Men’s dress codes – made simple in an infographic

mens dress code

Dress codes deciphered

Want to look the business? This visual guide to men’s dress codes helps you guarantee an impeccable appearance at any function.

Why can’t you wear a watch with white tie? Is a pinstripe suit or blazer best for business? Are brogues or Oxford shoes most suited to smart casual?

Our infographic below solves these and other dress code conundrums in seconds:

Mens Dress codes infographic

Frequently asked questions about men’s dress codes 

If you’re looking for information on the correct attire for every occasion, then we have the answers to your dress code questions right here.

What is the difference between white tie and black tie?

Sometimes also called ‘full evening dress’, white tie is the smartest dress code of all. It’s reserved for the sort of occasions when you might realistically expect to bump into a genuine VIP, member of the Royal family, or the crème de la crème of science, business, industry and politics.

For such occasions you’ll be expected to wear a white bow tie, white dress shirt, white low-cut waistcoat, midnight blue or black tailcoat, dress trousers, and patent leather dress shoes. If your invitation to the season’s most anticipated movie premier reads ‘white tie decorations’, you’ll also be expected to pin on your medals.

Black tie refers to all the other occasions for which evening wear is required. Think work balls, charity events etc… Your invitation will read ‘evening dress’ and you’re required to wear a dinner suit – called a tuxedo in the States – with a white dress shirt, black bow tie, and black patent leather shoes. You can choose between a cummerbund and a waistcoat.

Your black tie evening suit does not come with tails, but again, the most formal choice is black or midnight blue. Why midnight blue? Because although your invite reads ‘black tie’, the deepest of blues actually looks darker than black. If you’re confident enough to push the boat out, try a velvet evening suit in burgundy, blue or emerald green.

What is appropriate business dress?

If you’re a little confused by the plethora of ensembles which seem to count as business dress these days, here’s the info you need. Business dress consists of a two piece lounge suit in a sober colour – charcoal grey or navy blue are good choices, but pinstripes and very subtle checks work too.

Wear a plain white or subtly striped cotton shirt and add a plain tie. Opt for a plain black leather belt and well-polished black Oxfords or Derbys and you’re almost ready. For accessories, you’re looking at subtle cufflinks, a decent wrist watch, black umbrella, and a briefcase or laptop bag.

For overcoats, during the shoulder seasons, a trench coat will do the trick. For the winter, you’ll need a nice three-quarter length wool coat. The key here is never to wear a coat that’s shorter than your suit jacket. Yes, there are other looks you can get away with, but this is classic business dress – it always works.

What is smart casual dress?

Smart casual dress is often the most tricky code to get right. That’s because it covers such a wide array of events and occasions – potentially everything from work conferences to a lunch out with friends.

While it’s impossible to choose one smart casual ensemble that works all the time, it is possible to describe one that works 99% of the time. Getting smart casual right is all about the jacket. Choose tweed or cord for winter, summer weight tweed, Oxford cotton, linen or seersucker for summer. Winter pairings include flannel, twill, chinos or moleskin trousers; during the summer, wear chinos.

You’ll also need to add a smart cotton Oxford shirt with a button-down collar. Plain works well, but stripes and checks are also great picks – if you’re going without a tie, choose a collar that’s designed to be worn that way – a button down, semi spread, or spread collar. Leave your business shirts on the hanger.

Smart casual gives you more footwear options than you can shake a stick at. In fact, the only shoes not to wear are your polished black or brown work Oxfords. Derbys are fine; chukka or Chelsea boots are a nice look; brogues are great; monks – yes, depending on the event. During the summer, suede brogues or loafers are ideal.

What is casual dress?

If you’re invited to wear ‘casual dress’, that does not mean anything goes. Instead, this is your opportunity to impress with the sheer tastefulness of your relaxed dress sense. In short, never wear sportswear unless you’re partaking in sports.

What casual dress does invite you to do is to experiment with smart jeans, moleskins, chinos or cords. Top with a smart polo, weekend shirt, Tattersall shirt, or plain and simple t-shirt devoid of slogans of any kind.

Wear a nice thick fisherman’s sweater or Aran jumper during the winter, and when it’s warm enough, switch to lamb’s wool, cashmere mixes, and cotton pullovers. For top layers, winter weather calls for options like gilets, car coats, waxed jackets, parka jackets, and padded jackets. Summer means light weight options like Harrington and bomber jackets.

Wear casual boots during the cold months and anything from desert boots, deck shoes or suede trainers when the weather warms.

We hope we’ve provided you with the knowhow and confidence to dress for any and all occasions. Need dress code advice for warm weather? See our summer dress codes infographic here.


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Posted in Men's style guides, Mens clothing visual guides and infographics.