The Complete Dress Code Guide For Men

What men wear depends upon the time of day and the occasion. In this article we break down the different dress code types, and what each means.

Casual & Formal Dress Codes For Men


When the invitation reads “Black Tie”, “Black Tie Preferred”, “Le Smoking”, or “Smoking” for an evening semi-formal event or “White Tie” or “Full Dress” for an evening formal event, then your host is providing an elegant affair and expects you to dress according to fit the decor and ambiance of the evening.

When your invitation reads “Black Tie Optional”, or “Black Tie Invited”, the host is leaving the final decision up to you. Most men will be wearing tuxedos, however if you don’t have one you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable in a dark suit.

The big confusion with “Casual” on an invitation, comes from the fact that there are varying degrees of casual and just one word doesn’t cover it! Often the inviter has something in mind that isn’t properly communicated. “Informal” may mean “casual” to the inviter, but it is not!

Dress Code: Words of wisdom about dressing well from Dean Martin.


A recent innovation of some wedding consultants to have the bridegroom wear one style of formal wear while the groomsmen and/or ushers wear another is a social blunder. (This is in reference to long jackets called Strollers or Walking coats). If you like, you can vary the look through different neckwear or boutonnieres.


Very formal diplomatic receptions. Black or Gray tailcoat, with matching trousers, gray double breasted vest, long gray tie, gray gloves, white boutonniere, gray homburg hat, pearl cufflinks and studs.


Weddings. Gray morning coat (cutaway), black or gray striped trousers, gray double breasted vest, gray long tie or pinned ascot, gray gloves, white boutonniere, gray top hat, spats, pearl cufflinks and studs.


The Opera, charity ball. White tie and tails (black tailcoat), black trousers with two satin seams on the outside leg, white pique vest, white bow tie, white kid gloves, white boutonniere, black top hat, white silk scarf, black or gold cufflinks and studs.


Weddings, theater opening nights. Black dinner jacket or white in summer (tuxedo), black trousers with one satin seam on the outside leg, black vest or cummerbund, black bow tie, white silk scarf, black or gold cufflinks and studs.


Don’t think casual! Also COCKTAIL, or BUSINESS ATTIRE. This requires a business suit, necktie, lace-up shoes, and for evening occasions a non-button-down collar dress shirt. Make certain that the person sending out the invitations really means informal and not casual since this is a common misconception!

Just A Thought On Individual Variations:

“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”

— Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881–1958 | Wikipedia)

We all have a little rebel in us, but when the look of the formal wear is so classic and all of us look good in black tie, why spoil it with a raspberry ruffled shirt, an unusual collar or tie treatment just to satisfy the desire for individuality?

In formal wear there isn’t much room for creativity without making a social blunder. Don’t mess with what is working; formal wear has been with us for over a century.

But, if the urge of individual expression arouses in your loins there are a few items with which you can tinker. A colored or patterned bow tie or cummerbund (not both), cuff links and studs that are out of the ordinary, fancy braces, velvet slippers (especially at home), and a vest instead of a cummerbund are all acceptable options.


The word “Casual”, circa 1852, is from Middle French casuel, Late Latin casualis, and Latin casus, all meaning: “subject to, resulting from, or occurring by chance; unpremeditated; offhand: a casual remark”.

Other common meanings are: being without ceremony or formality; relaxed; showing little interest, or concern; nonchalant; lenient; permissive; not close or intimate (i.e. “casual sex”). Why do we dress up to have casual sex?

Casual also can mean occurring at irregular or infrequent intervals and is used to refer to a migratory worker (“casual labor”), and in Military terms an officer or enlisted person awaiting assignment or transportation to a unit.

Throughout the history of menswear certain attire was always worn for specific occasions. Most gentlemen in Victorian times changed into White Tie and Tails after 6 pm. Deviation from business wear was accepted when you spent the weekend at a country estate, which called for suits of tweed and other rough fabrics not befitting city wear.

Casual Wear Dress Code: The Beginning

True casual wear began with the introduction of the sport shirt in the mid 1930’s and “casual” referred to clothes suitable for spectator sportswear. Instead of wearing your business suit to the horse races you could don a loud “sports” jacket and sports shirt.

The movement to casual gained impetus with the acceptance of Bermuda shorts in the 1950’s, and got a big push in the 1960’s with mod fashions such as the leisure suit, and turtlenecks worn instead of ties.

Casual Friday (also known as Dress-down Friday, or simply Casual day) is an American and Canadian custom of some business offices allowing a semi-reprieve from the normal business dress code.

During the rest of the week, business shirts, suits, ties, trousers, and dress shoes are the custom, but on Casual Friday workers are allowed to wear more casual clothes.

Some companies allow jeans, T-shirts, hoodies, and sneakers but others require business casual or smart casual dress. Some offices have a themed dress down day (Hawaiian shirts), or encourage people to wear very casual clothes. On casual Fridays, even managers are allowed to dress down.

Casual Friday

Casual Friday began in the late 1950’s originally as an attempt to raise worker morale in the new white-collar office environment. At that point only a few companies encouraged it, and it was not widely popular. In the late 1970’s there was a massive campaign by large clothing producers to make Casual Friday a weekly event at all businesses.

Casual Friday along with dressing casually during the week became very prevalent during the Dot Com glory days of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, particularly in the “Silicon Valley”, San Francisco Bay Area. During this time, some companies were so relaxed that shorts, tee-shirts, and sandals were permitted. In 1991, Alcoa, the Pittsburgh aluminum company, adopted casual business dress for everyday.

After the bursting of the Dot-Com bubble, there was a backlash by many companies with the reinstatement of dress codes. The biggest backlash was by companies that had permitted blue jeans before, and now required at least more formal business casual or even “business formal”. After Labor Day weekend 2004, Target required “business formal” dress for all employees at their corporate office in Minneapolis, Minnesota


Let’s separate casual into five degrees! Remember within these categories styles can range from dressy to sloppy!

See the table below for examples of specific items of clothing.

The first two categories are acceptable for business and social occasions (office parties, functions at a friends house or a nice restaurant) where image is important.


Business, Executive, or Corporate Casual: The level beneath the business suit and tie, which can consist of a suit or sport jacket and/or sweater, and an optional tie. This is what you’d wear to a company party (retirement, holiday, etc.). The fabrics may be less dressy, and the tie a knit or novelty print. You may have slightly relaxed the look, but you’re still there for business.
In some cases you may want to wear a suit that’s a step up from business wear like your best Armani suit, French-cuff shirt, and Hermes tie just to show you have a life outside business!!


Country Club or Dressy, Resort Casual, Casual Chic: Apparel that you’d wear to a private country club for lunch or dinner. Dress trousers, sport shirt, dress shirt or knit polo shirt, a sweater or sport jacket and leather shoes/belt. It’s also appropriate for an off-site seminar, a party at a friend’s home or dinner at a nice restaurant. And yes the elements in your attire may have cost MORE than a good suit!!
Number 3 may be acceptable for certain businesses and some social functions.


Sporty or Rugged: The outdoor look! Off to the local pub to watch Monday night football with the guys, to a real game, when you’re invited to spend the weekend at one of Ralph Lauren’s homes, or third date out for pizza. Any activity where you might run into someone interesting. It’s more casual, but you still took some time to coordinate colors, and think about what elements you put together.
The following two categories are not acceptable for most businesses, or for any “important” social occasion (i.e. first date) where you’re concerned about your creditability, authority and/or image:


Saturday Casual or Leisure: What you wear on weekends, if you had to go out shopping or doing laundry, and there was even a remote chance of human contact.


Active gear you’d wear to the gym, to play b-ball, washing your car, or gardening, but not stop off at the grocery store on the way home. It’s also what you might wear around the house if you weren’t expecting any visitors.

If you’re not sure, it’s always better to dress up than down. You can say you’ve got someplace important to go after this event!

Casual Categories Chart (suggested examples):

Suit or Sport Jacket

BusinessHeavier fabrics and stronger patterns
Country ClubSport jacket
SportyNot usually worn


Business(Optional). Heavier fabric or knit fun pattern
Country ClubNot usually worn
SportyNot usually worn


BusinessDress – patterns OK
Country ClubSport or Luxury long sleeved tee.
SportySport, knit, Denim, Flannel, Tee or Hawaiian

Jacket, vest and/or sweater

BusinessSuit or Sport Sweater
Country ClubSuit or Sport Sweater
SportyCasual Jacket (golf, jean, leather) and/or Sweater
ActiveCasual jacket or sweatshirt


BusinessDressy (wool gabardine)
Country ClubDressy
SportyChinos, Jeans (good condition), Cargo pants, Cords
SaturdayJeans, Shorts


BusinessLace ups or Dressy loafers
Country ClubDressy loafers
SportyDeck, canvas, athletic, leather, or boots
SaturdayAthletic / canvas / sandals
ActiveAthletic / canvas


Country ClubLeather
SportyLeather (wide, braided, rough texture or Cowboy)
SaturdayLeather, Surcingle (canvas) or none
ActiveLeather, Surcingle (canvas) or none

Even if you dress down, you can use these guidelines to project the image you want:

Dressier More Casual
Dark Colors Light, Bold colors
Collar, Jacket, or Tie No collar, Jacket or Tie
Solids Patterns
Smooth Fabric Textures Rough Fabric Textures
Shined leather (shoes) Suede or canvas shoes