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The Modern Gentlemen’s Guide to Dress Codes – from smart casual to black tie

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How you dress says a lot about you. It speaks to your personality, sophistication, and sense of style. It is therefore, very important to dress well and dress appropriately for different situations and events. When you are not in the right outfit for the specific event you are attending, not only is it quite embarrassing, but other attendees at the event could end up thinking less of you. They might think you as uncouth, or even disrespectful of the host and the dress code. Here are a few guidelines on how to pick the right outfit for each occasion.

Formal business Suit

Formal business

Dressing for a formal workplace or work function is not that hard, and you can easily pull it off with a good suit. Formal business work or function require the attendants to carry themselves in a dignified manner and since time immemorial a well-fitting suit has been the epitome of formal functions. The suit should be in bold dark colors such as black, blue or navy. Fit is very important in this case and your suit should be cut to fit you perfectly. It shouldn’t be too tight or too short, like the fashion at the moment, nor should it be over-sized. The suit should be paired with a dress shirt in lighter colors such as white or blue for a clean cut look. French cuffs with the shirt give a sophisticated yet modern look. You should wear a dark-colored neck tie for the complete formal look. Complete the look with brown or black official leather shoes depending on the color of your belt.

Smart Business Suit

Smart Business

Many large and smaller firms are beginning to embrace informal wear at the workplace. This is when you can pull off your most fashionable looks by wearing shorter trousers, and firm fitting suits. You can also now wear your chinos and colour shirts to the workplace. Pair these with a sportscoat or blazer for a simple yet sophisticated look. As always, even your casual clothes should be well fitting and tailored to perfection. Since you are at the workplace, closed leather shoes or loafers are preferred. Open toed shoes and sandals are not welcomed at the office space and as such, they do not make up the smart business attire. However, t-shirts, loud Hawaiian shirts or clothes with cartoon characters are best left out of the office, as they undermine the wearer and the workplace. It’s a good idea to keep a tie and suit jacket at work for any emergency client meetings where you’d like to dress to impress.

Lounge suit

Lounge suit

This dress code is worn for business events taking place during the day and in the evening. It can also be worn for social functions with some degree of formality such as wedding receptions and lunches. For these events, you can opt for a dark suit worn over a French-cuffed white shirt with no tie.

Cocktail Attire

Cocktail attire

Cocktail attires become prominent at the beginning of the 20th century when the wealthier and more fashionable members of the society started wearing them to social events. Cocktail attires are semi-formal in nature and allow their wearer to be free to enjoy the event. When picking an attire for a cocktail party, it’s always advisable to check with the host on how ‘casual’ the event is going to be before you rock your jeans and throw a blazer on top. Cocktail events also provide you with an opportunity to dress up and look good. A great way to dress for a cocktail event is to go with a tailored suit, a white dress shirt, a mainly solid coloured tie and dress shoes such as Oxfords. You can accessorize the outfit with a pocket square and black dress shoes. For less formal events you can go with jeans and blazer. The jeans, however, should not have tears.

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Smart Casual

The objective with this clothing style is to combine formal and informal wear into one impressive package. So if you think your jogging bottoms paired with a blazer qualify for smart casual, then you’re definitely wrong. You can wear your chinos with a long sleeved shirt and closed-toed shoes. You can also wear your jeans with a well-tailored button-down shirt. The jeans should be dark and without tears for a smart look. T-shirts under a blazer are also acceptable as long as they’re smart looking and in good condition.

Black Tie Formal

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Black Tie/Formal

Of all the dress codes available, dressing for a black tie is the most rigid. Black tie attires have been worn since the 1800s when the upper-class British men started easing away from the stuffy attires that were worn by members of the British high society. Black tie attire is very strict and for this, you can only wear a tuxedo or dinner suit, in a shawl or peak lapel. The lapel should be faced with satin or grosgrain. It should be worn with a satin bow tie that is also black in color. The shirt for this dress code should be white with a wing collar. You can also wear a black low-cut waist coat or cummerbund to complete the look. The trousers you wear to a black tie should be in the same color as the jacket, which is usually black in this case. A satin strip on the outside seam of the leg is essential. Black and to some extent velvet are the traditional colors of a black-tie event and you’d be wise to stick to this color code. The more daring may wear a dark navy suit with black satin lapel, or even a velvet suit. A white suit with Black lapel is NOT a good look, and makes you look as if you are in high school. Finish the look with black socks and black official leather shoes.


Not knowing what to wear for different occasions can be difficult, and choosing the wrong outfit in a crowd can be embarrassing. Make sure you memorise this guide to avoid any embarrassing fashion faux pa situations.

Want to know more?

The Suit Book – Everything You Need to Know About Wearing a Suit

Now available on Amazon, Kindle and Printed copy (Australia only)


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