Formal Attire for Men – Dress Code Style Guide 2023

We’ve waxed lyrical about how men’s dress codes are breaking down, how casual dress is taking over and why sportswear is the de facto king of men’s fashion. But in this new relaxed world, there is one mainstay that refuses to disappear: the suit.
We’ve seen it rise and fall in popularity over the years, but it never truly went away. In a true sign of the times, tailoring featured extensively in the first Louis Vuitton collection from Virgil Abloh, shown alongside cutting edge streetwear suggesting the two have finally become symbiotic. The suit, and old ideas of formal attire in general, no longer has to have stuffy connotations – it can be worn through choice; it can be sexy and relevant.

After all, no matter how casual fashion gets, there are still times when you’ll need to wear one – weddings, fancy parties, big job interviews, they generally all require one. “Many people now only wear formal clothing to weddings and funerals”, owner of Grenson , Tim Little admits. But how can you wear yours without looking old hat?

What is Formal Attire?

Ah, the ever mystifying question of what is formal attire exactly?

In general, if you find yourself staring at an invitation that requests formal attire, it’s a safe bet that it’s a black or white tie event, where you’re expected to show out in your best and most polished dress. As a rule of thumb, if an event calls for formal attire, it’s going to be fancy, and you don’t want to stick out as a slob in a crowd of well dressed men.

Traditionally, men’s formal attire indicates a black tie event, which means a black tuxedo and a tuxedo shirt, and there’s very little wiggle room around it. Paired with a starched white shirt and cummerbund, the black tie look is the epitome of mens formal wear.

If it’s specifically indicated that white tie is required, you’ll have to add a bow tie and tailed jacket into the mix.

Some business environments will also require formal attire, but we’re not saying to go wearing your tux to the office any time soon. Business formal work attire generally refers to a standard suit with a freshly pressed or non iron dress shirt. Paired with leather dress shoes and you’ll look as if you’ve stepped out of Mad Men’s Sterling Cooper.

However, these days, formal attire has deviated from tradition a bit. The lines are increasingly blurred and it’s easier to get away with a dressed-down version of formal attire, so long as the look is polished and sleek.

Keep reading to learn the new rules of men’s formal attire and how to make sure you’re always dressed for the occasion.

Formal Attire In The Age Of Sportswear

Up to only a few years ago, the formal attire equation was simple: suit, shirt, tie, pocket square, smart shoes, done. Whilst it ticks all the formal boxes, this is a look that’s far from inventive and has been knocking around for decades in various forms. It’s no wonder only one in ten people in the UK now wear a suit to work – it’s become boring, and stinks of conformity and boardroom meetings.


It’s a good job then designers are beginning to herald in a new era for the old faithful. Forget everything you know about suits – this is tailoring for the next generation, it’s tailoring for those who may never have chosen or even needed to wear a suit before. It’s got nothing to do with Savile Row. It kicked off with the spring-summer shows of 2018 – there was Louis Vuitton’s all-white double-breasteds; Dior’s couture-inspired suits worn with nothing underneath; Paul Smith’s voluminous 1980s takes, and Raf Simons’ oversized designs with no shirt or tie in sight.


What does this mean for you and I? Formal attire has moved on. The suit doesn’t have to be treated like the business accomplice it always has been. Creative director of Savile Row house Gieves & Hawkes John Harrison agrees: “There is definitely an easing up on tailoring”. Yes, there are times when a shirt and tie are needed – those pesky weddings – but you can also replace the shirt altogether, and still be the best-dressed man in the room. From wearing trainers with tailoring to how your suit should fit, here are the new rules of formal attire.

Formal Wear vs Semi Formal Wear

Despite the fact that times are changing when it comes to men’s formal attire, there’s still a line drawn between formal wear and semi-formal wear.

Formal wear will almost always include a dark colored suit (tuxedo) and bow tie, whereas semi-formal dress for men is a bit more flexible. Try a lighter colored suit, or a blazer and slacks with a sharp belt. Semi-formal wear can include a tie, but doesn’t always have to, and shoes can be smart or relaxed.

The main thing to remember is that with semi-formal wear, men have more versatility. You’ll rarely walk into a semi-formal event, look around and feel like everyone’s wearing the same thing. Experiment with colors, patterns and accessories, so long as you incorporate main formal staples like a jacket and dress shirt.

When it comes to formal attire for men, play it safe and dress it up (though daytime events leave some room for different colored suits). Nothing’s more classy than a man in a tux.

In a nutshell, the main difference between a formal and semi-formal dress code for men is the latter leaves room for personal expression, while formal wear should remain, for the most part, traditional.

The New Rules Of Men’s Formal Dress

Can the modern man really be expected to follow the same rules of formal attire that their grandfathers did? Times are changing, and while dress codes remain, the rules are slightly different than they once were.

Keep these eight new rules of men’s formal attire in mind while gearing up for your next event.

Simplify Your Look

When it comes to tailoring, too many people get carried away. No, you do not need a tie pin, collar bar, pocket square, braces, pocket watch and a cigar hanging out of every pocket. Pare things back and let the suit – and your personality – do the talking. Not only will it take less time for you to get ready, you’ll also look less affected and more natural.
For a simple wedding look for example, ditch the pocket square (fussy, unnecessary), and opt for a plain knitted tie with an Oxford shirt. Simple and effective.


Forget ‘Slim Fit’

‘Slim fit’ has dominated mainstream clothing over the past decade, but it’s on its way out, especially when it comes to formal dress code. Unfortunately ‘slim fit’ tends to translate as ‘too tight’ and nobody wants a suit they can’t move in, or even do up. A suit should be flattering, not contouring, so look for wider cuts that complement your body shape rather than restrict it.

Brunello CucinelliBrunello Cucinelli

Aim For Comfort

A suit doesn’t have to have heavy structure. Whilst those of Savile Row tend to have a militaristic cut – built up roped shoulders, heaving chest canvassing – an unstructured suit strips all of this away, offering a far more comfortable end product that won’t make you feel like you need to stand to attention when you wear it.

Try oversized outerwear over the top for ultimate comfort points. It doesn’t have to be huge, but a coat in the next size up will ensure your suit fits underneath, and it can double as a cosy weekend jacket. Just tailor the sleeve length so you can still see your hands.


If You Want Colour, Go Earthy

Navy and grey will always be the most popular options, but a colourful suit can make for a striking choice. If in doubt stick to earthy colours of deep greens and browns, which are flattering for most skin tones and keep the rest of the look simple to allow the suit to take centre stage.


Try Trainers

Ah, the age old debate of whether trainers can be worn with a suit. We’ll end it here: yes, it can be done. It’s very easy to get wrong though. The trick is to tone everything down – the suit should be unstructured and made from a more casual fabric such as cotton; wear a T-shirt instead of a shirt, and tailor the hems of your trousers with no break. Oh, and the sneakers themselves should be minimal, too.


Rule #6: Forget Old School ‘Rules’ Men’s Of Formal Wear

Unfortunately, the traditional origins of tailoring means it comes with plenty of pomp, and a few so-called style ‘rules’ that are dated and need to be ignored. ‘No brown in town’ and ‘never wear navy and black’ are the two that first spring to mind.

Another, and one you’ll read on plenty of styles sites, is that you should never wear a pre-tied bow tie. What purpose does this serve other than to stroke the wearer’s ego that he, in fact, is wearing a ‘real’ bow tie? Well, there isn’t one really. If you’re after a bow tie then, regardless of whether it’s pre-tied or not, go for it. It shouldn’t be untied on the night anyway – you’re not James Bond.

Charles TyrwhittCharles Tyrwhitt

Smart Knitwear

This is perhaps the best rule on this list, and the most effective way of transforming your formal attire. Simply swap your shirt for a fine gauge knit – whether that be a crew neck, roll neck or Breton stripe. This immediately helps to strip away the business-like connotations of the suit, and gives off a contemporary look and feel that simply can’t be achieved with a shirt and tie.


For Shoes, Think Versatility

What’s the use in having multiple pairs of similar shoes that serve different purposes when you can have one pair that does it all? Save your cash and look for versatility when shopping for footwear on the smarter end of the spectrum. A pair of Derby shoes is always a good option, but look for something a little more robust that’ll pair well with jeans as well as tailoring.
Alternatively try a traditionally formal style – a monk strap or Chelsea boot – but with a chunky commando rubber sole bolted on for ultimate smart casual prowess.

Crockett & JonesCrockett & Jones

The Modern Formal Attire Shopping List

If your dress clothes are in need of a serious update, here are the must-have pieces any modern man needs for men’s formal wear. Rather than fumbling around in your closet the next time an invitation arrives, have these go-to pieces ready to rumble and you’ll look like the sharpest man in the room.

The Unstructured Suit

If you’re going to own only one suit, opt for one with little to no structure and you’ll find yourself wearing it even when you don’t have to. It’ll be comfortable, easy to wear and you can dress it up or down with ease. Simply wear with a shirt and knitted tie for work, or a T-shirt and trainers for date night.

The Best Unstructured Suits For Men

J. Crew Ludlow Slim-fit unstructured suit in Irish cotton-linen blend - click to buy Bonobos Unconstructed Italian Wool Blazer - click to buy Sunspel Linen Unstructured Blazer - click to buy COS Unstructured Single-Breasted Linen Blazer - click to buy

A Textured Blazer

For times when a full suit is just too much, a blazer worn with complementary trousers is a solid bet. Said blazer should be made from some sort of textured fabric – a herringbone cotton or tweed perhaps – so that it looks as though it was meant to be worn solo.

The Best Textured Blazers For Men

Land's End Comfort First Corduroy Blazer - click to buy Boss Slim-Fit Jacket in Herringbone Cotton and Virgin Wool - click to buy Hawes & Curtis Grey & Orange Herringbone Plaid Harris Tweed Blazer - click to buy Reiss Ace Single Breasted Velvet Blazer - click to buy

A Knitted Tie

Whilst it may be less formal than the pure silk variety, the knitted tie is also less stuffy and far easier to wear. Although usually finished with a square tip, you can find the odd knitted tie with a pointed end to replicate the more traditional look of a printed silk version.

The Best Knitted Ties For Men

OTAA Essaouira Navy Knitted Tie - click to buy The Tie Bar Textured Stripe Knit Champagne Tie - click to buy J. Crew Silk knit tie - click to buy Brunello Cucinelli textured wool tie - click to buy

The Jersey Shirt

Menswear has evolved, and so too have the fabric options available today. It’s now possible to purchase classic types of shirt in cotton jersey – the comfortable fibre usually reserved for polo shirts. With the same look of a traditional dress shirt, these jersey shirts have a slight stretch meaning more freedom of movement and comfort, yet appear just as smart. A win win

The Best Jersey Shirts For Men

MR P. Organic Cotton-Jersey Shirt - click to buy CANALI Cutaway-Collar Cotton-Jersey Shirt - click to buy POLO RALPH LAUREN Logo-Embroidered Grandad-Collar Cotton-Jersey Shirt - click to buy MISSONI Space-Dyed Cotton-Jersey Shirt - click to buy

Some Rubber Soled Dress Shoes

Why go for a leather sole when you can have rubber? More durable, waterproof and slip-resistant, rubber soles make for ideal everyday work shoes yet, because they are usually chunkier, they’ll also pair up equally well with your weekend wardrobe.

The Best Rubber Soled Dress Shoes For Men

Grenson Dylan - click to buy Velasca Moletta - click to buy Morjas The Oxford - click to buy Myrqvist Stenhammar - click to buy

Oversized Outerwear

To top off your formal look, finish with an oversized coat. Not only will it show your fashion nous and ability to play with proportion, it will also ensure your two-piece fits underneath and will be endlessly more comfortable than a restricting, slim-fit jacket.

The Best Oversized Coats For Men

H&M Oversized Fit Wool-blend Pea Coat - click to buy CELINE HOMME Oversized Double-Breasted Wool Trench Coat - click to buy JIL SANDER Black Oversized Coat - click to buy FEAR OF GOD Eternal Oversized Double-Breasted Melton Wool Coat - click to buy

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