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A Dress Code Guide For Men: What To Wear From Formal To Casual

Men's Style Guides
Monday, 18th March, 2024

Men's Dress Codes Explained

You’ve been invited to a party, but you don’t know what to wear. You’re getting dressed for work, but don’t know what’s appropriate attire?

If that sounds familiar, don’t worry! If you’ve heard of dress codes it may sound daunting at first, but once you understand what they are, it can be pretty easy.

I’m going to talk about every dress code you’ll ever run into, and showcase outfits for each dress code, with ideas on the clothing you need to wear.

Here’s every men’s dress code debunked.

Formal Dress Codes

Formal dress codes are all about formalities, as the name suggests. They are very strict, and should be followed. This usually includes the type of clothing you wear, as well as the colours.

Here’s the guide on attire, and every men’s dress code you’ll ever encounter.

White Tie Dress Code

The most formal dress code there is, I’m talking about White Tie. This is super formal, and it’s so formal in fact that you’ll probably never ever need it.

Think state banquets with head’s of state, and incredibly formal dinners for posh people. That’s what white tie is all about.

As you can guess, a white tie (white bow-tie) is required.

White Tie Outfit

  • Black Tailcoat
  • Black Trousers
  • White Shirt
  • Waistcoat
  • White Bow Tie
  • Black Patent Leather Shoes

When To Wear White Tie

You’ll likely never have to wear white tie attire, as mentioned this dress code is usually reserved for the most formal of occasions.

Black Tie Dress Code

Black Tie Dress Code Outfit

The most famous of all the formal dress codes, that is the black tie dress code. You’ll have seen this before, and may have worn it too. It’s the tuxedo jacket attire also called a dinner jacket.

Black Tie is the most formal attire you’re likely to encounter. When people are dressing up, black tie is often the smartest attire that you’ll be expected to wear.

You’ll know if it’s a black tie event as it will state this on your invitation.

This is a strict dress code, meaning you have to follow it to the letter. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as you’ll know exactly what you can and can’t wear.

Black Tie Outfit

  • Black Tuxedo Jacket aka Dinner Jacket
  • Black Trousers
  • Waistcoat
  • Dress Shirt
  • Patent Leather Shoes
  • Bow Tie
  • Cufflinks
  • White Pocket Square

Black Tie Optional Dress Code

Black Tie Optional Dress Code Outfit

A more modern take on the black tie dress code is black tie optional. This is self explanatory, where you have the choice of the traditional black tie attire i,e, a tux, or wear a more traditional suit.

When it comes to the suit, you should wear a dark colour such as navy or dark grey such as charcoal. Don’t forget the tie, and you’ll want to wear smart polished shoes.

Black Tie Optional Outfit

  • Navy Blue Suit
  • White Shirt
  • Dark Colour Tie
  • Polished Oxford Shoes

Semi-Formal Dress Codes

For most people, the semi formal dress code is going to be your most worn. This is the dress code I wear myself, and it is exactly what it says on the tin.

Semi-formal takes elements of the formal dress codes and either dresses them down, or removes some components entirely.

It also has several different dress codes within it, many of them dictated by the actual setting or event you’re attending.

Business Formal Dress Code

Business Formal Dress Code Outfit

When it comes to business and office type of work, business formal is the most formal of dress codes.

This one is similar to black tie, but there could be slightly more wiggle room in terms of what you wear. This is usually down to colour, for example a midnight blue suit could be acceptable, along with the usual black tie attire.

Business Formal is usually reserved for formal business matters such as events, awards ceremonies and more. If this dress code is in play, it will usually be stated.

Business Formal Outfit

  • Midnight Blue Suit
  • Bow Tie
  • White Dress Shirt
  • Cufflinks
  • Patent Leather Shoes

Business Professional Dress Code

Business Professional Dress Code Outfit

When it comes to dressing smart in the office, Business Professional is the dress code you’re looking for.

This is the dress code you’ll be familiar with if you work in a high profession job. If you’re working in a Law firm, a conservative office or you’re in the C-Suite, this will be the dress code.

Expect to wear a good fitting suit, tie, shirt and clean shoes. Colours of suit isn’t too important, but greys, blues and neutral colours will be seen most of all.

For the average office in the UK this dress code is a little too formal, and workers usually wear business casual or even smart casual. More on those below.

Business Professional Outfit

  • Navy Blue Suit
  • White Smart Shirt
  • Navy Blue Tie
  • Black Oxford Shoes

Business Casual Dress Code

Business casual outfit - pin stripe suit, shirt and smart shoes

For many office workers, business casual is going to be the go-to dress code. This dress code is more relaxed than professional, but still requires you to be smart.

First of all, the tie can go. From then on, it’s all about looking smart and professional. There’s no hard and fast rules, you just have to look smart.

Most men will still wear a button up shirt, a blazer or even still a full suit. You can wear separates, i.e. different colour trousers and jacket, but obviously it has to match and go together well (check out the colour matching guide).

This can be harder to get right, so if you’re in any doubt, then just pick out a plain shirt alongside a suit and clean shoes and you’ll be fine.

Business Casual Outfit

  • Navy Suit
  • Light Blue Shirt
  • Brown Brogues

Dress To Impress

Dress To Impress Outfit

Going to a party? Having a big night out? You’ll want to dress to impress.

This isn’t a rigid or even official dress code, but there’s plenty of invitations where you are asked to dress to impress, so what does that mean, and what should you wear?

Dressing to impress means looking your best and dressing up. Think more on the smart and smart casual end of the scale. For lads this usually means wearing a suit, sometimes a tie, but the overall message is to look sharp.

This is something you’d wear on a night out, to a party where you’ve been told to dress up without a formal dress code, or just when you want to look your very best.

Dress To Impress Outfit

  • Grey Suit
  • Pink Shirt
  • Black Oxford Shoes
  • Pocket Square
  • Tie

Wedding Dress Code

Wedding Guest Dress Code Outfit

When it comes to wedding attire for men, things are usually pretty straight forward. Whereas ladies have a huge range of dresses, hats and everything in-between, guys usually just wear a suit.

For the groom and groomsmen this means matching suit, usually a morning jacket with peak lapels and tails. But if you’re going as a guest to a wedding, a smart suit should be the standard.

When it comes to summer weddings, this can be a light or different colour suit. If you’re daring, you could wear a muted colour such as olive, or a pastel shade of blue.

For most, the usual colours of navy and grey will work, and you’ll not stand out which is a good thing since it’s not your day.

Don’t forget the tie, and you’ll want a full suit including jacket, wearing a shirt and tie without a jacket is a faux-par.

Men’s Wedding Guest Outfit

  • Navy Suit
  • Light Blue Shirt
  • Black Or Brown Oxford Shoes
  • Tie
  • Pocket Square

Blue Suit With A Striped Shirt

What I wore to a wedding: Navy blue suit, tie, pocket square, smart shoes

Smart Casual Dress Code

Smart Casual Dress Code Outfit

My favourite dress code, and the one I wear most often, it’s smart casual. Smart casual is so easy to pull off, but for some, it’s worrying as they don’t know what counts and what doesn’t.

Smart casual means mixing up smart pieces of clothing with more casual items, or wearing smarter clothes in a casual manner.

One simple example can be wearing a shirt and blazer without a tie, not doing the top button, and perhaps pairing with a clean pair of jeans.

For getting it wrong, you might wear a t-shirt with a track jacket, or be head to toe in sportswear. That wouldn’t be considered smart casual.

Smart casual can be worn at virtually any time, day or night and to most things you’ll have in your life. From a night out with the boys to date night, it can be worn in a casual office setting or just day to day wear.

If you ever have any doubt, always go on the side of smart to smart casual.

Smart Casual Outfit

  • Plain White T Shirt
  • Blue Blazer
  • Dark Denim Jeans
  • Smart Trainers

Men's Style - How To Wear A Blazer With A T-Shirt

Here I am wearing a blazer with a white T-shirt, jeans and shoes.

Casual Dress Code

Casual Dress Code Outfit

When it comes to dressing down, the casual dress code is the way to go. This is can be seen as the everyday dress code when you’re not at work for some, when dressing up is furthest from your mind.

Casual dress codes can be worn in plenty of situations. Sitting around and relaxing at home, going shopping or to the town in daily life, or just when you want to wear something more relaxing.

I tend to do a casual dress most often in summer, where all that is required is jeans and a t-shirt. Sometimes if it’s warm enough, shorts and a t-shirt.

Dressing casually needs virtually no effort, but you still want to look good.

To pull it off properly, make sure you’re wearing the right colour combinations, you’ve got the right fit of clothing, and you will still look good while wearing casual clothes.

Key pieces include everything from t-shirts to Henley tops and polos, casual short sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies. On your lower half this can be joggers, sweats, all types of jeans, shorts, and track bottoms.

Casual Outfit

  • Levis T Shirt
  • Light Blue Jeans
  • Trainers

Levis 501 T Shirt And Outfit With Jeans

In my casual outfit I paired my casual Levis T Shirt with a light blue pair of jeans and trainers.

Beach Dress Code

Beach Dress Code Outfit

Whether it’s on holiday or your going to the coast, the beach dress code is something you’ll want to master. It’s all about looking cool and keeping cooler, so choosing the right pieces and the right materials is what you need to be doing.

When it comes to dressing for hot weather, linen is a good go to fabric. It’s incredibly lightweight, and you can keep looking smart with a linen shirt.

For the more casual beach look, a simple t-shirt is going to be the thing to wear. You can pair either a shirt or t-shirt with a pair of shorts to keep yourself looking cool.

When it comes to the best shorts to wear, this comes down to the rest of your outfit. Tailored shorts or chinos will be the smarter options, while swim shorts are the most practical if you’re going for a dip in the sea.

When it comes to shoes, you’ll want some kind of deck shoes or really light and flat trainers such as a pair of Converse. Don’t rule out a pair of sliders.

You’ll also want a pair of sunglasses too. And if you fancy it, a hat. A baseball cap always works, and for some 90’s style, a bucket hat could be the way to go.

Don’t forget your sun cream. Remember, this will end up on your clothes, so you don’t want to wear something you hold precious.

Beach Outfit

  • Lightweight plain t-shirt
  • Beige chino shorts
  • Sunglasses
  • White Trainers


My Loungewear Outfit - Joggers And T-Shirt

When it comes to relaxing at home there’s only one outfit I want to wear, loungewear. It’s the ultimate is relaxing, and it’s something I really enjoy wearing no matter what time of year.

In the colder months it’s all about sweats. Thick, chunky hoodies and sweat pants. In the summer it’s all about generous fit t-shirts and sweat shorts.

The key to nailing loungewear is relaxed. If it feels comfortable to wear, then it’s probably loungewear. When I am binge watching series on Amazon Prime Video or just watching TV, this is what I wear.

I’ve got some luxury loungewear that comprises of the softest thickest cotton

Loungewear Outfit

  • Hoodie or T-shirt
  • Sweat Pants

Super comfy loungewear outfit - Hoodie and joggers

Wearing on of my favourite loungewear outfits: A co-ords hoodie and joggers set.

And that’s it, every dress code you’ll ever encounter explained.

As always, you should dress for the occasion and always get the fit right. Once you’ve got those two things you’re well on the way to looking good.

All that’s left is to pick the best pieces that suit your personal style and you will look the part whatever the dress code.

Men's Dress Codes Explained

Michael Adams

About Michael

Michael Adams is the founder and editor of Michael 84, blogger from Newcastle, UK. Sharing men's fashion tips, style advice and lifestyle information for all guys.

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