldn’t have been worn together.”
Old Dress Code: If You’re Wearing Trainers, You’re Not Coming In
It wasn’t so long ago that this was true not just of the workplace, but for some god-awful nightclub on a Saturday, too. In which case you had to shoehorn (quite literally) the same pair of ugly, square-toed monstrosities into your weekend look.
New Dress Code: White Sneakers Work With Anything
Thanks in no small part to slick New York pacesetters Common Projects, the humble white sneaker has come a long way from its tennis court background. Its versatility knows no bounds and is easily paired with everything from a casual weekend wardrobe through to tailoring and everyday workwear. The white-out is reflective of a wider shift in trends.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in men’s sneaker sales in the past few years,” says Austin. “An expensive pair is the new way to express status and style.” Our tip? Just make sure they look as fresh as the day you unboxed them.
Old Dress Code: Day = Casual, Night = Formal
This dress code is often mindlessly applied to the world of dating, and the short version goes goes like this: wear crew necks in the day because they’re casual and collars at night because they’re classy.
New Dress Code: Contemporary-Casual, 24/7
These days, dressing down doesn’t have to be sloppy thanks to a rise in brands that excel in elevated basics.
Opt for wardrobe pieces that work well in combination and you can fall back on the look at any time of day or night – and for numerous occasions. This is about creating a capsule wardrobe. “It’s important that any style can be worn with any other, to the extent that you could get dressed in the dark and still look good,” says Hurley from Les Basics.
The concept stems from the runway, with Austin adding, “If you look at the latest menswear shows, the focus has been on fluid, untailored pieces that can be worn just as easily to brunch as they can to a premiere.”
The basics? Tailored trousers, a plain crew neck T-shirt, loopback sweatshirt, minimalist sneakers and a smart-casual jacket like a bomber or car coat. Never fails.
Old Dress Code: Menswear, First Floor; Womenswear, Ground Floor
Outside the confines of his own bedroom, the closest most guys would come to a rail of womenswear would be when he’s dragged into a shop to sit in the ‘man chair’ next to the shoe section.
New Dress Code: Borrow From The Girls
Gender fluidity is one of the biggest societal steps forward this decade, and its effect on fashion is telling. Shows are less likely to be segregated, trends – most recently embroidery, looser trousers, slides and round sunglasses – apply to all and high-street chains such as Zara are launching ‘ungendered’ collections.
Elsewhere there’s further blurring with the success of unisex labels such as Art School. “I definitely feel like dressing has become more fluid,” says Arthur Yates, founder of shirt brand Bruta. “We wanted to create a brand that both men and women can enjoy. My girlfriend and I enjoy bands together, art together among other things, so we set out to create a brand that both sexes can be a part of.”
Old Dress Code: Joggers Are ‘House Clothes’
Once upon a time, there were only two reasons why you would be seen in a pair of joggers: you were on your way to the gym, or on your way out of a hangover.
New Dress Code: Say It With (High-End) Sportswear
When you’ve got design heroes such as Yohji Yamamoto teaming up with Adidas and Louis Vuitton partnering with Supreme, it’s clear that times are changing and sportswear can work in any situation.
“The never-ending sports-luxe trend has hugely impacted menswear over the past few years,” says Austin. “Brands such as Vetements and Supreme have taken casual pieces like sweatpants and tops and transformed them into luxury items plastered all over social media. With most of Instagram’s biggest influencers championing the luxury casualwear look, it’s no wonder traditional smart dress has taken a backseat.”
Today, a well-made, well-fitting pair of joggers work everywhere from a first date to a more casual office (as long as it’s not the same pair you wore in the squat rack before work). The same loosening of dress codes lets you wear hoodies, white socks or bombers – no sweat.