Different dress codes for men and explained

Different Types of Men’s Dress Codes

Have an event to attend this weekend, but you’re unsure how to decipher the dress code?

What would be too casual, and what would be too formal?

We all have been there when following a dress code becomes a daunting task simply because we don’t know what it requires.

Guess what? It doesn’t take much if you have done your research or have read a well-researched article like this one.

Let’s define what dress codes are and then describe the twelve most common dress codes used today.

What Are Dress Codes?

A dress code defines or states how people are supposed to dress up using different clothing combinations.

Different types of dress code formality

Dress codes mainly originate from social norms and perceptions about wearing certain clothing based on occasion, circumstance, and purpose.

As a result, we see variations in dress codes in different cultures and societies, given the differences in perceptions and norms.

It allows you to express yourself at certain events, places, and environments.

Different dress codes and clothing combinations

How well you follow a dress code also symbolizes your fashion sense and personality.

However, people struggle with following dress codes simply because they are unaware of what’s expected.

As a result, I’ll be breaking down the guidelines for the most commonly used dress codes today.

White-Tie Dress Code

The white-tie dress code is the most formal of all dress codes.

White-tie dress code and attire for men

Before the world wars, society was filled with white-tie dress codes and events.

However, today we don’t see much of them.

There is hardly any room for leeway in white-tie dress codes since they are fully formal and are often referred to as full dress.

You can only go for customizations with the pocket square, boutonniere, or cufflinks. Otherwise, it all must be by the book.

It features a black tuxedo jacket with silk facings and peak lapels.

The double-breasted style is complemented by 4 to 6 buttons.

White-tie dress code

The jacket also features a tailcoat with the tails falling as low as the back of the knee.

The white-tie dress code calls for high-waisted black tuxedo trousers often worn with suspenders.

The outside seam of the leg also features one or two satin strips running along.

As for the tuxedo shirt, a plain white featuring a detachable (preferred) wingtip collar is required.

Wingtip dress shirt collar type

The shirt is also attached to the pants thanks to a tab at the front, which helps avoid billowing.

The white-tie dress code is incomplete without a white low-cut waistcoat featuring either four or three buttons at the front.

Waistcoats should be long enough to cover the trouser waistband but not too long to fall below the hem of the tailcoat.

A white bow tie and formal shoes are mandatory to complete the look.

White bow tie with a dinner jacket and tuxedo shirt

You can wear a white-tie dress code at galas, operas, royal ceremonies, state dinners, etc.

Black-Tie Dress Code

A black-tie dress code is strictly formal and falls on the same spectrum as a white-tie dress code.

Black-tie dress code and attire for men

It is most commonly worn for evening events and is often referred to as a dinner suit.

The tuxedo is what makes it stand out from the rest with a single- or double-breasted design.

It is complemented by a silk lapel in either shawl or peak style, which is unnotched in both cases.

As for the tuxedo jacket color, black is the most common. But you can also see navy blue, maroon, or white dinner jackets as well.

Maroon vs. midnight blue tuxedo jacket colors

The outseam of the tuxedo pants features a single stripe of satin or silk.

You also do not get belt loops with tuxedo pants. Instead, they have adjustable side tabs.

The features of black tuxedo pants

You have to complement the tuxedo with a white wingtip tuxedo shirt featuring a French cuff.

Depending on your choice, you can either go for a cummerbund or a waistcoat but never both.

A single- or double-breasted waistcoat goes best with a peak lapel jacket.

How to wear a black waistcoat with a tuxedo

As for the cummerbund, a black pleated option with pleats facing up is best.

The whole look is completed with a black self-tied bow tie.

How to wear a black bow tie with a tuxedo shirt

As for the shoes, you have to go formal with opera pumps, Venetial loafers, or Oxford dress shoes as your best options.

Opera pumps as formal black-tie footwear

Black-tie dress codes are usually requested for award ceremonies, fundraisers, operas, evening weddings, private dinners, and galas.

Black-Tie Creative Dress Code

The black-tie creative dress code is also something that men find hard to decipher.

Black-tie creative dress code and attire for men

While it is a bit challenging, there is also some fun to it.

Black-tie creative dress codes are often worn at events arranged for or by the creative and entertainment industries.

Black-tie vs. black-tie creative attire

They offer you the flexibility to spice up the black-tie tuxedo look with some flair and color.

However, you cannot overdo it since the events are still highly formal.

You can add color with your cummerbund or waistcoats.

Black vs. red cummerbund for black-tie creative attire

However, make sure not to match the color of your tie to either of the two.

More importantly, make sure that you do not go for bright colors because they are still a big no.

As for the shoes, you have to be careful because the wrong choice can bring the whole outfit down.

If you are unsure about any part of the dress, just go for something formal, like Oxfords.

Black formal footwer to wear for black-tie events

Again, black-tie creative can be easier to deal with as you can always follow the black-tie rules here.

You could simply wear a regular black tuxedo and maybe add some decent, undertone colors which contrast well with the suit color.

Black-Tie Optional Dress Code

The black-tie optional dress code often confuses men making them wonder what to wear if not a black tie.

Black-tie optional dress code and attire for men

Don’t overthink it. It simply means that you have the leeway to dress a bit less formally than in a black tuxedo.

In simpler words, a black necktie with a black suit will suffice the black-tie optional dress code.

Black-tie vs. black-tie optional attire

It is often kept as the dress code to be more inclusive of the guests, giving them an option to avoid the full tuxedo in case they don’t have it.

Again, you can choose to replace the tuxedo with a polished black suit featuring notch or peak lapels.

You could also replace the black tuxedo with a midnight blue or navy dinner jacket.

A plain white dress shirt featuring either French or barrel cuffs is perfect.

French dress shirt cuff

You can also choose between a classic black bow tie or the skinnier black or red for a slightly casual look.

As for the shoe type, it is recommended to go for patent leather or black leather Oxford.

Black oxford dress shoe styles for black-tie events

Make sure you keep the colors dark, including the socks, as the events are still formal.

Business-Formal Dress Code

Business-formal dress codes are requirements at employment places where they aim to represent a business ethic.

Business formal dress code and attire for men

The dress code is suitable for all business-related events, such as meetings, dinners, conferences, and interviews.

It is a conservative way of work dressing, and the ultimate way to tackle it is to wear a suit, preferably a dark one.

Dark navy wool suit as a formal business outfit

A business outfit also has a psychological effect that encourages you and declares to others that you are ready for work.

Typically, people working in the government, finance, and law spaces follow business-formal dress codes.

You have to go in a suit, but you are not strictly limited by styles and types.

However, what’s important is the fit. The suit must be well-fitted and make you feel comfortable as you wear it throughout the day.

How should a suit fit: basic rules

As for the suit color, you cannot go wrong with a navy or charcoal grey two-piece suit for business-formal.

A light blue or a solid white dress shirt with (must be subtle, like herringbone) or without patterns does the job.

How to wear a charcoal suit with a white dress shirt

Go for subtly patterned ties or plain colors which are not too vibrant.

All of this, combined with black formal shoes, either Derbys or Oxford, will complete the business-formal look.

Semi-Formal Dress Code

Semi-formal is similar to the business-formal dress code in terms of flexibility compared to black-tie attire.

Semi-formal dress code and atiire for men

However, you can wear semi-formal attire on more occasions as compared to business formal.

Although the events are quite relaxed in terms of dress code, you are still recommended to wear a tie.

More importantly, if the event falls on the more formal side, make sure to wear a dark color suit.

Usually, navy, charcoal, or a darker shade of blue make the best color combinations for nighttime events.

Semi-formal nighttime outfit with a navy suit

Don’t incline towards black because with black comes more formality.

If the event is during the day, a lighter suit is recommended, like cream, tan, or light blue.

Semi-formal daytime outfit idea with a light blue suit

Still, darker colors aren’t completely out of the equation for daytime events. In fact, you can wear them if you wish, but it comes down to preference.

Normally, people go for lighter colors during the day and darker colors during the night.

As for shoes, you should go for oxfords or derbies, preferably black but brown works too.

Recommended dress shoe types for semi-formal events

The shirt can have patterns and colors but make sure they’re subtle.

Whether it is a party, after-work event, wedding, or first date, you want to show some seriousness.

Recommended button-up dress shirt colors for semi-formal events

You want to avoid the flashy look that comes with brighter colors and bold patterns.

Cocktail Dress Code

The cocktail dress code falls on the semi-formal spectrum, usually worn for evening events.

Cocktail dress code and attire for men

It also brings together a mixture of modern and formal.

The cocktail attire allows a wide range of personalities to express themselves in their own ways.

You can choose not to wear a tie with your cocktail outfit, contrary to the standard set by the formal dress code.

Recommended ties and neckwear for cocktail attire

Even leaving one or two buttons open doesn’t hurt.

As a result, this apparel is mostly based on personal perceptions. However, there are still a few guidelines to follow.

Although some may say that you don’t even have to wear a suit, I strongly recommend wearing one.

In case you decide against it, get a polished blazer paired with well-tailored trousers, both in neutral colors. Make sure both clothing pieces are good-looking.

Blazer and dress pants cocktail attire combinations

More importantly, you don’t have to stick to leather shoes. Instead, you can incline toward suede styles as well.

Just make sure that the shoes match well with the suit or blazer.

Recommended dress shoes for fashion-forward outfits

Again, don’t mistake the cocktail dress code for being too casual. You should use accessories that reflect sophistication with a touch of formality.

For example, throw in a professional-looking watch or a neat-looking pocket square.

Business-Casual Dress Code

A relaxed and flexible work environment normally allows a business casual dress code.

Business casual dress code and attire for men

In other words, business-casual dress codes are mostly for startup work environments or service industries and conferences, interviews, and casual meetings.

Nonetheless, it is not an invitation to look informal.

The workplace still requires employees to look professional by following less formal dressing rules.

Often, businesses and events do not specify what they mean by business casual dress code. But, usually, they expect you to wear a nice casual blazer or jacket.

Business-casual jacket styles and options for men

If you want to go for sharp looks, a single-breasted, dark grey, and notch lapel blazer will do the job.

As for the shirt, you can go for different options and choices such as patterns, colors, etc.

Different business casual shirt styles for men and their formality scale

You can also choose between a button-down or button-up shirt.

In addition, you can also wear a cardigan or a contrasting V-neck sweater to mix things up. Polo shirts work, too, if you are into them.

Different business casual sweater style options

However, don’t fall towards the plain white dress shirt because that is just too formal. So are the French cuffs. Therefore, avoid them as well.

Business-casual workspaces usually require you to wear formal pants. Trousers or dress slacks are the most common choices.

Different business-casual pants styles for men and their formality scale

However, if your office is more flexible, a nice pair of casual jeans can work, too.

Pair the outfit with brogues, chukka boots, or loafers to complete the nice business casual look.

Different business-casual shoe styles for men

Don’t ruin the look with sneakers or tennis shoes, as that is just too informal for this dress code.

Also, you can completely negate the tie.

Smart-Casual Dress Code

Smart casual might sound like an office look, but it’s more than that. It’s best described as sophisticated yet casual but not messy at all.

Smart casual derss code and attire for men

You could see it as a relaxed look when there’s a perfect blend of trendy and aesthetic outfits.

Usually, startups and tech firms allow smart casual outfits. But you can wear it at some family event, date, or a simple evening hangout.

There aren’t any rigid and hard rules for this look. However, it should still make you feel neat and simple.

The good thing about a smart-casual dress code is that it offers the flexibility to add multiple colors in a single outfit.

Moreover, you can bring together unrelated pieces of clothing to bring forth a different combination.

You could choose to go for a blazer as well. But don’t overdo the color. Instead, let other pieces of clothing handle that, such as a checkered or bolder color shirt.

You could also choose to go for a T-shirt or polo shirt paired with dress pants and a well-fitted jacket.

Both jeans and chinos work for this look, so it’s your personal choice of which to go for.

Again, choose the colors according to the weather and the time of the day.

As for shoes, you can rock a good pair of leather shoes, sneakers, or dress boots.

However, formal shoes like derbies can also do the job as well.

Casual Dress Code

Casual outfits are quite common and is one of the most relaxed.

Casual attire for men

As a result, it is hard to go wrong with casual, given how easy it is to dress for.

However, there are still ways to make your relaxed look stand out from the rest.

The best way to go about this is to invest in classy items such as sweaters, jeans, denim jackets, sneakers, and t-shirts that never really go out of fashion.

More importantly, don’t overdo the colors and stick to basics.

It not only makes you look casually decent but also makes coordination easier.

A casual attire also doesn’t have any restrictions, so you can spice up the look with some accessories, like chronograph watches or bracelets.

Ultra-Casual Dress Code

The ultra-casual outfits are the simplest of all, reflecting convenience and comfort.

Ultra-casual attire for men

The ultra-casual is often known as the outfit for the warm weather, worn during the summer and spring seasons.

You can choose different t-shirt styles but make sure they fit you well.

With ultra-casual also comes the freedom to wear shorts. It’s still best to wear them above the knee.

As for shoes, you can either go for loafers or sneakers complemented by matching socks.

You can also complete the whole look with some casual accessories such as bracelets and watches.

Keep in mind that an ultra-casual look shows a lot of skin, so invest and spend time on self-grooming as well.

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