Formal Dress Codes Revealed – what they really mean

Formal Dress Codes Revealed – what they really mean

Summer is on the horizon and with it comes the dreaded formal dress codes for the weddings and balls we’ve been invited to. But what do they actually mean?

What’s the difference between black tie and white tie anyway?

We’re going to debunk those dress codes so you can be stylishly prepared for those summer events ahead.


Black Tie events are formal

That means you need to leave the casual attire at home and dress to impress.

We’re talking a tuxedo with dress shirt, bow tie, cummerbund and patent leather shoes. You might be able to get away with a smart black suit if a tux really isn’t your thing but checking with organisers on what you can get away with is a sensible idea here.

 In America, a white dinner jacket and black tuxedo trousers aren’t unheard of for Black Tie but haven’t really caught on in the UK, but it might be an option for a slightly more relaxed event or one with an international flavour.


White Tie events are the height of formality

We’re talking State Dinner attire here – there’s no cheating as you really do have to put the effort in to get it right. Also known as ‘full evening dress’, it’s not particularly common now although it was the standard attire for gentlemen before the Second World War.

According to Debrett’s, you should be wearing a black single-breasted tailcoat with black trousers, a white marcella shirt with detachable wing collar and double cuffs fastened with cufflinks, a white marcella waistcoat, bow tie and highly polished black shoes.


Black Tie Optional are events with a more relaxed feel

You’re still expected to dress well but if a tuxedo isn’t your thing, you’re not going to look out of place by opting for a suit instead. Keep it dark with a crisp white shirt and sensible tie to make sure you keep to the trend on those all-important photos.


Smart Casual events are the semi-formal occasions we can chill out with

No, we’re not saying that jeans and a jumper are appropriate here, but you can take things down a notch and choose your own comfort over formality. How you received the invitation is a big clue in how smart or casual the event will be – a printed invitation is going to be far more formal than one received by text message or email.

Smart trousers like chinos with a collared shirt and jacket are a sensible choice.


Casual usually means a laidback affair

Probably an outdoor event where a suit isn’t the most practical thing to be wearing. Best check before opting for double denim though. Smart trousers with a button-down shirt is a safe option.

And if a dress code isn’t specified you’re free to make your own judgement on what to wear based on the occasion. If in doubt, the more formal end of the smart casual spectrum is usually the safest choice to make.

Photo by Min An from Pexels

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1 comment

A dinner jacket may be called a tuxedo in the US (as you note), but not in the UK surely. If you are giving formal style notes, a little formality might be in order!

Dr Paul Sheppy

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