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Among the most important pieces of clothing you own are those in the formal menswear category: your suits and ties. They’re extremely versatile. You can wear them to job interviews, to the office, to parties and, in most cases, to weddings and other elegant social affairs.

At the same time, a basic suit with a standard necktie isn’t always the right choice. Thus, keep the following pieces of advice in mind whenever you have questions about whether your formal menswear is apt for a certain event.

Semi-Formal Events

When you hear the phrase “semi-formal,” what comes to mind? Maybe it’s your high school prom or a recent corporate dinner. Most people rarely throw these types of functions, but you might be asked to attend one every now and then. Formal menswear is usually acceptable for them, although in some instances tuxedos are expected.

If you’re not sure whether you need a tux or a particular kind of suit because there’s no specific dress code on the invitation, you can simply call the host and ask him or her. You might feel awkward doing so. You might even think, “I’m an adult. I should know how to dress myself by now.” But you shouldn’t feel that way. The rules of semi-formal attire can be bewildering to many people. Even the phrase “semi-formal” makes no sense. After all, it means “half-formal” and there’s really no way to look half-formal.

Therefore, don’t feel bad about getting in touch with the host. He or she will probably appreciate that you care enough to make a good impression. If you’d really rather not ask that person, you can always contact another guest.

As a side note, formal events require white ties, not formal menswear. However, unless you’re a diplomat or some kind of super-celebrity, you probably won’t have to worry about those occasions.

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Black Tie Optional and Creative Black Tie

Two dress codes can be especially tricky: “black tie optional” and “creative black tie.” When it comes to black tie optional, you can feel free to don a dark suit or a tux. If you’d like a kind of middle ground, you could opt for a dark suit with a bow tie, an outfit that often resembles a tuxedo.

As far as a creative black tie event, you might go for a dark suit and a necktie that’s a little flashier than one you’d bring to a typical semi-formal gathering. For instance, you could select a tie that’s red, orange or another vibrant color. You might even experiment with a bolo tie.

Maximizing a Suit’s Potential

When it comes to grace and sophistication, tuxedos don’t have anything on fine suits. To attract as many eyeballs and compliments at a social gathering as possible, though, make sure your suit is as stylish as it can be. It should be expertly tailored so that it’s an ideal fit for every part of your body. You’ll want plenty of freedom for walking around, dancing or whatever else you’ll have to do.

What if you have a plain suit and you want to make it stand out? Or what if you only own a couple of suits and you want them to look different at different events? Well, you can always get imaginative with your accessories.

Colorful yet tasteful pocket squares, lapel pins and flowers offer variety. Cummerbunds, tie clips and bow ties can likewise lend your ensemble some character. You can even make a fashion statement with the pattern of your necktie. Chic cufflinks can be great conversation pieces as well. In short, all of those items will make an adaptable suit even more adaptable.

When in Doubt, Be Conservative

No matter what your political preferences are, conservatism is the safest approach to wardrobe choices. That means following basic rules when you’re getting ready for a fancy affair.

For example, lighter suits are more appropriate for daytime events while darker clothing is usually just right for nighttime happenings. In fact, tuxedos are rarely suitable for anything that takes place before the sun goes down.

In addition, if you’re ever unsure of what to wear, it’s better to overdress than to underdress, especially since you can always make yourself look less dressy by taking off your tie and unbuttoning your collar. In a similar vein, don’t bring a sports coat to a fancy event. Sports coats fall in the category of business casual; they’re not considered to be items of formal menswear.

In the end, social and business events should be enjoyable, and the clothes that you wear to them should be comfortable and fun to show off. As long as you know what you’re expected to wear and stay within those limitations, you can feel free to get a little playful.

Finally, if you’re at a lavish function and you feel like you’re not quite dressed correctly, just keep standing next to someone who showed up in khakis, corduroys or jeans. Compared to that poor guy, no one will notice your fashion faux pas.

men's fashion advice

Ralph Lauretta

Ralph is a co-owner of Sal Lauretta for Men. His areas of expertise include custom clothing as well as being the primary clothing buyer for the store. When not at work you can find him hanging out with his family, reorganizing his garage or watching a Denver Broncos game.