How To Dress Up For A Formal Event

Understanding Appropriate Attire Terms

Being prepared before hosting, attending, or accompanying someone to an event is key to success. Understanding dress code terminology is key to meeting the demands of guests or hosts. This article details each category of formal dress code for gentlemen.

Introduction to Dress Code

Man in Tuxedo The first rule in dressing for an event is to understand the invitation. Determine the importance of appropriate dress through the invitation itself.

Invitations or announcements are presented in a variety of ways: through formal announcements on paper, casual invitations on paper, accompanying another as a “plus one” and the list goes on.

To RSVP to a graduation celebration through the mail sets the tone in expected dress. When “attending” a graduation party through a Facebook invite, the dress code is definitely lax in comparison.

The underlying assumption of the advice given here is that the dress code has been decided. If there is any question on the dress code of this particular event, ask.

It is not a faux pas to ask what kind of attire is expected at an event if not mentioned in an invitation. If the host is unreachable, try to talk with someone participating in the event. Remember, it is a guest’s duty to come prepared.

In rare the case the dress code cannot determined before the event, try to prepare for any clothing scenario.

Consider wearing clothing that can be dressed up or dressed down. If overdressed in a suit and tie, the ensemble is easily converted to semi-formal with the removal of the tie and opening of the shirt.

If underdressed, there surely will not be another properly fitted jacket freely available. This is why it is better to overdress than “underdress”, so err on the side of preparedness.

A Man's Guide To Style

Attire For Formal Events

In a sense, dressing for formal events makes the decision making process easier than more casual events. Because the option of garment type have been decided at formal events, the remaining details are few.

The whole purpose of the black-tie format is to give an almost militaristic, rank-and-file tone to the important occasion. When men’s formal attire is worn knowledgeably, the black-and-white tuxedo or suit appears as a foil to an accompanying woman’s bright dress.

Even though the gentlemen are limited to black and other muted, dark tones at the formal event, the prepared man will stand out if he carefully considers the important details in evening dress.

Please note that some of these terms are only for North America, as the English and Europeans have their own terminology. The same word does not always have the same meaning.

Black Tie

When the invitation mentions Black Tie, Black Tie Preferred, Full Dress, Le Smoking, or Smoking for an evening formal event, then your host is providing an elegant affair and expects you to dress accordingly. Black Tie is the most common expression.
No matter which term is used, any black tie event requires a tuxedo.

Tuxedo is an American term; it is known as evening dress throughout the rest of the English-speaking world. Much like a fine champagne served at a formal event, there are exact specifications that make the traditional tuxedo the genuine article.

There are six components of a true tuxedo. When renting or purchasing a tuxedo, make sure the complete set is presented and available for the suit.

James Bond Tux

  • Black Evening Jacket: This short evening jacket is the standard in black tie events because the tailcoat has fallen out of favor in modern times. It is typically single-breasted and should have upward sweeping peaked lapels. A shawl collar is also acceptable, but a rarely recommended because it does not accentuate shoulders and height as peaked lapels do. The facing or exposed side of the lapel should be a glossier material than the rest of the suit. The single breasted jacket is the best option for comfort because its openness. The double-breasted evening jacket buttons over the cummerbund, or could allow the wearer to forgo the cummerbund altogether.
  • Black Trousers: These are also known as dinner jacket trousers. For black tie events, piping on the sides of the pant are a necessity. The piping could be any fine material such as silk, grosgrain, or satin. Make sure the piping material is coordinated with the facing of the lapel. The bottom of these trousers are never cuffed at a black tie event.
  • Black Cummerbund or Low Waistcoat: The purpose of the black-tie waist component is to conceal the trouser’s waistband and give a slimming effect to the bottom of the shirt. Both require concealing where the suspenders meet the pants. Do not attempt to conceal a belt under a cummerbund or waistcoat.
  • White Dress Shirt: The tuxedo shirt is unlike other dress shirts. It is made of pique cotton, has small black buttons, pleated front, and a turndown collar. The collar and single-cuffs are preferably starched.
  • Black Bow Tie: There are two options for the proper black bow tie. The modern, more well-known bow tie is the “butterfly” self-tie bow. The other option is the “bat-wing” bow which is considered a vintage accessory in American formal attire.Take the time to learn how to tie a bow-tie properly; the “clip-around” bow-ties are easy to spot.
  • Black Oxford Shoes: These shoes should be in shined condition with silk laces. They are light enough to allow the wearer ease when standing in a ceremony on a dance floor.

Even though black tie events are relatively rare for the average man, buying a custom fitted tuxedo rather than renting one is the best option because it can be expertly tailored.

Also, owning a tailored tuxedo can be cost-effective if you attend more than one black-tie event per year. These events include (but not limited to) weddings, operas, state dinners, charity dinners and balls and awards ceremonies.

Black Tie Optional

This event calls for either a tuxedo or dark suit. It can also be the most appropriate time to wear an odd jacket instead of the traditional evening jacket. Black tie optional has become more common as dress standards relaxed over the last few decades.

Instead of excluding them from events, black tie optional was created to be more inclusive. If invited to a black tie optional or black tie invited event and both a tuxedo and solid dark suit are on hand, wear the the garment that fits best. Do not rent or buy a tuxedo if not absolutely necessary.