What is Formal Attire?
Ah, the ever mystifying question of what is formal attire exactly?
In general, if you find yourself staring at an invitation that requests formal attire, it’s a safe bet that it’s a black or white tie event, where you’re expected to show out in your best and most polished dress. As a rule of thumb, if an event calls for formal attire, it’s going to be fancy, and you don’t want to stick out as a slob in a crowd of well dressed men.
Traditionally, men’s formal attire indicates a black tie event, which means a black tuxedo, and there’s very little wiggle room around it. Paired with a starched white shirt and cummerbund, the black tie look is the epitome of mens formal wear.
If it’s specifically indicated that white tie is required, you’ll have to add a bow tie and tailed jacket into the mix.
Some business environments will also require formal attire, but we’re not saying to go wearing your tux to the office any time soon. Business formal work attire generally refers to a standard suit with a freshly pressed dress shirt. Paired with leather dress shoes and you’ll look as if you’ve stepped out of Mad Men’s Sterling Cooper.
However, these days, formal attire has deviated from tradition a bit. The lines are increasingly blurred and it’s easier to get away with a dressed-down version of formal attire, so long as the look is polished and sleek.
Keep reading to learn the new rules of men’s formal attire and how to make sure you’re always dressed for the occasion.
Formal Attire In The Age Of Sportswear
Up to only a few years ago, the formal attire equation was simple: suit, shirt, tie, pocket square, smart shoes, done. Whilst it ticks all the formal boxes, this is a look that’s far from inventive and has been knocking around for decades in various forms. It’s no wonder only one in ten people in the UK now wear a suit to work – it’s become boring, and stinks of conformity and boardroom meetings.
It’s a good job then designers are beginning to herald in a new era for the old faithful. Forget everything you know about suits – this is tailoring for the next generation, it’s tailoring for those who may never have chosen or even needed to wear a suit before. It’s got nothing to do with Savile Row. It kicked off with the spring-summer shows of 2018 – there was Louis Vuitton’s all-white double-breasteds; Dior’s couture-inspired suits worn with nothing underneath; Paul Smith’s voluminous 1980s takes, and Raf Simons’ oversized designs with no shirt or tie in sight.
What does this mean for you and I? Formal attire has moved on. The suit doesn’t have to be treated like the business accomplice it always has been. Creative director of Savile Row house Gieves & Hawkes John Harrison agrees: “There is definitely an easing up on tailoring”. Yes, there are times when a shirt and tie are needed – those pesky weddings – but you can also replace the shirt altogether, and still be the best-dressed man in the room. From wearing trainers with tailoring to how your suit should fit, here are the new rules of formal attire.
Formal Wear vs Semi Formal Wear
Despite the fact that times are changing when it comes to men’s formal attire, there’s still a line drawn between formal wear and semi-formal wear.
Formal wear will almost always include a dark colored suit (tuxedo) and bow tie, whereas semi-formal dress for men is a bit more flexible. Try a lighter colored suit, or a blazer and slacks with a sharp belt. Semi-formal wear can include a tie, but doesn’t always have to, and shoes can be smart or relaxed.
The main thing to remember is that with semi-formal wear, men have more versatility. You’ll rarely walk into a semi-formal event, look around and feel like everyone’s wearing the same thing. Experiment with colors, patterns and accessories, so long as you incorporate main formal staples like a jacket and dress shirt.
When it comes to formal attire for men, play it safe and dress it up (though daytime events leave some room for different colored suits). Nothing’s more classy than a man in a tux.
In a nutshell, the main difference between a formal and semi-formal dress code for men is the latter leaves room for personal expression, while formal wear should remain, for the most part, traditional.
The New Rules Of Men’s Formal Dress
Can the modern man really be expected to follow the same rules of formal attire that their grandfathers did? Times are changing, and while dress codes remain, the rules are slightly different than they once were.
Keep these eight new rules of men’s formal attire in mind while gearing up for your next event.
Simplify Your Look
Forget ‘Slim Fit’
Aim For Comfort
A suit doesn’t have to have heavy structure. Whilst those of Savile Row tend to have a militaristic cut – built up roped shoulders, heaving chest canvassing – an unstructured suit strips all of this away, offering a far more comfortable end product that won’t make you feel like you need to stand to attention when you wear it.
Try oversized outerwear over the top for ultimate comfort points. It doesn’t have to be huge, but a coat in the next size up will ensure your suit fits underneath, and it can double as a cosy weekend jacket. Just tailor the sleeve length so you can still see your hands.
If You Want Colour, Go Earthy
Rule #6: Forget Old School ‘Rules’ Men’s Of Formal Wear
Another, and one you’ll read on plenty of styles sites, is that you should never wear a pre-tied bow tie. What purpose does this serve other than to stroke the wearer’s ego that he, in fact, is wearing a ‘real’ bow tie? Well, there isn’t one really. If you’re after a bow tie then, regardless of whether it’s pre-tied or not, go for it. It shouldn’t be untied on the night anyway – you’re not James Bond.
This is perhaps the best rule on this list, and the most effective way of transforming your formal attire. Simply swap your shirt for a fine gauge knit – whether that be a crew neck, roll neck or Breton stripe. This immediately helps to strip away the business-like connotations of the suit, and gives off a contemporary look and feel that simply can’t be achieved with a shirt and tie.
For Shoes, Think Versatility
Crockett & Jones
The Modern Shopping List For Men’s Formal Attire
If your dress clothes are in need of a serious update, here are the must-have pieces any modern man needs for men’s formal wear. Rather than fumbling around in your closet the next time an invitation arrives, have these go-to pieces ready to rumble and you’ll look like the sharpest man in the room.
The Unstructured Suit
If you’re going to own only one suit, opt for one with little to no structure and you’ll find yourself wearing it even when you don’t have to. It’ll be comfortable, easy to wear and you can dress it up or down with ease. Simply wear with a shirt and knitted tie for work, or a T-shirt and trainers for date night.
A Textured Blazer
For times when a full suit is just too much, a blazer worn with complementary trousers is a solid bet. Said blazer should be made from some sort of textured fabric – a herringbone cotton or tweed perhaps – so that it looks as though it was meant to be worn solo.
A Knitted Tie
Whilst it may be less formal than the pure silk variety, the knitted tie is also less stuffy and far easier to wear. Although usually finished with a square tip, you can find the odd knitted tie with a pointed end to replicate the more traditional look of a printed silk version.
The Jersey Shirt
Menswear has evolved, and so too have the fabric options available today. It’s now possible to purchase classic types of shirt in cotton jersey – the comfortable fibre usually reserved for polo shirts. With the same look of a traditional dress shirt, these jersey shirts have a slight stretch meaning more freedom of movement and comfort, yet appear just as smart. A win win
Some Rubber Soled Dress Shoes
Why go for a leather sole when you can have rubber? More durable, waterproof and slip-resistant, rubber soles make for ideal everyday work shoes yet, because they are usually chunkier, they’ll also pair up equally well with your weekend wardrobe.
To top off your formal look, finish with an oversized coat. Not only will it show your fashion nous and ability to play with proportion, it will also ensure your two-piece fits underneath and will be endlessly more comfortable than a restricting, slim-fit jacket.