The world of men’s formal wear can certainly be cryptic. And while dress codes these days are usually rather casual, even the most casual of guys would do well to know his way around formal wear guidelines. Whether you’ve landed a new job that requires a more professional look you’ve received an invitation to a formal wedding, you should know how to dress for any occasion.
Business casual wear is the first step in the formal direction above simply “casual.” Business casual attire is not as formal as traditional office wear, but it’s not your everyday jeans and t-shirt look either. In a nutshell, business casual means no suit, but also no jeans. You want to look smart, neat, and suave, but not too fancy. Generally speaking, to nail that business casual look, you can expect to wear a button-down shirt, dress slacks or chino pants, and men’s dress shoes. Some other pieces that can be incorporated into a business casual look include a tie, a seasonal sports coat, a high-quality sweater, or a nicely tailored blazer.
Business formal attire is the next step up from business casual. Whereas business casual is a more modern and comfortable approach to professional workwear, business formal still circles in financial and executive offices. In short, business formal means you should expect to wear a men’s suit. A men’s suit consists of a matching pair of suit pants and a suit jacket. A men’s button-down dress shirt should be worn beneath the suit jacket, and often with a tie. Expect to wear dark formal socks and dress shoes to complete this business formal look.
Cocktail attire is similar to business formal attire. While it offers a little more room for creativity and personal style, generally, one should expect to wear a suit in dark colors like charcoal, navy, or black. Also, expect to wear a white or neutral button-down shirt underneath with dress shoes and a tie. Alternatively, you can often get away with wearing a pair of men’s dress pants with a well-tailored blazer or seasonal sports coat. Darker is the traditional choice when it comes to cocktail attire, so opt for the darker suits or jackets in your closet when planning your cocktail attire outfit. Cocktail attire often appears at the bottom of invitations of various events or parties where you’re expected to look snazzy, but not tuxedo formal.
Black-tie attire is about as formal as it gets for most. While there is the far-off tier of “white tie,” this is often reserved for extremely formal events, like if you were meeting the queen. If you’re not likely to meet Her Majesty anytime soon, then you only need to worry about the chance that there will be a black-tie wedding or event to attend. Black-tie formal wear requires men to wear a dinner jacket with matching dress pants, a pleated white shirt, black dress shoes, a bow tie, and sometimes even a waistcoat or cummerbund. If you’re invited to an event that reads “Black Tie” on the invitation, then it’s a good idea to rent or invest in a high-quality look.
Just as nebulous as the subtle details surrounding men’s formal wear is how to get the sizing right. In the world of formal wear, sizing goes a bit beyond just small, medium, and large. Men’s dress shirts generally rely on two measurements: the collar and the sleeve length. Pull out your measuring tape from your toolbox, or better yet, your sewing box, and measure your neck and arm. Once you have those measurements, buying a dress shirt should be quite easy.
Suits are measured differently than dress shirts. Unless you’ve had a suit made for you, most suits are measured according to chest size. For example, a size 42 suit will fit a man who measures 42 inches around his chest. Miraculously, suit pants are often very accurately designed to match the measurements of the suit jacket. Meaning, if you pull a size 42 suit off the rack, it’s likely that the pants hanging with it will fit you.
Most places where you will buy a suit will have tailors on the floor whose job it is to tailor a suit to fit you well. Sometimes a sleeve or hemline will need to be adjusted to ensure the suit has a perfect fit. While suits should be well fitted and tailored, they shouldn’t be too tight. Similarly, don’t let your suit hang too loosely either. Remember, you want to look smart and sophisticated, even if casual is your usual style.
Entering the world of men’s formal wear can be somewhat intimidating at first, but once you get a few staple pieces into your closet, you’re going to be prepared for a variety of occasions. Even the most casual of men will be feeling and looking comfortably spiffy in no time.