The term formal menswear can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In fact, it can range from the super specific white tie formal menswear you’ll see at banquet charity galas and White House dinners to the much less refined lounge style, where pretty much any suit and tie combination can work.
The fact is, most men aren’t going to get dressed up to the nines all the time, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t know how to do it right.
That’s why we’ve put together this basic primer on formal menswear and how you can wear it.
You’ll probably never attend that white tie gala, so we’ll skip that part for now. You can always get some assistance from a skilled tailor if those events ever start popping up in your life. For now, we just want to give you some basic rules on formal menswear that you wear on a more regular basis to work and social occasions.
1. Black Tie Requires a Bowtie
You probably don’t go to a ton of black tie events, at least not if you’re like the average man. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t attend a formal wedding, go to a charity event or do anything else that requires real formal dress in the next year.
While black tie events have fairly strict requirements, one of them that most men seem to miss on a regular basis is the bowtie. You may not love bowties and you may not want to wear them with your regular suits, but if you’re attending a black tie event and you don’t have one on, you’re going to look like the odd man out almost every single time.
When it comes to picking a bowtie for a black tie event you really need to stick with classic black. You can go for a different texture or material like wool instead of satin, but you should skip the “fun” bowtie for formal events unless you want to be remembered as the quirky guy in the silly bowtie.
2. Avoid Black
You probably shouldn’t avoid black suits all of the time, but the truth is that when it comes to formal menswear they just aren’t the most popular option, and at least one person is going to make a joke about funerals to you.
That’s going to be especially true if you decide to wear that white shirt and black tie combination, no matter how wonderful the monochromatic color scheme looks in the mirror.
Instead of wearing a black suit, go for something that is still classic when it comes to formal menswear but simply isn’t so dour! Choose midnight blue, navy blue, charcoal or even a dark gray coloring for your suit.
If you want to keep your look understated you can do it with a plain tie and a white shirt. You just won’t look like you’re on your way to a funeral, which is more and more how black suits are looking to people these days.
3. Don’t Skip the Vest
Even if you’re not the type of guy that wears a vest to work, you’re definitely missing out on something when you need formal menswear for a special occasion if you don’t wear yours. When you wear a vest, you just get an extra boost of confidence, and you also get a little more formal look that can really help you stand out.
Wearing a vest also makes sure that you’re comfortable and warm in the winter months, especially if you’re attending an outdoor banquet or any event like that. Not to mention walking around out in the streets on a daily basis in the fall and winter!
The next time you’re invited to an event where you feel like it is appropriate to wear a suit – not a tuxedo – put on your vest. You’ll look more formal and feel confident with your new look.
4. Tie Color Matters
Most men don’t think about the rules when it comes to the color of their tie, at least not if the event isn’t black tie or white tie. However, there is one basic formal menswear rules that should guide how you wear a tie with a suit.
The tie that you put on should be darker than your shirt on every single occasion, even if you aren’t going to the most formal event out there. That means leaving that red tie alone when you wear your black shirt, and always making sure your tie is the darker of the two if you’re doing a blue on blue shirt and tie combination.
The reason you want a darker colored tie is two-fold: it looks better and that’s the traditional way to pick out a tie! If you go for a bold, bright tie you’ll likely be remembered as that zany guy who didn’t know how to pick his tie. You’ll also feel a bit out of place in a room full of men who followed the golden rule of ties.
5. Fit is Most Important
When you’re picking out formal menswear or you’re trying to decide what to wear for the night you need to remember one simple rule – fit is the most important part of looking good. When it comes to buying formal menswear, the fit is an essential part of how good – or bad – you’re going to look.
That’s why many men choose to have custom clothing made for them. That way a skilled tailor can help you with your formal menswear and make sure it has the right fit. After all, fitting a tuxedo for a formal event is considerably different than buying a suit for nighttime wear off the rack in a menswear store.
The most important part of choosing formal menswear when it comes to fit? The shoulders. If your shoulders are too small the jacket will pull. If they’re too big, you’ll look like you’ve got a ton of material hanging off your shoulders.
Avoid that 1980s big shoulder pad look too. It’s incredibly unpopular and a definite no-no when it comes to formal menswear.
6. Metals Must Match
The last rule on this list is one most men don’t think about on a regular basis, even if they wear cufflinks, belts and a watch when they get dressed up. Even if you’ve never thought about it before, it’s time to learn that the metals you wear when you’re in formal menswear absolutely must match, at least for the most part.
That means making sure your belt and your cufflinks are both polished silver, brass or gold. It could be tempting to wear your favorite sterling silver cufflinks with a brass belt if you’re wearing a blue suit, but this is something you absolutely need to avoid in formal menswear.
A lot of people will tell you it’s okay to not match the metal on your watch, but the truth is that’s a pretty sloppy look. If you can’t match the metal, or you just don’t want to try, go with a classic leather band.
That way you’ll be playing it safe.