The world of formal dress codes can be a little difficult to navigate these days.

There are so many rules, but some are malleable, while others are completely set in stone. So how do you know which rules you can bend and which guidelines you should strictly adhere to if you don’t wish to stick out like a sore thumb at your next formal event?

It can be a little tricky and you need to really understand the applications of each dress code to fully understand when there’s leeway to experiment and when you should stick to your guns. This is why the panel of formal dress experts at Parmar took the time to put together this handy resource on dressing for formal occasions. So, without further ado, here is the list of dress codes you cannot bend and those you can.


Cocktail formal

Cocktail formal is a semi-formal mode of attire that bridges the gap between casual day wear (too relaxed) and formal evening dress (too formal) for slightly formal events that take place around dusk, but also extends to certain weddings and formal birthday drinks, as well as sporting events like horse races.

Appropriate attire includes a well-tailored suit or blazer/trousers combo; a tuxedo is too much. A peak or notch lapel suit in a slim fit is always a winner – black is classic; navy or grey more contemporary. Choose light grey for summer events; dark grey for winter occasions. If you’d prefer to put a personal spin on it, you can at best experiment with dark colours (e.g. burgundy, olive green). Avoid patterned fabrics; rather play with texture if you must. Separates are not acceptable over cocktail hour.

Morning Dress

Morning dress refers to the type of attire that is suitable for very formal occasions that take place in the morning or afternoon (e.g. daytime weddings). Typically events that call for morning dress require very formal dress codes to be adhered to. The most formal application of this mode of dress has its roots in British culture and features the classic single-breasted cutaway tailcoat with peaked lapels in black or dark grey flannel or worsted wool; accompanied by trousers in a different (albeit still dark) colour like black-striped grey or grey hounds tooth: a single- or double-breasted waistcoat with or without lapels in a pale colour like light grey or creamy yellow; turndown collar shirt in white or pale hues like cream, blue or pink (preferably detachable). In case of very formal events, an optional black silk top hat could be added. A less formal variation of traditional morning dress, the morning suit, consists of a cutaway coat and trousers in the same light- or mid-grey material (not often worn outside of the UK).

White Tie

White tie is by far the most formal mode of dress and typically worn to highly prestigious events like presidential dinners, formal balls, state dinners and royal occasions. It is typified by strict guidelines with barely any room for personal interpretation.

White tie dress includes an expertly tailored tailcoat jacket (also called an evening dress coat) in black or midnight blue worsted wool (super 100 or higher) with notched lapels and six buttons faced in finest satin; straight cut or pleated formal trousers in the same fabric as the tailcoat with a concealed, adjustable waistband and back buttons to hold suspenders in place; a well-fitted, open-backed single- or double-breasted waistcoat with a deep V in white, off-white or cream cotton pique with mother of pearl buttons (or buttons faced in the same fabric as the waistcoat); a white shirt from fine broadcloth with a stiffened cotton pique or linen facing and detachable wing-tip colour; a white self-tie bowtie in cotton pique to match the waistcoat; patent leather dress pumps with a silk grosgrain bow or patent leather Oxford lace-ups. The look is rounded off with cufflinks and shirt studs (always matching with each other and the buttons of the waistcoat), normally in white gold, sterling silver or platinum; white silk suspenders; and a fixed or collapsible top hat of black silk or polished black beaver fur with a silk grosgrain band along the brim.


Black tie                  

Black tie is the modern-day standard for formal occasions, less formal than white tie/tails and worn to events that take place after 6pm. The basic black tie look comprises of a dinner jacket with matching trousers, a formal white shirt and black bow tie, optional black waistcoat or cummerbund and black dress shoes and -socks.

Traditionally, the tuxedo is from black wool, with satin or grosgrain facings on the lapels and buttons, with a matching stripe running along the trousers’ out-seams. These days you are free to play around with darker colours (midnight blue, dark grey, deep maroon), as well as texture (velvet remains popular). Jackets should be wool, without vents – both single- and double-breasted fit the bill, but the former is more popular at the moment. Choose a peaked lapel over a notched or opt for a shawl collar if you feel particularly experimental. As for shirts, cuffs should always be double and go for a turndown collar – both fly front and French placket button configurations are acceptable. Bowties are traditional, should be self-folded and black (unless you feel like bucking the norm) in the same fabric as the facing of the suit.

Trousers should be from the same fabric as the jacket, unless you’ve opted for velvet (doubling up on this fabric seldom goes down well), with plain hemmed seams (no turn-ups), a single braid/stripe along the out-seam, no belt loops and pocket in line with the braid for a neater silhouette. Individuals with more contemporary tastes may opt for slim-leg dinner trousers with stripes (the place of braid along the sides. As for shoes, simple black patent leather lace-ups seems to be the footwear of choice for the moment; brogues are not formal enough for this type of setting).

Business Casual

Business casual is a mode of dress that allows for a lot of experimentation and personalisation. In fact, there are is so much scope to put together a unique office look, that it makes more sense to provide the broad stroke guidelines. These include:

  • Business casual is less formal than a suit and tie, but does not mean you can forgo the notion of formality entirely – polo shirts are not acceptable.
  • Choose formal shirts, and feel free to add more patterns and opt for less formal collar types (e.g. the button-down). These can be worn with a less formal tie (e.g. knitted) or with an open collar. If you opt for the latter, undo the top two buttons and ensure that your undershirt is not visible at the neck.
  • There is a lot of freedom in terms of trousers – just be sure to select something with an excellent fit that covers your socks ad no more; don’t buy suit separates for this application, rather choose trousers from cotton or good wool.
  • Cooler days call for a well-tailored blazer, traditionally in a grey or navy. Steer clear of garish buttons or loud patterns so the piece will be more versatile. If you want a less formal look, go for herringbone or light tweed fabrics or patch pockets.
  • Shoes should not be too formal (patent lace-ups) or too casual (trainers or loafers), but fall somewhere in the middle, e.g. suede brogues. When shopping for business casual attire, prepare to spend a little more on your shoes if you wish to make a favourable impression.

Keep in touch & stay informed

Do you have any burning questions pertaining to Parmar tailoring or the rules of formal dress codes the world over? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch so we can pose your questions to our panel of men’s fashion experts and get the answers you seek.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the Parmar blog for interesting news from the world of select tailoring, as well the freshest fashion insights from around the globe. Our team of tailoring experts are standing by to ensure that you stay ahead of the curve. Look out for an upcoming article on how to wear the modern-day vest.


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