Proper Men’s Attire For All Occasions

A Guide to Appropriate Attire for Weddings, Funerals and Other Events

There is a whole spectrum of appropriate dress codes for special events. This article deciphers what is meant by a “black-tie optional” event versus a “black-tie” event and so on. It also offers insight and guidelines in etiquette for life’s various ceremonial events.

Introduction to Appropriate Attire

Men's black suitWhether one is aware or not, there are written and unwritten dress code rules on how to dress accordingly for a variety of different occasions.

Surely, wearing board shorts is not acceptable a wedding, but there are those that might wear them to an informal meeting with a colleague.

A man’s life is undoubtedly full of moments that require him to dress a certain way.

From his high school graduation to walking his daughter down the aisle, a man must understand the basics of formal, semi-formal, and casual dressing to respect and be involved in the circumstance of the ceremony or event.

Because being a gentleman is knowing that wearing appropriate clothing is not just about him alone. Personal presentation is a reflection of the respect one shows to those around him.

That said, this article will carry a traditionalist tone. The advice here the same that one would receive if consulting a tailor.

But therein lies the strength of tradition – this timeless wisdom is battle tested and proven. This guide has been measured against the rubric of permanent male fashion.

Life’s Formal Events


The distinguished male wedding guest contributes the ceremony with his very presence. His attire should be smart and within the requested boundaries of the host. If he chooses to be fashionable, he should limit his male adornment. The purpose of attending is to pay respect; part of the way it is shown is to not upstage the major participants.

Most invitations include what the formal dress code will be. Expect it to fall anywhere between black tie and business casual. Arriving in a dark suit, white shirt, and muted tie with proper dress shoes is generally accepted. Find out what dress code applies. If it is not clearly mentioned, there are indications on what is appropriate.

First, take into account the location. A New Age outdoor wedding by an open shore will absolutely not require a suit of any kind, but bring a jacket. If buying a plane ticket overseas to attend a wedding in a Parisian cathedral, do not settle for anything less than black tie.

Second, the time of day. Day weddings are usually less formal than evening ceremonies. In fact, the wearing of a tuxedo before five in the afternoon is considered a faux pas by many traditionalists, although in the United States this rule does not apply.

Third, the invitation itself. The tenor of a formal invitation reveals how the ceremony might look. If the invitation is made of fine cardstock with beveled edges and enclosed with crêpe paper, dress up.

Wedding occasionally forgo formal attire in favor of informal, or “casual” attire. Remember, the word “informal” is definitely open to interpretation. In this scenario, the invited will need to do some investigating. Dress code always applies, but the level of dress code should be determined. Do not come to a wedding under-dressed.


The same principle of understated formal attire applies here for the same reasons: dress in respect to those being honored. Many graduates think the event surrounding the culmination of their education is about them, but its truly a landmark celebration for everyone involved in celebrating the graduate’s achievement.

graduationEven when wearing a ceremonial robe, dress smartly because shoes, socks, and trouser legs will be visible. Consider timeless oxfords as footwear, but any dress shoe that is made from quality leather and properly shined will do.

For most, a simple suit and tie or sports jacket, dark trousers, and tie is best. For an extra show of allegiance, an alumnus can coordinate his tie to the school’s colors. Leave the jacket off when robed to avoid bulk, but have it handy to wear to the reception and multiple picture taking sessions.

Remember, graduation ceremonies are in the milder weeks before summer, so check the weather beforehand. You want to be as comfortable as possible during the entire commencement.

If a guest of the graduate, take the ceremony’s location into consideration to set the tone. Undergraduate and advanced degree ceremonies require a fitted blazer if not a light or medium-toned suit. A high school graduation calls for at least a collared shirt. A distinguished male guardian should always look the best he can for a son or daughter’s graduation ceremony.


A gentleman’s purpose when attending a funeral is to pay his respects to the deceased and comfort the others around him. Attending a funeral in anything too flashy or “fashion forward” is the height of bad taste.

Dressing appropriately shows support and puts the focus on the funeral. It is generally understood throughout the Western world that acceptable dress in a funeral is a dark suit, a muted tie and polished shoes.

Black suits are no longer mandatory in funerals of modern times. If only a navy pinstripe suit is available, it is acceptable. As for the dress shirt, white is the most formal color, but other toned-down shades are good alternatives. Especially in this instance, the suit should not set the wearer apart from the other attendees.

Life’s Semi-Formal Events

First Date

There are a lot of things that cannot be controlled on the first date. She might not favor the restaurant, your opinions or jokes; it might even downpour rain. One factor that can be controlled is appearance. It is most advantageous to make the most out of what is available in the wardrobe department.

First dateWear clothes that fit well and show off the best assets. A well-fitting pair of jeans or chinos with a cotton button down or the right sized polo will show off your shape and flatter you, regardless of what shape you’re in. Don’t wear anything that shrouds you in excess material.

Bagginess will hide your shape, eliminating some of your sex appeal from the start. And in a nod to moderation, wearing Eric Estrada-tight jeans isn’t going to be comfortable for any party involved, either. A simple, understated outfit is key to letting your date concentrate on you.

The tried-and-true “best look” on your first date is a comfortable well-fitting suit or sports jacket. If your suit is well made, it will accentuate your shoulders, trim your waist, and give you the appearance of added height. To match the jacket, wear a pair of dark-wool trousers.

Roomier than jeans, they’ll also hide small stains better whether you spill a bit of wine or forget to shake. And always pay close attention to your shoes’ shine and style; you can bet your date will. You can’t be too careful with the details because you only have one first impression.

Lastly, to really make sure your date goes off without a hitch, subtly let her know what you’ll be wearing before the appointed time. She could be under the impression the date is a more casual situation, and may be uncomfortable if her outfit doesn’t match your clothing’s level of formality. Especially in this situation, your clothes make the difference between a great time and an awkward one.

First Week on the Job

You will meet many new co-workers on your first week of the new job, so make sure you master the art of first impressions. It’s important that you pay very close attention to the unstated dress code and carefully adapt your clothing to it.

Now don’t give up your individuality, but be sensitive to what others are wearing and the reactions your clothing will draw. Because even though the interview is over, the game of office politics and perception is never done.

It’s best to be a bit on the overdressed side your first week on the job. Surely you dressed sharply at the interview, so stick to what style got you in the door. Over-dressing may not be possible at a law firm where everyone is wearing a suit and tie, but in a business casual environment you may want to opt for a sports jacket, shirt, and tie versus a shirt and tie only.

When shaking hands for the first time you want to project a professional image, as most of our sensory input is visual, and numerous communication studies have demonstrated appearances far outweigh what we actually say in a first encounter. With people making a decision about you in the first few seconds, it’s easier to start at the top than to start low and try to work yourself up.


There are get-togethers, there are cocktail parties, and then there are receptions. In that order do we generally see these congregations increase in their level of formality; however, it’s not uncommon to attend a casual reception or a more formal get-together. Again, like most things, its situation dependent.

Get-togethers are typically more relaxed and comfortable social events, often loosely planned where most of the attendants know each other already or share a common bond. The dress code here ranges from casual to business casual.

Cocktail parties on the other hand are planned events where many of the guests do not know each other; hence we have a higher level of formality as people feel each other out. Judgments are passed, business deals started, and business cards are liberally distributed here. Expect the dress code to be business casual to black tie optional.

Finally, we have receptions. Although they can be very informal events, many times they are not, as the event’s purpose is to “receive” a new couple, a new company president, or a new child. For this, we show respect by elevating our appearance. Expect semiformal to black tie optional.


We have all heard it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed; my advice is to simply dress perfectly for the occasion. It is not that hard if you pay attention, do your homework, and prepare accordingly.

And remember there will always be those events where the right thing to wear will never be clear. These are the occasions where you will be able to rest on the laurels of your personal good style and judgment.