How to Crack Any Dress Code

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Whenever an invite or job interview mentions the words ‘dress code’ you get that inevitable sinking feeling. Each dress code tends to have its own set of rules that are easy to nail once you know them. We’re here to help you learn some of the tricks so you crack these codes with ease. 

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Black Tie Dress Code for Men

One of the most feared of all dress codes, and yet probably one of the easiest to get right. Black tie has so many rules that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation, so generally, you’ve only got a few variations to choose from and less chance to mess up.

If you’re getting ready for a black tie event, the most important thing to get right is the fit of your suit. Formal attire for men can really just consist of a good suit and tie – the cufflinks, tie pins etc, are just extras, and once you know how a suit should fit your body then you can focus on them. The basic rules to follow are;

  • For the jacket, the seam connecting the torso to the sleeve should run across the top of your shoulder.
  • Your jacket sleeves should graze the joint where your thumb meets your wrist.
  • Your jacket should be fitted in at the waist but not create an X shape across your torso.
  • Your trousers should fit comfortably around your waist without the need for a belt
  • Your trousers should brush the tops of your shoes when you’re standing.

Black Tie – Shirt

If you’re going for a black tie outfit then you really need to keep your shirt as neat and fitted as possible. An Oxford or dress shirt in a pure white is the best choice, and you should avoid any colours or fancy collars, as you want a clean and classic finish.

Make sure your shirt is perfectly ironed, and if you’ve got the time and inclination starch your collar to keep it straight and stiff. Make sure it’s long enough that you can tuck it into the waistband of your trousers, but not so long that you run the risk of it bunching up, and ensure that your sleeves reach in between your wrist bone and hand.

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Black Tie – Suit and Trousers

When picking a suit for a black tie event take some advice from the name. Navy, red, tweed, pastel pink – all those suits are out, and instead, it’s time to go back to the basics and grab yourself a sleek black suit instead. If you’re a traditionalist then you might want to avoid a plain black suit and go for a tux instead.

The silk or satin lapels adds an extra boost of elegance to your look, and you can complete the outfit with matching black trousers, including the traditional silk lining along the side if you want.

black suit bow tie men
PHOTO CREDIT: I am Galla

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Black Tie – Shoes

Here’s where the rules really come in. Although it’s technically fine to wear any kind of black formal shoe, we’d really recommend choosing a patent leather pair to keep the look sleek, elegant and traditional.

You can try out a few variations of styles, but in general it’s best to stick to a pair of lace-up brogues or some monk shoes. Loafers are out, as are any kind of boat shoe, desert or chukka boot, so just keep it simple and smart.

black tie suit shoes men

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Smart Business Attire

So we’re not expecting every man to go into the office wearing a full tux, but a lot of places won’t accept smart casual clothes either. You need smart outfits, but the right kind of smart outfits. As if work wasn’t stressful enough.

Still, if you’re tackling with men’s smart dress you can help yourself out by grabbing some basic staples that you can mix and match together to create various work appropriate outfits. Here’re a few things you need in your wardrobe.

  • White Oxford Shirts – They go with everything, are flattering to all body types and look great with pretty much every suit. Get yourself five or six so you don’t end up doing a panic laundry wash on a Wednesday night.
  • Black, Navy and Grey Slim Fit Trousers – Flattering, smart and in two versatile colours. Perfect for winter and summer outfits.
  • Black, Navy and Grey Blazers – To match with your trousers when you feel like creating a uniformed look.
  • Formal Summer Shoes – That means some sleek leather loafers and a pair of brown oxford shoes
  • Formal Winter Shoes – Black brogues and some patent leather lace up shoes.

business attire suit men

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Smart Casual Dress Code

Now we get to the real pain of the dress code world, smart casual. This has been analysed, stressed over and muddled through by men for generations, and some are no closer to actually understanding what a smart but casual dress code actually is. What makes it difficult is that there aren’t any set rules on what makes a smart casual outfit, and so it’s hard to work out whether you’ve cracked it or not.

You’re also dealing with the tough job of merging something smart with something casual, and that gives the impression of matching a sports jersey with a tailored pair of trousers. Men’s smart casual fashion is really all about looking sharp while being comfortable, so even though we don’t know exactly what smart casual is, we have a pretty good idea of how to pull it off.

mens smart casual look blazer and t-shirt
PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

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There’s a huge range of smart casual outfits out there, verging from slim fit T-shirts with chinos and a blazer, to oxford shirts and raw denim jeans. Like with black tie, fit is the most important thing, so even if you’re dressing up a plain white T-shirt, make sure it flatters and complements your shape.

Smart Casual Outfit Ideas

Now, rather than list all of the smart casual outfits in the world, we’ll just pick a few of our favourite combinations and ones that are pretty much bound to suit everyone, regardless of body type. If you’re new to the smart casual look, start simple and work things out from there, adding on accessories later on if you feel the outfit is too plain.

smart casual outfits men

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Smart Casual Work Clothes

The first outfit takes a twist on the traditional blazer and suit trousers look. You keep the colours neutral and flattering, working with a white shirt and grey blazer, but instead of sticking to standard trousers, you opt for some slim fit navy jeans instead.

The fit will ensure that the look stays neat and tidy, but the more relaxed material of the jeans gives the outfit a more casual vibe. Finish off with a pair of brown loafers to keep the look light and streamlined.

blazer and jeans men look
PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

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Smart Casual Evening Wear Outfit

This outfit takes on a more relaxed shape but keeps the colours more neutral to maintain a smart, as well as casual vibe. Joggers are very difficult to incorporate into a more formal look, but if you stay away from bright colours or patterns, and instead stick to a versatile black in a slim fit, you can keep things relatively smart.

Keep the rest of the outfit sleek and simple by pairing a white oxford or mandarin shirt with a black suede, or thick cotton, bomber jacket. Then finish off with some black loafers for a formal look, or continued with the casual vibe with some slim fit trainers.

shirt and joggers men look
PHOTO CREDIT: Speaking of Style

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Smart Casual Relaxed Outfit

The third outfit adds a little more colour to your look and verges more heavily towards the casual side of smart casual. It’s great for more relaxed Fridays at the office or days out where you want things to be sleek yet comfortable.

Pair some beige chinos with a pair of low Converses, and add some traditional formality with a staple white shirt and a slim fit grey jumper. Sharpen it up with a tie and blazer and you’ll instantly go from smart casual to formal.

grey jumper beige chinos men
PHOTO CREDIT: Menswear and Style Blog

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Smart Casual Evening Wear Outfits

So we’ve covered our three favourite smart casual looks, but sometimes different events can have an impact on the kind of outfits we wear. We wouldn’t wear a smart casual work outfit to a party, but at the same time, you don’t want to look too relaxed. There’s got to be the right balance.

What to Wear to a Casual Party

You don’t wanna be the guy at the party whose outfit is a little too ‘fun’. Yes, you’re at a fun event, but let’s not go overboard. Instead, you want to be relaxed and comfortable, while looking relatively put together. A safe option is to keep things minimal, and complete the look with one staple casual piece.

The jeans and T-shirt combination is a classic, and you can change up your footwear to give off different finishes, from trainers to desert boots. Throwing a leather jacket over the top stops things from being too formal or plain and ensures you keep the look grounded.

leather jacket and jeans men look
PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

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Smart Casual Dinner Outfit

Maybe you’ve got a date, or a dinner out with friends somewhere a little fancier than Nandos. Shorts and a sweatshirt won’t really cut it, but you need to be in something comfortable enough to sit in for a few hours. Try something relaxed on top, like a simple, clean cut T-shirt or denim shirt, and pair it with some slim fit trousers.

Then finish off with whatever footwear you want. When you’re dealing with a versatile outfit like this, you can easily complete it with trainers for a casual boost, loafers for a relaxed yet smart vibe, or brogues for a sophisticated finish.

denim shirt and jeans men look
PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

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How to Crack Any Dress Code

  • Make sure the fit is correct for any style you’re going for.
  • For black tie don’t go for too much colour or any unconventional fits.
  • Have some staples in your wardrobe for your work wear, such as Oxford shirts, a few blazers, and smart shoes.
  • Try out simple combinations when you’re trying out smart casual outfits, using key pieces to add a casual or formal boost.

mens smart casual outfits

On That Note

So dress codes can be challenging, especially when you’re trying to figure out certain styles for the first time. Don’t panic too much though. As long as you get the fit right, and start off simple, there’s not a lot to get wrong.

Smart and formal pieces can be merged together if styled correctly, so those black joggers can be paired with that white Oxford shirt as long as you keep the fit slim, and a good pair of jeans can easily be incorporated into a huge range of outfits. Try out different looks, see which works best for you, and always remember to dress for your body shape.

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