Demystifying Dress Codes

Demystifying Dress Codes

We've all been there. You've received an invitation in the post, and excitedly open it only to find that the sender has invited you to a party where the dress code is "Glamour with a twist". Seriously? Is that a dinner jacket with a water-squirting bow tie? Creative dress codes really help no one, and if you do receive an invitation detailing such, the best thing to do is rsvp for clarification! Most invitations will stick to the more tried, tested, and definable men's dress codes set out below, and as long as you follow our advice, you've never any reason to show up looking like the odd one out.

White Tie

White tie is the most formal of dress codes and most of us will likely never have to worry ourselves about it. But, if you're one of the minority who ever attend a state banquet, Royal ceremony, or such like, then you'll need to adhere to a strict set of sartorial rules. When it comes to white tie, there is no wiggle room for 'tweaks' outside of your pocket square, cufflinks, and boutonniere. 

The jacket is specific to white tie, and so you should not think about using your morning coat, despite it having tails. For white tie, the jacket is black, double-breasted with 4-6 buttons, with silk facings and peak lapels, and a tailcoat that reaches down to the back of the knees. Dress trousers are perfectly fine, provided they have a satin stripe down the sides of the legs, and are usually worn with suspenders. A plain white marcella cotton shirt with a wing collar is non-negotiable. The suit is worn with a plain white dress shirt with a wing collar, preferably detachable.

Whereas with morning dress, the waistcoat can be a vital element of pattern and colour, no such luck with white tie. The waistcoat must be white, and with three or four buttons at the front. The length is vital. It must be long enough to cover the waistband of your trousers but not too long that it overtakes the front hem of the tailcoat. The bow tie is naturally white, and one's shoes should be patent black Oxfords. Some gentlemen will accessorise with some combination of white scarf, white gloves, white pocket square and black top hat, but that is the wearer's discretion.

Black Tie

The black tie dress code is typically reserved for evening events such as galas, awards, balls, and such like, but has also become an increasingly popular wedding day choice. The rules of black tie are simple to follow and don't leave much room for subjective error: one's trousers should feature a single row of silk braid down each outside leg and should be naturally tapered. The shirt is typically a classic white evening shirt with a marcella collar, bib and double cuffs, but pintuck styles are equally as sophisticated. It you want to be more extravagant, then our single frill dress shirt is well worth a spin! If you prefer to wear shirt studs, they should be black or decorative such as Mother of Pearl. A black hand-tied bow tie (the size of which should be proportionate to the wearer) is the natural accompaniment for almost all formal occasions, but where you might see or interpret 'Hollywood Black Tie', then a simple black tie can be substituted.

 

 
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On the feet, black Oxfords - no argument. Highly polished or patent leather are your only options, together with black silk socks. While waistcoats aren't out of the equation, they are very rarely worn with a dinner jacket and would only really be suitable for more formal events. Likewise cummerbunds, which are not considered essential but can provide an interesting swathe of colour. Note however that waistcoats and cummerbunds ne'er should mix.

The final flourish exists in that small but important piece of sartorial real estate - the breast pocket. A white handkerchief is the traditional inclusion, and while a polka dot can look fantastic, we don't recommend venturing beyond that. It would be a travesty to have pulled together a beautiful black tie ensemble only to court disaster with an ill-conceived pocket square.


There is a whole other world of 'alternative black tie', too, notably in the form of velvet dinner jackets, of which Favourbrook has a broad and eclectic selection. Whereas the black DJ is smooth and sleek, the velvet dinner jacket provides a unique tactility that comes to life under the lights. Both shawl lapel and peak lapel velvet jackets are great options, while some will even opt for velvet smoking jackets.

Morning Dress

 
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Favourbrook's bread and butter, morning dress of course consists of the morning suit. Typically, you'll only ever be required to wear morning dress when attending a wedding or an event such as Royal Ascot, where morning dress is required in the Royal Enclosure. We've written plenty about the fundamentals of morning dress, so in a nutshell it consists of a black morning coat, cashmere stripe trousers, white dress shirt, waistcoat, tie, and pocket square, bookended by a pair of black Oxfords. Alternative morning suits include the elegant charcoal style as favoured by HRH King Charles, and the navy style, which Favourbrook has reintroduced through its Ascot morning suit.

Cocktail

 
 
 
 
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The cocktail dress code is often where gents come unstuck, or at least slightly confused, but It’s really quite broad in aspect so there's plenty of room for sartorial manoeuvre. Cocktail attire came about thanks to the literati of the 1920s, such as Evelyn Waugh et al. A heady period in history, it was a chance to dress up, socialise, and get blind drunk on Sidecars and Gimlets. These days, one is most likely to see cocktail attire being required for wedding parties and special birthdays. Smart tailoring is the norm, but styled in such a way to make it either glamorous or nonchalant. A dark suit paired with a silk rollneck sweater or polo shirt and double monk shoes for example, or a velvet jacket worn with an open collared shirt and dress trousers. Or in the summer, perhaps it is a tobacco linen suit with burgundy Prince Albert slippers and a refined pinstripe shirt. 

Semi-formal

Whenever you see the words 'semi-formal', you can safely equate it with 'business attire', which in 99% of instances means a suit. A traditional navy or charcoal business suit is what's called for here. As far as patterned cloths go, keep them very understated ie. a light chalk stripe or a very subtle check, but nothing loud. You're not attempting to catch anyone's eye here - far better to plump for a well-made merino 120s suit that fits beautifully. Your shoes can vary depending on your personality, but if in doubt then black Oxfords are the way to go. Otherwise, you can add a little extra flair with a pair of double monks, or even a quarter brogue cut in the Oxford style. One's tie and pocket square are the colour accents with which you can express your personality, so choose wisely. 

 
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