What Does Formal Attire Mean? A Quick Guide for Men

Just because you’re out of school doesn’t mean you won’t still have to follow a dress code. There are many places and occasions in the “adult world” that require you to come looking a certain way. And without realizing it, you follow dress codes every day.

Everything in life follows a dress code, whether that’s formally or informally inforced. Your job has one dress code that might not be what you wear when hanging out with friends. But outside of the casual to business scale, that can get tricky.

You may wonder, “what does formal attire mean”? Take dining at a fancy restaurant or being invited to a wedding. Just how dressed up are you supposed to get?

Here’s a quick men’s formal wear guide to help you get dressed for your next event.

Where Would You Wear Formal Attire?

From the name alone, you can probably guess that formal attire isn’t supposed to be worn every day. These are event clothes you will probably pull out a few times a year. But just because you wear them infrequently doesn’t mean you have to wear them incorrectly.

Typically, you would wear formal attire for those special occasions in life. The most common and most likely place you would wear formal wear is to a wedding. This is especially true for weddings held in grand venues like ballrooms, hotels, and churches.

You may also wear formal attire to events such as galas, balls, and fundraisers. Many companies and organizations may put on formal events as part of a charity, and formal attire may be required of guests.

Lastly, you may be required to wear formal attire when dining at certain restaurants. There are still dining rooms that have a dress code and will require you to wear a jacket. These may be stand-alone restaurants or dining rooms, and grand hotels.

Before attending an event that you think would be formal attire, you should check the invitation to be sure.

Types of Formal Attire

Now that you know where you might wear formal attire, here is a guide to the types of formal wear for men. These are the four formal attire options you may see on an invitation from least to most formal dress.

Creative Black Tie

Creative black tie, or Hollywood black tie, is the most “casual” of the formal dress codes. This formal attire gives you a few more options for color than the original but black tie dress is still the core of the outfit.

With a creative black tie, a usually black-and-white suit can be replaced with rich colored jackets or burgundy suits. You may see less formal accessories that infuse more color, like urban bow ties or velvet Oxford shoes. 

Black Tie Optional

The next step up is black tie optional. Like the creative black tie, you have the freedom to play with your look or add more personality. However, you still need to show up dressed formally.

You can come dressed in a black, dark blue, or grey suit but skip the tie. Or you can wear simple neckwear but play with simple patterns like polka dots, stripes, and medallions. Dress shoes are still a must.

Black Tie

The next most formal is black tie, where your playful and creative options begin to dwindle. This is the event where you would wear a tuxedo. If you don’t go to many formal events, you may want to rent a tux.

But if you have several weddings or attend charity events or fundraising galas, you may want to buy a tuxedo. Silhouettes don’t change much from season to season, so one tuxedo can last you a few years.

For a black tie event, black or dark blue are the only options. Lapels should be black satin or a grosgrain fabric that contrasts the matte fabric of the suit. A white dress shirt with a bow tie or necktie in black is required.

White Tie

The most formal of all event dress codes is white tie. This event is typically reserved for royal or diplomatic ceremonies. Though unlikely, you may get the rare white tie wedding if you know someone in high society.

At a white tie event, you will probably be surrounded by world leaders, celebrities, and highly celebrated guests of honor. So on top of your white tie dress, you may also see decorations like medals of honor.

Many of the rules for white tie dress have not changed since the late-1700s, and that means there is very little room for creativity. The jacket should be an evening tailcoat worn unbuttoned with peaked lapels.

High waisted trousers, a stiff white evening shirt, light-colored cufflinks like mother-of-pearl, a waistcoat, and a white bowtie are all requirements. Black patent leather shoes with black laces and black evening socks finish the look.

Formal Attire Tips to Remember

Before you run out and buy a tuxedo, check the invitation to the event. If a specific dress code is required to attend, it will be written clearly on the invitation. It’s never a good idea to assume the dress code just by the type of the event.

Start looking for the elements of your formal attire early. Don’t leave it until the day before to search for or try on the elements. Prepare a couple of months in advance for professional alterations and try on a week beforehand to make sure it fits.

Be sure to store your outfit where it won’t get dirty, ripped, or ruined before the event. Polish the shoes you’re going to wear with it. And lastly, always show up in the required dress code.

No Need to Ask What Does Formal Attire Mean

Formal attire isn’t something you’d wear every day, and that’s what makes it so special. But that infrequency may make it hard to know what formal attire means.

So when you get that invitation in the mail that specifies formal attire: white tie, black tie, or black tie optional, you won’t have to ask what does formal attire mean? Come looking sharp and ready to have a good time.

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