Do You Know Your Dress Codes? Learn the 15+ Dress Codes for Men

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by  Andrew Newton | Last Updated:  Nov 04, 2020
dress codes for men

It seems like the further along we get into the new millennium the more names there are for dress codes.

A quick Google search brought up fifteen different terms, all with subtle shifts in expectations. Yikes.

How is a man supposed to know what to wear anymore? Fear not, we’re here to help.

The Classics

These classic dress codes stem from a time when a man would wear three different suits in a day depending on the event he was going to. You’ll probably only run into one of these in the average year.

Morning Dress

aka Formal Day Dress

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Probably the one dress code you will see the least, Morning Dress is your classic Victorian gentleman in top hat going to conduct affairs at the bank.

Black jacket (sometimes gray) with peaked lapels and tails over black (or tan if wearing gray) waistcoat and collared white shirt with french cuffs and cufflinks. Gray pants will suffice and polished black leather shoes.

Show some flair by trading in the standard black or silver silk tie for a cravat.

Don’t forget your top hat!

Black Tie

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aka Dinner Jacket, Tuxedo

This is what most people think of when they imagine a formal affair. The black silk bow tie matches the black silk lapels on the black wool jacket, with matching black wool pants with a single braid down the outside leg. Are you catching on?

Change in the standard pleated front tux shirt and go a little more Daniel Craig with a white Marcella tux shirt.

A cummerbund or waistcoat is rare these days, but not forgotten. Polished or patent black leather shoes finish the look.

White Tie

aka Full Evening Dress 

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The defining characteristic of this dress is, you guessed it, the white bow tie. If you’re in the market for one, search for a ‘white Marcella bow tie’. Match it with a white Marcella* dress shirt and white Marcella evening waistcoat and you’re off to a good start. Noticing a pattern here?

The formality of this dress code is heightened by the black jacket with silk lapels and tails, which is not to be confused with the black jacket with tails of Morning Dress. The black pants have two lines of braids going down the outside leg.

Let’s not forget the shoes. Black patent leather shoes are not just for women. Although in this case, I’d recommend skipping the heels.

* Marcella is a British term for a textured pattern found on shirts and bow ties similar to that of the dimples on a golf ball. It was a British creation in the late 18th century to mimic a popular style of textiles coming from Marseilles.

The Standards

These are the dress codes you’re likely to run into on a day to day basis.

Unfortunately for you, that means everyone has a different interpretation. Luckily you have this guide to help you navigate these dangerous waters.

Casual

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I shouldn’t have to explain this.

Keep it comfortable. Jeans and t-shirts are fair game. Anything dressier than a polo shirt and you’ll be overdressed.

Business Casual

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Getting business casual right is all about understanding the culture of your workplace.

It’s also about balance.

Stick to dress pants or chinos/khakis, a button-down shirt, and nice shoes, and you won’t go too wrong.

For more on this, check out our in-depth business casual guide.

Semi-Formal

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Almost on par with Cocktail, this dress code speaks more to women than men.

Add a blazer to your Business Casual dress and you should be ready to go. If you feel like people are keeping the formal in semi-formal then add a tie.

Cocktail

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As mentioned, Cocktail dress is referred to more commonly for the benefit of the fairer gender.

Stick with a suit and tie and you won’t go amiss, but don’t be afraid of a splash of color in your shirt choice and pocket square.

Formal

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The major change from Cocktail is it’s time to tone down the colours and keep it subdued.

Black or navy jacket, shirt and tie. Dress pants. Black shoes.

Black Tie Optional

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This dress code is used for formal events when the host isn’t sure everyone owns a tuxedo.

You can dress down a bit and wear a normal tie over the bow tie, but you won’t be out of place sticking with black tie. Try and find out what your host is wearing.

“The Kitchen Sink”

These dress codes appeared because someone was bored once.

Actually, it probably has more to do with the diversity of women’s fashion and the constant battle between too short and just short enough.

Fortunately for you, the men’s equivalents are much easier to interpret.

Dressy Casual

aka Smart Casual

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This dress code exists because someone was stupid enough to wear an offensive t-shirt to work on ‘Casual Friday’.

Wear something comfortable but skip the t-shirt. Opt for a polo, button up plaid, or a nice sweater. Jeans are acceptable as long as they are in good repair, and a clean pair of non-running shoes should do the trick.

Beach Formal

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Because having a beach wedding wasn’t clear enough, you can tell guests that it’s okay to wear sandals. Just skip the cheap flip flops and wear a pair of Birkenstocks.

Festive

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Did you know that at the company Christmas party it’s acceptable to wear a Christmas themed tie? Good thing this dress code exists to let you know!

Match it with a dress shirt, blazer, and slacks.

Hollywood Black Tie

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According to the DeBrett’s Guide for the Modern Gentleman, Hollywood Black Tie was originally a black tie with a suit, but has since evolved into an ‘everything goes’ approach.

Creative Black Tie

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As if Hollywood Black Tie wasn’t enough, now we have Creative Black Tie. It’s meant to be a formal event where you can show some individuality and try and one up each other by mixing and matching patterned bow ties with coloured shirts or coloured jackets.


There you have it.

A little tip. If you’re hosting an event with a dress code, skip the overused ‘Dress to impress!’. Instead, be clear to people about what you want them to wear.

It’ll avoid confusion and will allow your guests to really go to town with your dress code.