The dress codes, from most casual to most formal, are: casual, smart casual, business casual, business formal, cocktail attire, semi formal, black tie optional, black tie creative, black tie, and white tie.

A Guide to Men’s Dress Codes for All Occasions

Mens Dress Codes

Although dress codes are designed to provide guidance on what to wear, they can often make choosing an outfit more complex. With all their rules and requirements, navigating your way through each form of attire can be incredibly challenging. Luckily, you no longer have to go in alone because we’re here to help. In this article, we break down the most common dress codes, such as cocktail attire, smart casual, black tie, and more, to ensure your every outfit is on-point. Here is our guide to men’s dress codes for all occasions.

Men’s Dress Codes

Casual Dress Code

Casual is the most relaxed of all dress codes and is extremely common. As such, it is incredibly easy to dress for, making it hard to go wrong with your outfit. That said, there are ways to ensure your casual look is more stylish than most. To do so, try investing in classic items that never go out of fashion, such as jeans, sweaters, sneakers, T-shirts, and denim jackets. Also, be sure to stick to basic colors to make coordinating looks easier. Then, create outfits that blend comfort with contemporary style. You can also add fun accessories and statement pieces for a personal touch.

Casual Dress Code

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Smart Casual Dress Code

Smart casual is a standard dress code and an important one to get right. To correctly dress for this style of attire, aim for an appearance that’s more elevated than your usual casualwear yet still relaxed and comfortable. You can do so by combining everyday garments with more sophisticated items. Of course, precisely how you interpret this dress code is up to you. You may want to wear jeans with a T-shirt and blazer or chinos with a chambray shirt. The choice is yours. Just make sure you strike the right balance of smart and casual, and that you’re dressed appropriately for the event you’re attending.

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Smart Casual Men

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Boglioli Mr P. Chinos
Mulo Suede Loafers Theory White Shirt

Business Casual Dress Code

Although often confused, smart casual and business casual are different dress codes. In particular, the main difference between these two smart yet relaxed codes is that business casual must also project an air of professionalism. Often called upon for modern offices, business casual attire doesn’t require a suit. Instead, a less formal outfit, such as chinos with a sweater or dark jeans with a blazer, works perfectly. When it comes to selecting a shirt, choose a style that’s ideal for the office, such as a classic colored Oxford or checkered button-down. Complete your outfit with smart footwear like brogues, monk-straps, loafers, or Derby shoes in suede or matte leather.

Business Casual Dress Code

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Essentials Navy Chinos John Smedley Sweater
Tricker's Black Brogues Turnbull and Asser

Business Formal Dress Code

Business formal is a dress code reserved for conservative offices and corporate meetings/events. It denotes a smart style of dress that is stylish and simple. To dress business formal, you should select an office-appropriate, notch-lapel suit in a dark color, such as navy or charcoal. Then add a business shirt in a standard color, such as white or blue. Although you can likely get away with a subtle pattern, it’s best to save any bold designs for business casual days. To complete your look, be sure to add a tie and black leather shoes. In particular, standard Oxfords or Derby shoes make an excellent option.

Business Formal Dress Code

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Cocktail Attire Dress Code

Cocktail attire is a dress code for evening events, such as parties. To dress for it, a suit is ideal. However, you shouldn’t just wear the same old style you wear to work. Instead, your cocktail suit should have a modern feel and be perfect for night-time. As such, a slim-fit, tailored design makes a fantastic option. It should also be dark in color and may even have a sleek sheen to its fabric. To complete your outfit, pair your suit with a dress shirt, polished dress shoes, and a slim tie if you wish. You can add a little flair or personal style with the accessories you choose.

Cocktail Attire Men

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Part Of A Suit Paul Smith Pants

Semi Formal Dress Code

Semi formal can be a tricky dress code to navigate. It sits a notch above cocktail attire and just below the black tie. As such it demands a look that is classically sophisticated yet also somewhat contemporary. Like cocktail attire, a suit makes a better choice than a tuxedo for a semi formal event. However, you should be sure to maintain a polished appearance for semi-formal functions. To do so, select a light suit, such as one in beige, for a daytime event or a dark suit, like one in navy, for the evening. Then add a dress shirt and a tie if you wish. Unlike cocktail attire, it’s best to stick to classic accessories with this dress code.

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Semi Formal Dress Code

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Ermenegildo Zegna Tie Hugo Boss Suit
John Lobb Shoes Turnbull and Asser

Black Tie Dress Code

Black tie is a formal style of dress that applies to sophisticated evening events. The dress code requires gents to wear a tuxedo, which can also be called a dinner suit. Unlike a standard suit, a tuxedo features contrasting lapels, which can be peak or shawl style, and a side stripe down the outseam of the pants. Ideally, your tux should be black or midnight blue and partnered with a white, formal shirt. Complete your look with a black bow tie, or one that matches the facing of your tuxedo, and smart dress shoes, such as black Oxfords. You may also want to wear a black waistcoat or cummerbund to add interest and further polish to your appearance.

Black Tie Dress Code

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Black Tie Optional Dress Code

Black tie optional is a variant of the standard black tie dress code. As such it’s more open and relaxed than traditional black tie while still being more formal than semi formal attire. As an easy way to nail this look, you can simply wear black tie attire. However, if you don’t have all the garments required for black tie, you can wear something slightly more relaxed. A sleek black suit with a necktie can be appropriate but ensure it’s well-fitted and high-quality or you may appear underdressed.

Black Tie Optional

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Black Tie Creative Dress Code

Black tie creative invites you to have fun with traditional black tie attire while maintaining a similar level of polish. Therefore, it’s the perfect dress code to showcase your flair for fashion. To do so, take the standard black tie tuxedo and add your own spin. You could choose a unique material, such as velvet, an unusual colour or pattern, or even some statement accessories. The choice is yours but remember to ensure your overall appearance is still suitable for a formal setting.

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Black Tie Creative

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White Tie Dress Code

White tie is the most formal of all dress codes and reserved for only the fanciest events, such as balls, galas, and weddings. To nail the code, you’ll need to dress to the nines. That means dialing things up even further than your sleek, black tie tux. To do so, you’ll need to wear a black tuxedo with tails, a white tuxedo shirt, such as a pleated or bib-front design, a white waistcoat, a white bow tie, and black, patent leather dress shoes. If you don’t already own these items and are not one to attend white tie events regularly, you can consider hiring them. Additionally, if you want to add more flash to your outfit, you can also wear white gloves and a black top hat. However, these items aren’t necessary.

White Tie Dress Code

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Hackett Black Tuxedo Hugo Boss Shoes
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FAQs

What are the levels of dress code?

The dress codes, from most casual to most formal, are: casual, smart casual, business casual, business formal, cocktail attire, semi formal, black tie optional, black tie creative, black tie, and white tie.

What is meant by a dress code?

A dress code is a set of standards and rules for what type of clothing and outfits are considered appropriate for specific occasions. These rules are important for developing a particular image and sending a message. It’s also a way of creating a cohesive community and feeling of belongingness.

How do I choose a dress code?

The dress code you choose will depend on the occasion, venue, time of day, and menu. White tie is reserved for exceptionally formal events with multi-course dinners served by staff. Meanwhile, black tie and its variations are also very formal and suit significant events such as galas, large weddings, or landmark birthdays. Early evening occasions fit semi-formal and cocktail styles well and generally feature canapes and drinks. Business formal is appropriate for power lunches and workplaces, while business casual is great for dress-down Fridays. Lastly, smart casual is best for barbecue lunches, while casual, clean attire suits all other social occasions.

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