Ah, the dreaded dress code. When you get a party invite through the post, the first thing you’ll probably stress over is whether or not you even want to go (we’ve all been there), and the second thing, as you might’ve already guessed, is what you’re meant to wear.

A concept that was invented sometime between the 7th and 9th century, members of royalty and Very Famous People in general used a dress code to distinguish themselves from the commoners. While all classes usually wore the same kinds of clothing up until this point, well-known dudes suddenly decided that they needed to wear garms that were decorated with shiny things like gold and silver and crafted from all sorts of fancy fabrics.

Setting a dress code is just a formality these days, though. Not only does it ensure that everyone who is going to an event wears suitable clothing, it also lets them know what is expected of them. Because it’s clearly written out in ink, it helps attendees to make better decisions when choosing what to wear. But this can still cause all kinds of confusion, so hopefully this comprehensive dress code guide will make your life a little easier.

Every Dress Code For Men Explained
  • Smart-casual dress code
  • Cocktail attire dress code
  • Semi-formal dress code
  • Black tie dress code
  • White tie dress code
  • Wedding dress code

This isn’t an exhaustive list of every single dress code in the history of the universe (obvs), but it’s got all the ones that genuinely matter. Organised from least to most formal, feel free to thank us later.

Smart-casual dress code

While the smart-casual dress code is the least formal one of them all, it’s also the one that’s quite easy to get wrong. It’s pretty confusing, to the point that even the term itself is a bit of an oxymoron. Essentially, it’s about pairing traditionally smart pieces like a blazer with traditionally not-so-smart pieces like a rollneck jumper or a white T-shirt. You may also want to wear something like the Adidas Stan Smith or some Clarks Wallabees. Just make sure everything looks nice, clean, and fresh, with no graphics, no loud text, and certainly nothing band-related.

Cocktail attire dress code

Decoding the cocktail attire dress code is one of the biggest challenges in menswear. When you see the two words on a party invite, you’re essentially being asked to wear a suit. This could be part of a set, with trousers in a matching fabric, or it could be a jacket on its own cut in a different fabric to the trousers. You may also want to experiment with a knitted polo to add a few more textures to the fit, and, just because you can wear jeans with cocktail attire, it doesn’t mean you should. Instead, opt for some neatly-pressed chinos.

Semi-formal dress code

While smart-casual and the semi-formal dress code might sound very similar, they actually couldn’t be more different. As its name kinda already states, it’s all about looking formal without looking too formal. Suits are a big yes here, and so are pieces like thin crewnecks and polo shirts. Basically, it’s like cocktail attire but with a more restrained colour palette and half of the accessories. Patterns should also be given a miss, and trainers, in general, are a big no. Sorry, sneakerheads.

Black tie dress code

The black tie dress code has got to be one of the most (in)famous ones out there. It’s tricky, and in the past, it has caused quite a few rosy cheeks and sweaty brows from under-dressed guests. As you may have already guessed, it transcends the usual suit and tie affair. In fact, you should probably just ignore what you currently have in your wardrobe and get yourself a dinner jacket, some matching trousers, and a nice shirt. You’ll also want some formal shoes, preferably in leather. But if you want to give off old money energy, velvet slippers are fine too.

White tie dress code

If you thought black tie was fancy, wait until you hear about the white tie dress code. If you’re being invited to a white tie event, we bet that you’re someone who’s really someone. First introduced in the 19th century, it was the uniform for aristocrats and members of royalty, so you can just about imagine what we’re dealing with here. The jacket must be an evening tailcoat, the shirt must be an evening shirt, and the waistcoat must be an evening waistcoat. Cufflinks are absolutely necessary, and while top hats and canes aren’t, you might as well go the full monty.

Wedding dress code

And last but certainly not least, we have the wedding dress code. While white tie is definitely more formal on paper, there’s nothing more important than your big day. Tying the knot has evolved a lot over the past few decades, but one thing that hasn’t budged is the black tux and white shirt combo. It’s timeless, and while there are some people out there who might think wearing black to a wedding is a little somber and sinister, as long as it doesn’t go against any cultural or religious beliefs, you’ll be fine. Say “yes” to cufflinks and a sleek watch too, and to round it all off, match your leather belt and dress shoes for that polished, cohesive finish.