Business Casual Men’s Attire & Dress Code Explained

Business casual is a dress code men are confronted with everywhere, but what does it really mean? In this Business Casual Guide for men, we answer this question in detail, share DO’s and DON’Ts and provide specific advice on what you can wear so you are dressed to the T.

Business Casual Video

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History of Business Casual

Until recently, the Business Casual attire dress code did not exist. There was simply daywear and evening wear. During the day, men would wear a stroller coat or a morning coat for business. In the evening they would change into a tailcoat for dinner and events. Once retiring for bed, pajamas would be donned as would a dressing gown, but the chance of anyone seeing them wear them (besides their spouse and perhaps a valet) was slim to none. The most casual attire a gentleman might wear would have perhaps been a tweed suit while shooting or for a walk in the park.

Around the turn of the century, black tie made its mark and the tuxedo overtook the white tie dress code in popularity. Business suits became the standard daywear for decades.

Solid options for casual Friday

Business Casual for Men Changes with the Office Environment and the Job

Aloha Friday Paved the Way for Business Casual

Then came 1966. Until then, casual wear was worn on the weekends at home, but if you worked in an office, you wore a suit and a tie. There was no debate about what was appropriate office attire. Then, a company that made Hawaiian shirts began to strategize how they could increase their profits and a brilliant ad agency in Hawaii came up with the idea of “Aloha Fridays”.

They began petitioning local businesses to allow their employees to wear the Hawaiian shirt on Fridays. Initially penned as a way of showing local pride, it ended up quickly becoming a trend and a popular way of avoiding the rat race of corporate America. The fad began to catch on and soon it hopped off the Islands and made its way to the mainland.

Vintage Hawaii Shirt by Penney's

Vintage Hawaii Shirt by Penney’s

Dockers Ad Campaign Brings Khakis To The Office

By the early 1990s, Levis began to notice the trend on the mainland and many of its customers in upper management began complaining that their employees were too casual, wearing shorts and t-shirts to work. The sale of jeans was in decline and so they took it as a chance to market their new brand called ‘Dockers’ to the corporate community.

They began to launch expensive ad campaigns for their khaki pants and it took off. Employers looked at it as a fair compromise between shorts and suits and the employees agreed. As this was occurring, television shows like Saved by the Bell and movies about wealthy country clubs began showing the Preppy, Ivy and Trad styles to those outside the Northeastern United States. Companies like Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren and J.Crew jumped on the opportunity to increase the sale of their casual wear. They began marketing polo shirts, sports jackets, shirts and chinos as perfect options that worked flawlessly or better than the Levi Dockers brand. It was a revolution of sorts.

How is Business Casual Defined Today for Men?

Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake - Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, khakis and brown tassel loafers

Business Casual Outfit by Hogtownrake – Single Breasted Blazer with popover shirt, cotton pocket square, khakis, and brown tassel loafers

Business Casual in a Nutshell = No Suit, But Also No Jeans

Obviously, that is just a general guideline but in order to nail the business casual look, you have to adapt to your specific company culture. Also, your age is important and the older you are, the more formal your business casual outfit should be.

Business Casual in Traditional White Collar Jobs: Law Firms, Banks, Accounting Firms

If business casual attire is allowed in this kind of work environment it is the most formal of all business casual dress codes and it consists of the following items:

1. Blazer or Sport Coat

The blazer is an essential part of a business casual wardrobe. Avoid gold buttons and stick with dark colors. Navy is the most classic color and your best bet. Single breasted is the standard while a double-breasted navy blazer can look more powerful.  To learn more about the blazer in general, check out our blazer guide.

If you wear a sports coat, opt for something subdued with a subtle pattern and avoid loud summery colors.

Oxford Cloth Shirt - A Business Casual Staple

Oxford Cloth Shirt Button-down shirt – A Business Casual Staple

2. Long Sleeved Dress Shirt

Wear a cotton dress shirt in light blue or pastel colors. An Oxford dress shirt is absolutely appropriate for business casual wear and can be worn in a relaxed state by keeping the top button undone or wearing a more casual knit tie with it. A simple white oxford shirt is the ideal shirt for business casual wear as it can be elevated to business attire for a last minute meeting with the addition of a tie kept in your desk drawer and a blazer thrown over the top.

Business Casual Outfit with silk knit tie for fall

Business Casual Outfit with silk knit tie for fall

3. Neckwear

Neckwear is optional but it certainly elevates your outfit. Ideal ties include grenadine ties or knit ties because they perfectly underline the business casual character. Bow ties certainly make a  statement, and when in doubt stick with the tie.

In case you decide against neckwear, make sure that your undershirt is not visible.

4. Trousers

Jeans should not be worn but the jacket and shirt are ideal

Jeans should not be worn but the jacket and shirt are ideal

5. Dress Pants

A pair of solid navy, grey or even charcoal dress pants pleated or flat front are the perfect choice for business casual wear. With a dress shirt neatly tucked into it, and a blazer or sports jacket you are good to go.

Small Houndstooth pattern ideal for Business Casual

Small Houndstooth pattern ideal for Business Casual

6. Chinos / Khakis

Chinos are appropriate in many casual work environments, but should ideally be paired with a contrasting blazer to elevate their casual heritage.

7. Corduroy Pants

Cords can also be worn in lieu of chinos during the colder months of the year. The same rules apply to corduroys as they do to chinos.

Business Casual Mens by hogtownrake - Cardigan Madder inspired tie that extends beyond the waistband with suspenders, and vintage watch

Business Casual Mens by hogtownrake – Cardigan Madder inspired tie that extends beyond the waistband with suspenders, and vintage watch

8. Sweaters

A sweater vest, cardigan or turtle neck works well during the colder days in addition to your sports coat or blazer. Simply worn over a collared shirt it is only appropriate for Casual Friday. In general, a knitted vest will always make a formal garment more casual.

9. Accessories

Accessories are a great way to distinguish yourself from the pack. Choosing a knit tie or pocket square for your blazer pocket will make you look very dapper. Depending on your environment, a boutonniere or a collar pin may work as well, but when in doubt, skip it.

You could also consider a more casual wristwatch with a more formal outfit or pairing a dress watch with a more casual outfit to add a touch of elegance.

Cufflinks are also a good way to enhance your outfit, just like tie bars.

Wrist bands are a bit too casual and when in doubt, skip them.

Full Brogue Oxford with a beautiful chestnut brown patina

Full Brogue Oxford with a beautiful chestnut brown patina

10. Shoes & Boots

This is where you can have a bit more fun. Rather than sticking with the classic oxfords and derbies, you can get creative with unique colors like oxblood or wearing more casual dress shoes and boots like monk straps, loafers or chukka boots, Chelsea boots or balmoral boots. For an in-depth rundown on business casual shoes, click here.

In terms of color, brown shoes are a great companion for Business Casual, and so are burgundy and Oxblood. Click here to learn how to wear and combine them. 

a-leather-bag-is-always-preferable-to-a-backpack

a-leather-bag-is-always-preferable-to-a-backpack

11. Bags

Sometimes you see grown men wearing backpacks with their business casual outfits. That’s a faux pas and it makes you look like a little school boy. Instead, go with a leather bag in brown or black that works for you. Whether it’s classic, functional or sleek, clean and modern you can find hundreds of leather bags in various price ranges.

Business Casual in the Service Industry

If you work in the service industry, in sales, trade positions or a job where you interact with the public, you should adapt the business casual standard above.

If you are just at the office and you don’t have customer contact, your employer will most likely have a more relaxed attitude when it comes to business casual.

Hogtownrake in combination of light sport coat with charcoal pants and brown wool knit tie, blue shirt and cream pocket square

Hogtownrake combines a light sports coat with charcoal pants and a brown wool knit tie, a blue shirt, and a cream pocket square

1. Jackets

It’s likely that wearing a jacket is optional. So if you don’t want to go with just a dress shirt and a blazer would be too much, consider wearing a vest or a cardigan instead.

2. Shirts

The button-down collar shirt is another classic shirt that is acceptable for business casual wear. Alternatively, a long-sleeved polo shirt is acceptable too, if others wear it in the office as well. You don’t want to be the only one wearing polos though.

In this scenario, business casual does not mean wearing t-shirts, casual sweaters without a collared shirt underneath, hoodies, pullovers or any other style of shirt.

Checked Shirt Fabric - Ideal for Business Casual

Checked Shirt Fabric – Ideal for Business Casual

3. Neckwear

Neckties and bow ties are completely optional, yet they look great with vests, jackets and cardigans.

4. Pants

While dress pants are ok, chinos, khakis, and corduroys are the best choice. Dark colors such as navy and grey are versatile, although lighter colors are preferable for the warmer months of the year.

Pants such as denim jeans, athletic wear, sweatpants, draw-string pants, shorts, and cargo pants should not be worn, nor should any pant with a camouflage print or large visible logo.

Navy pants, burgundy vest and tweed jacket - business casual in the fall

Navy pants, burgundy vest, and tweed jacket – business casual in the fall

5. Sweaters & Accessories

If you decide not to wear a jacket, sweaters and knit vests or cardigans become your best friends. Not only will they keep you warm, but they also look stylish all while adding that casual note to your outfit. Accessorize your outfit as you please but try not to add too many accents, otherwise, people don’t know where to look.

6. Shoes & Boots

Skip sneakers and tennis shoes but you can choose from a wide range of classic shoes in various materials such as leather, suede, and fabric.

7. Bags

Leather bags are best but if you want a canvas-leather or all canvas bag may work as well. You can be more daring with your color choice and go with green, yellow, blue or red if you want.

Chinos are acceptable making this a great business casual outfit

In young start-ups, this would be an appropriate business casual outfit

Business Casual in Startups

Startups are generally much more casual than traditional jobs. They will likely also not have a company dress code but the hierarchies are typically low and often people can wear whatever they want, especially in a tech related environment.

1. Jackets

In most places a jacket is probably too overdressed. Is your startup that place? You’ll figure it out pretty soon. At the same time, startups often have a very accepting culture so if you enjoy dressing up, wearing a jacket the way you like it is a good thing.

2. Shirts, Sweaters & Neckwear

While most startups would consider a t-shirt to be just fine, a nice trim cut polo shirt looks much smarter. Sweaters are perfectly acceptable and neckwear is definitely not the norm but again, if you like it, go for it.

Bold sport coats are too much for business casual

Bold sport coats are too much for traditional business casual but in start-ups they are fine

3. Pants & Shorts

While it’s totally fine to wear denim at most startups, and you can even find people wearing cargo shorts, you are probably better off wearing lightweight summer slacks such as seersucker because no matter what you do in life, people will at least subconsciously judge you based on what you look like. Being perceived as being well put together will never hurt you, but being a slob can. Consider wearing a sports coat with jeans for a polished casual look.

Appropriate business casual attire for young men

Appropriate business casual attire for young men in a start-up

4. Shoes & Boots

A nice pair of boots or shoes will always make you look more dapper than wearing sneakers. Instead of just going with brown, you can be more playful and wear stone, red, green or blue suede loafers, driving mocs or spectators. Of course, sneakers or stylish canvas shoes can be acceptable too, and even though some coworker may wear tennis shoes, you will look better without them.

5. Bags

A portfolio or a leather/canvas bag is your best bet. In terms of colors, anything goes, even though a bright pink bag with pokemon on it may not reflect positively on you. If you are into tech, bags with built-in chargers, cables and camera compartments will satisfy your needs but please, skip the backpack.

A great business casual outfit with outerwear and accessories

A great business casual outfit with button-up shirt outerwear and accessories

Business Casual Outerwear & Accessories

When your job means being on the move, it’s a great idea to ensure your outerwear matches your indoor attire because that active jacket you wear skiing or hiking does not go well with your sports coat.

Quilted Jackets

Lightweight, warm and classic the quilted jacket is slightly longer than your blazer and makes you look instantly well put together. At the same time, it is easy to care for, wrinkles easily and can be machine washed.

Trench Coat

During the fall and spring season, a trench coat will look very dapper. To learn all about this garment, check out our trench coat guide. For a more youthful look, with a trench coat, that is shorter than your knees.

Peacoat with double sided scarf, Jodhpur boots and Chinos - Business Casual

Peacoat with a double-sided scarf, Jodhpur boots, and Chinos – Business Casual

Peacoat

For the cold winters, a pea coat is the perfect business casual companion because it is less formal than a full-fledged overcoat yet still warm, stylish and functional due to its many pockets. To learn more about peacoats click here

Scarves & Gloves

A gorgeous paisley scarf or a nice pair of gloves will add the finishing touches to your business casual look.

This is too casual for business casual unless you work in a young tech company

Jeans & sports coat: This is too casual for business casual unless you work in a young startup office or tech environment

Business Casual DON’Ts: When in Doubt, Dress Up

Jeans should be avoided unless approved by management

Jeans should be avoided in a traditional office or service environment unless approved by management

If you are unsure of whether business casual is allowed in your workplace or not, it is best to err on the side of caution and to be overdressed rather than underdressed. Wear a suit and tie the first day. Then you can see how people dress around you and adapt. If you are still unsure about what is appropriate, ask your coworker or superior.

Business Casual DON’Ts to Avoid

Even for the most casual workplaces, there are times where business casual simply isn’t appropriate. Here are a few of the times you will want to wear a more conservative outfit such as a business suit:

  • When you have an important meeting with clients or customers outside your normal range of duties
  • When you have a meeting with a manager or executive in the organization
  • When you will be attending a board or committee meeting
  • During work-related events, conferences, and symposiums
  • When representing your company in the media or speaking at an event
  • When interviewing for a position or negotiating a raise with your employer
  • When you work for a firm with a policy that does not permit the regular wearing of business casual attire
  • Don’t wear business casual to a  job interview – to learn more about what to wear to an interview, check out this guide
Wonderful business casual outfit for fall with brown suede double monks and green turtleneck

Works for most offices. Wonderful business casual outfit for fall with brown suede double monks and green turtleneck

What about Casual Friday? It Depends

Some companies do not support business casual attire but they will allow it on Fridays, others even allow very casual clothing on Fridays. Talk to your coworkers and your boss to find out how your company handles Friday dress codes.

In case there is a more casual dress code for Fridays, but you notice that senior management doesn’t dress that way, you should consider following their lead. It’s more advantageous for you to dress for the job you want, rather than the job you have.

Conclusion

Business Casual for men is not easy to master because it means different things at different offices and events. Using our guidelines will give you a good place to start.

Finally, remember to use this rule of thumb: if you’re unsure whether it’s appropriate, chances are it’s not! Dress up a notch because it is always best to be slightly overdressed rather than slightly underdressed.


Gentleman’s Gazette

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Cocktail Attire For Men – Dress Code Guide For Weddings, Parties & Events

When you receive an invitation nowadays, it may add a dress code such as Cocktail Attire, Black Tie Optional, Semi-Formal Attire or Formal Attire, but what exactly does that mean? 

Back in the day, things were simpler: the dress code was either Black Tie for less formal evening occasions or White Tie for more formal ones. Women’s dresses were chosen accordingly. Today, for many men the tuxedo is the most formal garment they will ever wear, and it is often rented. In the following, I want to explain what Cocktail Attire For Men is all about and what options you have for weddings, parties or events when you receive an invitation that asks for it.

Video – Cocktail Attire For Men

Want to look the part at the next cocktail party? Get our cocktail attire pocket guide for men here.

cocktail attire_900x400_2

The Basics of the Cocktail Attire Dress Code

Dress Codes Formality Scale
Dress Codes Formality Scale

How Formal is Cocktail Attire and When Should You Wear It?

On the scale of dress codes, cocktail attire is the middle, a step up from business casual but less formal than black tie. It is considered on par with business attire, so it is easy to use an outfit you would wear to your office or an interview to create a great cocktail attire ensemble. This dress code is most commonly found on invitations for parties, weddings, and professional events, which are formal events.

Dark Flannel Suit with Silk Tie & TV Fold Pocket Square
A Dark Flannel Suit with Silk Tie & TV Fold Pocket Square is perfect for Cocktail Attire

Even though times have changed and style is becoming ever more casual, if a dress code is called for, you should do your best to stick with it because dressing appropriately is a sign of respect for the host and the event. Cocktail attire is likely to be one of the more frequent dress codes most men encounter because it falls in the middle of casual and formal, but it is also one of the most convenient because it is made up of garments and accessories that most men likely already own. 

Sven Raphael Schneider wearing a DB flannel suit
Sven Raphael Schneider wearing a DB flannel suit that would work for cocktail attire

Cocktail attire is also versatile in that when in a pinch, you can wear a cocktail attire with a dark suit instead of a tuxedo when black tie is called for as the dress code. It’s also appropriate for funerals and other solemn occasions when formality is required. In this case, a solid dark navy or charcoal suit can be worn if you don’t own a black one, and your accessories should be muted, such as a black grenadine tie, black leather oxford dress shoes, and a solid white shirt. Even if you wear smart casual or jeans on a day to day basis, it pays to have at least one cocktail attire outfit ready in your closet for short notice events. 

What is Semi Formal and Formal Attire for Men?

Colin Firth in Kingsman wearing a classic British suit with padded shoulders that works for cocktail attire

If your invitation states a semi-formal or formal attire, these are vague and challenging dress codes to deal with today because they mean different things to different people. In the past, formal attire was a tuxedo, while semi-formal would be like cocktail attire. These days the ambiguity of these dress codes can make them frustrating for guests.

If the Invitation Asks for Cocktail Attire, Men Should Wear:

  1. A dark to mid-gray suit
  2. A button-down dress shirt in white or another muted color
  3. A necktie or bow tie in subtle patterns or plains
  4. A simple pocket square
  5. Black dress shoes with a leather sole, such as oxfords
  6. Over the calf socks that either match your trousers or pick up something in your outfit such as a color in your tie or bow tie
  7. Of course, make sure you are clean shaven and you have a recent haircut
Opt for a dark suit for a black tie optional event
Opt for a dark suit for a cocktail attire event

Cocktail Attire Don’ts: 

  • DON’T wear your tuxedo or white tie, as that would be too formal for this dress code 
  • DON’T wear a black suit – these should be reserved only for funerals
  • DON’T wear your pinstripe suit, bright colored ties, a bold paisley shirt, or flashy accessories at home to a wedding – the couple should be the center of attention, not you
  • DON’T wear casual clothes such as khakis, chinos, jeans, polo shirts, or a sports jacket; if it would work well for business casual, don’t wear it!
  • DON’T wear casual shoes such as loafers (or any shoes without laces)
  • DON’T go sockless – this may be a trend now but it is inappropriate for cocktail attire
  • DON’T forget to wear a tie or a bow tie- it’s too casual without one

Cocktail Attire For Men at a Wedding

Navy suit with burgundy grenadine tie
Navy suit with burgundy grenadine tie

Even though the above guidelines for cocktail attire may seem a bit subdued, they will be appropriate for the majority of weddings. The result of the cocktail attire dress code is that you will be elegantly and respectfully attired for the occasion without being flashy or otherwise drawing attention away from the focus of the day – the bride and groom. Unless you have information suggesting otherwise, such as a beach or barn location, you can’t go wrong with traditional cocktail attire at a wedding. 

 If the bridegroom is a flamboyant artist or someone who wears shorts and t-shirt, no matter what, try to adjust your outfit so you will not be completely out of place: For an artist wedding, go with more colorful accessories and for a completely informal wedding, skip the tie and just wear a combination with a dark jacket and lighter colored slacks – again, it is their day so you should try not to catch much attention with your outfit.

What Should Men Wear to a Cocktail Party?

Single-breasted suit
Single-breasted suit with a bold shirt is a good choice for a cocktail party

Interestingly, most women understand the attire required for such an event due to the aptly named cocktail dress (often black), whereas it is not as clear for men what attire they should wear to a cocktail party. Unfortuntanely, the cocktail party and cocktail attire do not go hand in hand, and you will need to make a judgement about the nature of the event before you decide what to wear. 

If the event suggests a dress code, then go with it.  If not, consider that cocktail parties are supposed to be relaxed occasions, and although not wrong per se, a classic dark suit such as navy or charcoal is probably a tad too formal. During the winter, you can wear flannel, with patterns, and maybe a bow tie. Be more daring than with your business wardrobe and pay attention to accessories such as cuff links, tie bars, pocket squares, boutonnieres… but don’t overdo it and only use two accents at the most.

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Sven Raphael Schneider wearing a DB flannel suit

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Madder Silk Bow Tie in Purple with Paisley

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Cornflower Boutonniere

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White Linen Pocket Square

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Sunglasses are a must for an event outside. Click to find out what shape suits you best.

During the warmer months of the year, you can go with lighter colors, such as the light blue linen sport coat below.

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Pink Two Tone Knit Tie Fort Belvedere

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A knit tie in a two tone color is perfect because it is casual yet unusual.

Click to learn more about this tie.

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A lapel flower boutonniere makes your outfit special & fun.

For a selection of boutonnieres, click here.

Traditional Cocktail Attire in the 1930s

Cocktail Party Suits
 Cocktail Party Suits

Fashion illustrations are a window into a bygone era when every man seemed to be dressed to the nines. The following fashion illustration is from 1936, the golden age of men’s classic style,  and shows us a nice mix of cocktail attire for men that would still work today. This illustration clearly shows the evolution of women’s dress since the 30’s, since these women are wearing hats and suits that were then considered everyday attire rather than business wear. If the party is during the day or in the afternoon, you can add more color and patterns to your outfit, although the basics mentioned in the list above apply here as well. In the evening, you can wear darker suits, fewer patterns, and more muted colors. 

The Stroller With Striped Trousers for Formal Day Event

Let’s start on the very left with the gentleman in the stroller. He leans by the fireplace, talking to the lady in red. Of course, this is an illustration, but note how neatly his coat fits around the collar, shoulders  and cuffs. There are neither gaps nor excess shirt cuff fabric to be seen. His stroller jacket is the typical single-breasted, peaked lapel style with two buttons and jetted pockets in a charcoal gray (this jacket is also found in black). Instead of a pocket square, he opted for a red carnation that goes well with his buff waistcoat, white shirt, and light blue tie. His trousers are striped but instead of the more common cashmere stripe, a special stripe for morning wear that does not really have anything to do with cashmere, he chose a wide stripe in black and white. Even though his shoes aren’t visible, they are probably black oxfords to match the colors in his outfit and the formality of this look. This cocktail outfit used to be particularly popular for wear on Sunday afternoons and was often seen at the smartest cocktail bars. Today, the stroller is definitely the most formal of all the cocktail suits yet different than another flannel blazer combination or a navy suit.

Windowpane Overplaid Sharkskin Suit – Great For Most Cocktail Parties

One of the highlights in this illustration is certainly the suit in the middle, featuring a large rust brown subdued windowpane overplaid on a grey sharkskin suit. Worn as a 3-piece suit with an ivory colored shirt and navy-red club tie,  the proportions of this suit are very moderate. It has a normal lapel width and gorge, round quarters and a fairly long jacket. In my opinion, windowpane suits are one of the most underrated outfits in menswear and hence, they are an ideal chance for you to differentiate yourself without being overly loud. As a general rule, you should keep in mind that the more patterns and colors (other than navy and grey) you have in your outfit, the less formal it will be. All of the suits shown here would be appropriate attire for 95% of cocktail parties.

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Silk Boutonnieres that look like real flowers - they just never wilt & travel well

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Blue Cornflower Boutonniere Buttonhole Flower Silk Fort Belvedere

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Orange Golden Fritillaria Silk Boutonniere Buttonhole Flower Fort Belvedere

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Edelweiss Boutonniere Buttonhole Flower Fort Belvedere

Wide Stripe Worsted Flannel Suit – An Option for Evening Events

On the very right, we have a gentleman in a suit with yet another large pattern: the wide-spaced colored stripe. The red stripes inspired the rest of his dress, choosing a red boutonniere and Bordeaux tie. This three-piece flannel suit with stripes benefits from the peaked lapels, which provide a little more formality. If the lady in blue were to step aside, you would see that the trousers of this suit are without cuffs, which raises the formality bar by another notch.

Striped Worsted Flannel
 Striped Worsted Flannel

In combination with a white crisp shirt collar, this outfit would be almost bank appropriate, expect for the wide colored stripes.

Nevertheless, I think it is a fantastic stripe and hence I wanted to provide you with a picture of an authentic cloth sample. As you can see, the stripe is more subdued than in the illustration, which makes it even more appropriate for a cocktail suit that is different yet elegant.

Conclusion

When cocktail attire is called for as the dress code at your next event, now you know what you need to wear to look and feel great. At a wedding, try to be properly dressed without being too flashy and always keep the bride and groom in mind. For cocktail parties and receptions, leave your business navies and grays in the closet and add a splash of color. If you have a vest – even a contrasting one – wear it if it pairs well with the suit. I hope I provided you with some food for thought for cocktail attire for your next reception – have fun and enjoy company and drinks!


Gentleman’s Gazette

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Holiday Attire for Men: What It Means & How to Wear It

The source of confusion in this dress code is that it can mean anything from cocktail attire with a festive twist to the recent vogue for ugly Christmas sweaters.

Our most general piece of advice for the holiday or festive dress code is to gravitate to the more formal end of the spectrum which we’re going to lay out today. After all, no one is ever going to fault you for looking put together. The exception to this advice, of course, is if the hosts have clearly stated that the party is going to be more extravagant and playful in nature and that ugly sweaters are expected. In that case, by all means, do loosen up and have some fun.

Ugly Christmas Sweater

Ugly Christmas Sweater

Your safest bet, of course, will always be to ask the hosts for advice directly as a gentleman always makes the effort to follow a dress code as closely as he can; to do otherwise would be an insult to your hosts. One more piece of general advice here before we dive in, keep it varied and have a few options handy, after all, it’s a busy time of year for parties and you may be invited to more than one that has a holiday or festive dress code to it so having a few options at your disposal will never be a bad thing.

Tartan adds a bit of playfulness to any outfit

Tartan adds a bit of playfulness to any outfit

How To Meet The Holiday Attire Dress Code Stylishly?

The simplest answer is this, think of it as being an offshoot of cocktail attire with an extra holiday touch in terms of color or some playfulness that’s incorporated into your outfit such as wearing tartan which has been an established alternative when it comes to holiday wear since at least the middle of the 20th century. Regarding color then, do feel free to incorporate some of the standard colors of the holiday season such as red and green. With that said, however, don’t go for bright and gaudy hues as these are just going to make you stand out a little bit too much. Instead, go for something subtle, understated, and elegant.

Now let’s cover today’s subject through the lens of multiple different types of holiday parties, each with differing levels of formality and cover the related dress accordingly.

Office Appropriate Festive Attire

Regarding how dressed up you should be for such an event, just take a cue from the regular day-to-day attire at your office. In other words, think of how you should dress as being a somewhat typical office outfit, maybe just a bit more relaxed and with a seasonal element to it.

White Collar Office Parties

Firstly, if you work in a traditional white collar office environment, go for something that’s appropriately conservative. For example, a suit perhaps three pieces or double-breasted in a dark color like charcoal, navy, or in midnight blue, if you’re feeling especially elegant. Along with this, you could go for a dress shirt, ideally French cuffed and probably in a pastel color as white might be just a bit too stuffy for a festive party.

Oxblood derby shoes is a great option for Festive Attire dress code

Oxblood derby shoes is a great option for Festive Attire dress code

In terms of shoes, you’ll want to keep things appropriately conservative as well so you could go for the classic black cap toe oxford or if you’re feeling just a little bit more playful, something in a very dark brown color perhaps an oxblood. You could go for something like a monk strap or something incorporating just a little bit of broguing in its design but you don’t want to get too crazy and you probably won’t want to opt for light colors like tan either. After all, if your regular office attire consists of those black oxfords, you’ll want to keep it in the neighborhood of that kind of shoe even for a party like this.

Refrain from wearing this loud Christmas tie at a white-collar office party

Refrain from wearing this loud Christmas tie at a white-collar office party

As for your accessories, the novelty tie emblazoned with huge Santa heads is probably going to be a little bit too informal for a party of this nature. Instead, you’ll want to go for something like a dark burgundy or a similarly muted hue perhaps with a slight pattern to it. Although solids are of course a safe bet. Your pocket square can be a little bit bolder in comparison to your tie and can possibly incorporate some small patterns as well. Just remember that all of the elements of your outfit should ultimately remain harmonious.

You’re likely going to have the most latitude here with your cufflinks, they can be solid metal in any shade of course and can incorporate stones or other engraved designs. This type of party is just playful enough, however, that you could also do something with miniatures, say, for example, a tiny reindeer just so long as it’s understated and subtle. Have fun with it and try to strike that ideal balance between formal and festive.

Eagle Claw Cufflinks with Malachite Balls by Fort Belvedere combined with green tie bar and malachite pinky ring

Eagle Claw Cufflinks with Malachite Balls by Fort Belvedere combined with a green tie bar and malachite pinky ring

Tie bars, collar clips, and rings can also be worn as long as they are similarly understated and of course, matching your metals is always a good idea. Finally here regarding boutonnieres, something light-colored and small so as also to be understated would be an ideal choice.

 

 

Do not attempt to wear super bright colors as it may make you look clownish

Do not attempt to wear super bright colors as it may make you look clownish

Less Formal Office Parties

For a slightly less formal type of office party, we recommend that you go with a combination of sport coat and odd trousers. A patterned or textured sportcoat would be a good choice here with or without a tie. Something for example in herringbone, houndstooth, or a mottled tweed will provide a rustic quality that’s still appropriate for the season. Wearing a blazer with a tartan or other plaid pattern would be an ideal way to be seasonally appropriate, a little bit bold, and a little bit rustic all at the same time.

Opt for tweed if you are going for the rustic look

Opt for tweed if you are going for the rustic look

Finally, this would also be a great opportunity to break out something like a burgundy velvet jacket if you’re feeling especially avant-garde. Your shirt could be plain in color, either in a pastel shade or alternatively in a rich dark hue if you’re going for something a little bit more fashion-forward. Also, the shirt could feature a pattern just so long as that pattern doesn’t clash if you’ve also got one in your jacket.

Aleks Cvetkovics with denim shirt on top of a turtleneck sweater

Aleks Cvetkovics with denim shirt on top of a turtleneck sweater

In terms of styling and materials, choices like the Oxford cloth button down or OCBD would be appropriately semi-formal. A chambray shirt would be another good choice or alternatively, you could substitute the collared shirt altogether for something like a dark turtleneck sweater under your jacket. You can round out this look with some flannel trousers or corduroys.  As far as shoes are concerned, you could opt for something like wingtips or loafers just so long as they’re well shined.

Casual Office Parties

Brown sport coat with fair isle vest and Fort Belvedere accessories

Brown sport coat with fair isle vest and Fort Belvedere accessories

Our advice is largely the same as for semi-formal office parties but with a few key distinctions.

Ralph Lauren Cable Knit Cardigan Sweater

Ralph Lauren Cable Knit Cardigan Sweater

First of all, you can feel free to swap out the sport coat with a cable knit pullover or a cardigan sweater in a warm color. Alternatively, a fair isle sweater or sweater vest will allow you to stand out a little bit more while still looking rustic and traditional.

Allen Edmonds Chukka boots paired with dark denim jeans

Allen Edmonds Chukka boots paired with dark denim jeans

In addition to flannel trousers and corduroys, a casual office party would also be an appropriate time to break out dark denim or perhaps even colored chinos if you’re feeling especially bold.

Crazy Christmas Socks

Crazy Christmas Socks

Finally, you can add an accent with some brightly colored dress socks or maybe incorporate your crazy socks featuring Santa and his reindeer here and you can round out the look with some informal shoes or perhaps a dress boot.

Residential /Private Holiday Parties

SRS in a brown turtleneck sweater

SRS in a brown turtleneck sweater

Now let’s briefly cover some advice on what to wear to a holiday or festive party given in a residential or otherwise similarly private setting. In the broad strokes, you’re going to want to keep things a little bit more relaxed for a home party than you would for an office party but the breakdown we’ve just given for three different formality levels of office parties can still hold mostly true here as well. In other words, all of the suggestions we gave for specific combinations of garments still hold true for home parties as they did for office parties but when we gave you more than one option in some of our breakdowns, you would here opt for some of the less formal of those options.

SRS wearing a denim shirt with a sport coat

SRS wearing a denim shirt with a sport coat

For example, at a semi-formal or mid-level holiday house party, you could perhaps go for the turtleneck sweater before going for the button-down. Remember, the bottom line for house parties is always the dress code that’s printed on the invitation and/or the personal advice of the hosts. If the party takes place during the holiday season but the invitation says black-tie, wear a tuxedo and leave that tweed sport coat at home.

Non-traditional Black Tie ensemble with velvet DB jacket and midnight blue trousers, following the clack black tie style rules

Non-traditional Black Tie ensemble for the holidays with burgundy velvet DB jacket and midnight blue trousers, following the black tie style rules

CONCLUSION

While the holiday or festive dress code covers a wide range of levels of formality, it doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety. For a party at work, take a cue from your regular office attire and add a twist or two and for a residential party, take your cue from the invitation and the advice of the hosts and feel free to be just a little bit more relaxed and playful and yes, if ugly sweaters are expected, do loosen up and feel free to have a little bit of fun.

What sorts of combinations have you worn to holiday parties in the past? Share with us in the comments section below.


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