So you’re invited to a special occasion because of work, family, or friends and you want to dress to impress. But don’t just throw on any suit you have in your closet. The semi-formal dress code written in your invitation may not mean the same thing as you think it means.
To help you make better decisions about your outfit, we’ve compiled the differences between the most common dress codes you’ll ever encounter.
The formal dress code used to be the attire for celebrating important occasions, but it has now been replaced by the semi-formal – or even informal – dress code for most people. The peak of the dress code pyramid now finds itself limited to the most gallant of occasions such as meeting the Queen (as exemplified by the former U.S. President, Barack Obama), state dinners, or the attendance of a royal wedding.
There are hardly any deviations possible from a formal dress code. While it would be a rare occasion that you find yourself attending an event that requires a formal dress by its classic definition, knowing the difference between a white tie outfit and a morning dress will be important if you do get the opportunity.
The white tie dress code is reserved for the most special of dinner occasions. Don’t make the mistake of wearing a white tie outfit to any event that starts earlier than 7 p.m.
Composed of a white undershirt, a waistcoat, a white bow tie with a standing wingtip collar, and a black dress coat, the white tie look is an impressive ensemble that only few people have a chance to enjoy.
The formal day dress code is the morning equivalent of the white tie dress code. This is what you wear if the royal wedding or the most formal of governmental functions occurs during the day.
The morning dress is composed of a morning coat, a waistcoat, and formal pants, with grey being a common color for the morning suit. It is considered a less formal outfit than a white tie outfit.
The word semi-formal may have lost its meaning in the modern era but those who understand its classic definition know that semi-formal outfits are a spectacle second only to the formal dress. Occasions which require the semi-formal dress code are more publicly known and include events such as charity balls, inauguration nights, movie premieres, and award nights.
The black tie is the evening semi-formal dress code and can easily be summed up by the word tuxedo. Much like the white tie, wearing a black tie outfit during the day is usually frowned upon.
Along with a white undershirt, the black tie outfit is a three-piece suit consisting of trousers, a waistcoat, and a dinner jacket that’s distinguished by satin lapels. A black bow tie and black patent leather dress shoes usually finish off the outfit.
The stroller (aka black lounge suit) is simply a dressed-down version of the morning dress, with the morning coat being traded for a lounge jacket. The swapping of the morning coat turns the outfit into a semi-formal look that can be worn for daytime occasions.
The stroller can also make do without the waistcoat that usually accompanies the morning dress. For an example of a stroller worn in public, the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan was known to sport the look.
Formal business attire
A dark colored lounge suit with a light-colored shirt and a necktie with a subdued design makes the formal business attire one of the most recognizable looks that men can wear. The formal business attire has one rule: the more conservative the look of your suit, the better it says you mean business.
Keep in mind that while the formal business attire needs a conservative look, it doesn’t mean that you look boring. It is possible to express your personal style with your outfit’s other accessories such as pocket squares, cuff links, and shoe design. Matched with a dark and well-fitting lounge suit, a well-executed formal business look is a classic that never fails to impress in or out of the boardroom.
An informal dress code does not mean sloppy or casual. Informal simply means a dress code that’s more relaxed in comparison to the strict requirements of formal and semi-formal dress codes. The informal business attire is actually the dress code expected of you for common formal events.
Informal business attire is simply the lounge suit with a little more freedom for a man to express his personality. Pinstripe designs, lighter-colored suits, brighter shirts, as well as neckties with a bit more adventure injected into the design are all welcome in business attire.
Depending on where you work, it may be possible to wear suits on the brighter side of the color spectrum. But in general, neutral colors such as solid dark blue, grey, and black are preferred.
Casual is the most relaxed dress code that you could ever encounter outside of sports centers and establishments that have a “no shirts, no shoes, no service” policy. A casual dress code may actually be the hardest to cater to as the expectation of a casual outfit may significantly differ from place to place. Still, the casual dress code is not an excuse to rock an ensemble made up of a t-shirt, jeans, and sandals.
The primary style that defines business casual is the freedom to wear an outfit with non-matching colors. Business casual is the dress coded that allows you to wear dark-colored denim pants in lieu of your dress pants. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that business casual is an excuse to wear a polo shirt or – god forbid – a t-shirt.
Vibrantly colored and designed dress shirts hold an important place in an office environment with a business casual dress code. Sports jackets, blazers, and statement neckties are optional but highly encouraged to complete the sleek look of a business casual outfit.
At its core, smart casual is simply a neat look with the option to wear trappings of the business casual alongside more informal clothing. It’s common to see sports jackets and blazers being matched with color-coordinated polo shirts and t-shirts at an event with a smart casual dress code.
Adventurous footwear, such as boat shoes, is welcome in a smart casual setting while dress socks are optional. A smart casual dress code event is definitely the most relaxed situation where experimentation is king for your style.