The Gentleman's Guide to Dress Codes

Photo by Ed Brambley

Traditional dress codes are the ideal way to let guests know what kind of event they’re being invited to and what is expected of them. In days gone by we gentlemen would’ve had a whole series of different dress codes to familiarise ourselves with. Today there are far fewer, so there really is no excuse for getting it wrong! 

Are you unsure what will be expected from you at an upcoming event? Whether it’s black tie, white tie or smart casual, let us be your guide.

Black Tie

Most formal events will request black tie. For men, this means:

  • A black dinner jacket (rebellious types may be able to get away with navy blue or charcoal grey)
  • Matching formal trousers
  • A white dress shirt
  • A black bow tie (hand-tied please!)
  • Polished black lace up shoes
  • Black socks

There are a handful of acceptable variations. Waistcoats can be an excellent addition to black tie attire, as can cummerbunds. Neither are required and they should never be worn together! Pocket squares can also work well with black tie: handkerchiefs in classic white silk look particularly effective.

White Tie

White tie is more formal than black tie and has been in decline since the mid twentieth century. There are still some occasions that will insist on it, however, so it pays to know what’s required. For white tie events men are expected to wear:

  • A black tail coat (sorry, no rebellion permitted!)
  • Matching formal trousers
  • A white dress shirt with detachable wing collar and double cuffs
  • A white hand-tied marcella bow tie 
  • A white low cut marcella waistcoat 
  • Polished black lace up shoes (traditionally these should be laced with black ribbon)
  • Black socks

If you’re attending white tie event in winter, it’s acceptable to wear a black overcoat and a white silk scarf. 

Smart Casual

Smart casual can be one of the most difficult dress codes to get right. It requires that you look smart, but not overly formal. There are no strict rules for this dress code, though we’d advise you to avoid the following:

  • Jeans
  • Trainers
  • Sandals or flip flops
  • Collarless t-shirts
  • Shorts

Instead, we suggest that a tailored suit paired with a more casual shirt and brogues is a classically stylish option. Ties can be worn but aren’t a necessity, and you can mix and match with waistcoats and pocket squares all you like. 

If in doubt, we suggest you err on the side of smart rather than casual. Why? Because a true gentleman is never under-dressed.