When we are given an invitation with a dress code, some of us are most likely expecting to see either ‘formal dress code’ or ‘casual dress code’. Anything other than that puts a strain our mind. Even when we see ‘formal dress code’, we sometimes don’t know how to pull it off. This guide aims to help with that.

We’ll be looking at different dress codes, what they mean, some do’s and of course some don’ts associated with them.

Formal Dress Code: White Tie

Originally, formal dress codes for men referred to tailcoats and vests with a white tie; typical of most British royal events. Most white tie events are diplomatic or high budget royal events. Statistically speaking, an individual may not be able to throw more than a few standard white tie events in their lifetime. In light of this, it very rare to see invitations with white tie dress codes.

Formal Dress Code: Black Tie

As modern culture started having its toll on fashion, the lines separating formal dress code and semi-formal dress code started becoming blurred and overtime it became completely invisible and black tie was designated a formal dress code; a promotion from semi-formal dress code. To create a distinction between the formal dress codes, the actual dress code was written after it, so it is either formal dress code: white tie or formal dress code: black tie.

As far as black tie dress code is concerned, it refers to a tuxedo and bow tie. This is not a time to get creative with the colour of your shirt or your tie. It has to be a white shirt and a basic tie – nothing too artistic or attention seeking and of course no sneakers. You aren’t attending fashion fest. Put on an oxford or anything within that class.

Business Dress Code

This is the most common content of men’s wardrobe. Whenever you hear the business dress code what should come to mind is a matching suit and a neck tie. Try to appear in a dark or solid coloured suit. Avoid eye popping colours and costume-intended colour combinations. I will strongly recommend a white shirt and a white handkerchief to fill the breast pocket, but hey! I’m sure you’ve got the idea. You want to appear approachable and formal at the same time.

Business Casual Dress Code

In business casual a lot more flexibility and creativity is allowed. You can have a jacket over a shirt but not necessarily as part of a suit. Traditional outfits are also allowed here such as your senator wear. You might be tempted to wear a jean trouser, use khaki (chinos) trouser instead; except the invitation says just ‘casual’.

Casual Dress Code

A “casual attire” invitation is mostly open ended but there is still the expectation of dressing up for a social event. Jeans are acceptable here but do remember that they must be fitting jeans and not the regular working jeans. The invitation says to dress casual doesn’t mean you should appear with crazy jeans (jeans having rips and tears) save those for your carnivals.

Understanding “Optional” / “Preferred” Dress Codes

Sometimes we get invitations where optional or preferred is attached to the dress code and you’re wondering ‘what the hell is this’. Take a chill pill and read on.

When you see optional or preferred attached to a dress code, the former is telling you that the host plans on wearing the dress code stated so you are encouraged to do likewise but don’t exceed it. For example, you are not expected to wear a white tie to a black tie (optional event). But you are allowed to wear something slightly lower than the listed dress code, so for a black tie (optional) event, a business dress code would still be appropriate but not a business casual or casual.

For a preferred, the host is just telling you that they expect you to dress in the highest standard possible for the listed dress code. So if you get an invitation with black tie (preferred), you might be under dressed if you show up in a business suit.

What do you do if you receive an invitation that doesn’t list a dress code?

The simplest and best advice on this is to ask the host; but if you feel too embarrassed to do that, reach out to other attendees, they might have an idea. But if you’d feel super embarrassed to ask other attendees, try to imagine the kind of dress code that would be appropriate for the event factoring the social class of your host.

Finally, in cases of uncertainty, it is better to be overdressed for an even than to be under-dressed. You can easily take off your jacket or your neck tie, but you surely wouldn’t be able to do anything if you attend a business dress code event wearing a jean and a t-shirt.



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