Decoding the formal dress code

With a variety of different formal dress codes, it can be confusing to know exactly what you should wear. However, we’re here to help inspire and guide you on different styles and show you how to look spot every time; from white tie through to business casual.

White Tie

This is the most formal evening dress code and is also called full evening dress or dress suit. This style goes back to the 18th century when high society men began to favour a more minimalist style inspired by the country gentleman.

Traditional white tie dress involves:

  • White Marcella shirt with detachable wing collar and single cuffs
  • White Marcella bow tie
  • Low-cut Marcella waistcoat
  • Black single-breasted barathea wool or ultrafine herringbone tailcoat with silk peak lapels
  • Trousers have double braiding outside both legs
  • Patent leather or highly polished black dress shoes

Black Tie

One of the most common dress codes, typically reserved for events such as weddings or galas. These are wardrobe essential for every man. You’ll wear it a handful of times but it will last, so it’s important to invest in a good quality suit and ensure that the suit fits perfectly. If it doesn’t, it is advised to get it tailored.

Traditional white tie dress involves:

  • Black dinner jacket – lapel should be in a contrasting material, such as silk
  • Dress shirt with wing tip collar
  • Black tie waistcoat
  • Cummerbund
  • Bow tie
  • Patent leather or highly polished black dress shoes

Black Tie Optional

With this dress code, you have a little more creativity, for example these fun back shirts with their patterned backs are something different from your standard white dress shirt. That said, it is still a fairly formal dress code based on black tie.

Traditional white tie dress involves:

  • Tuxedo
  • Dress suit, white dress shirt, conservative tie
  • Leather dress shoes and dark dress socks


Cocktail is the most popular of all the formal-dress codes, as it is still formal but leaves more room for creativity, so you may liken it to semi-formal wear.

In these cases, you should wear:

  • Dress shirt in white or another muted colour
  • Dark suit, but not black
  • Patterned tie and in some cases, coloured socks
  • Well shined shoes such as brogues, oxfords or monk-straps

Semi-formal and Business Formal

Both these types of dress code are less restrictive than the more formal forms of dress and is typical for a formal business environment. With semi-formal attire, you can opt for a coloured or patterned tie, whereas more conservative styles are expected for business formal attire.

  • Dress shirt
  • Dark business suit
  • Tie (conservative for business formal)
  • Leather dress shoes and dark dress socks

For more inspiration, take a look at