Your one-stop guide for nailing every wedding dress code.
Timeless yet modern, simple yet nuanced, obvious yet often confusing—the formal dress code has evolved over the years into a sartorial grey area; adhering to a traditional aesthetic while allowing for an infusion of personal style. Often mistaken as a requirement for a tuxedo, men’s formal dress code doesn’t typically call for the classic black-tie ensemble.
That said, it does entail putting a little more effort into a sophisticated style that stays within certain time-honored guidelines. Not necessarily the structured customs of full evening attire, nor permitting the more relaxed aesthetic of cocktail attire, the formal dress code is the last stop before going fully black tie, and in doing so, gives you the space to look your most refined while sprinkling in a subtle touch of personality.
What is Formal Wedding Attire for Men?
Formal attire doesn’t have to be complicated—it’s all about nailing the basic elements: tailored suit, dress shirt and tie. As the name suggests, this dress code calls for a foundation of luxury fabrics and classic single and double-breasted fits and 3-piece suits. This usually means skipping the casual pure linens and textured finishes like seersucker and opting for rich worsted wools in high S numbers, or blended with noble fibers like alpaca, silk, or cashmere—or, depending on setting and climate, a structured cotton blend.
Color wise, you can’t go wrong with classic black, grey or navy paired with a crisp white button-up. However, if the occasion allows, lighter shades like light green and brown are perfectly fine. Today’s formal style can do without the bells & whistles that are traditionally expected. Skip the pocket square, and opt instead for a textured tie—or, if you’re feeling it, go with both! Overall, keep patterns to a minimum, and finish the look with black or dark brown lace-ups in classic leather (not patent or suede).
When in doubt, remember that the most important thing you can do when wearing formal attire is to keep things simple and not get carried away.
What to Wear to a Semi-Formal Wedding for Men?
Within the formal dress code, there’s a branch called semi-formal that gives way to easing up your look, just a little bit.
Also referred to as cocktail attire, semi-formal can be explored in two ways: mix & match or sticking with a full suit with a few modifications. When going for the full suit option, you can make it semi-formal by swapping the classic woven silk tie for a textured knitted option, or given the right occasion, just losing the tie altogether.
Going with a crewneck instead of a button-up, or adding a colorful pocket square, are other ways to add some semi-formal personality. When you mix & match—the even more casual of the two variations—stick to formal, dark colors like navy or grey jackets paired up with trousers of a contrasting shade. Our navy Traveller wool Havana jacket paired with our light grey Soho trousers makes an excellent starting point.
With either option, trading in the classic lace-ups for a more easygoing loafer is another way to tone down the formality. It’s a simple move that keeps the style elevated but not too stuffy.
What Colors to Wear for Formal Attire Dress Codes?
When the dress code calls for formal or semi-formal attire, stick to the tried-and-true colors of refinement. While black is always an appropriate mainstay, it’s certainly not a requirement.
Lighten up a bit in dark and mid grey tones. Dark browns and even dark greens are also welcome depending on the occasion. When it comes to blue, you can’t go wrong in navy. Shades of blue are also great picks and, depending on the setting, there are times where neutral earth tones like tan and camel would be perfectly acceptable.
Formal Dress Code Attire by the Season
When it comes to seasonal formal attire, it’s less about the color and style, and more about the fabric. In the cooler months, you can’t go wrong with a classic—a pure wool suit.
Structured and rich, it’s a foundational fabric that works in all settings—especially a standout like brushed flannel made from sustainable Circular Wool. From here, add a little infusion of noble fibers.
Pure wool blended with cashmere, or alpaca, makes for a warm, refined fabric that is exceptionally soft. In the spring and summer months, it’s all about keeping it lightweight and breathable. Pure and blended cotton and linen is the height of sophisticated comfort. Even silk blended with wool gives you the classic feel of wool, played down with the softness and subtle sheen of silk.
Layering Up: How to Wear Outerwear with Your Formal Attire
During those chilly months, you’ll want to add some depth (and keep yourself warm) with a refined overcoat. If you want to keep it classic, a straightforward single-breasted overcoat with a notch lapel and a single vent like our Vicenza fit offers timeless elegance and aesthetic simplicity.
For a little bit of a bolder look, a strong double-breasted overcoat with a wide peak lapel, like our Bleecker fit, is always a good option that provides a more pronounced silhouette. Whatever style you opt for, stick to safe formal colors like black, navy, dark grey or brown.
The Finishing Touches: Accessories for a Formal Dress Code
Adding accessories to formal attire takes a little finessing. It’s easy to go overboard or make a look more casual with too many, or the wrong accessories. First, start with the safe bets.
A classic silk tie is always welcome. For winter styles, you can opt for wool flannel ties, which add a little touch of texture and depth, while in summer you go for a cotton or linen blend tie. Remember that bow ties should only be reserved for black tie dress attire and will seem out of place within a formal dress code. Add a hint of easygoing appeal by opting for a knitted tie rather than the traditional woven style.
Cufflinks are an essential for French cuffs. Go for a classic like sterling silver studs or understated design or add a little personality with something more novel.
Suspenders in a tonal shade, like a dark brown, navy are also a must—when in doubt, go for classic black. When it comes to a formal dress code, never wear a belt! These are the basics.
From here, you can add a little personal style in your choice of socks or pocket squares, which, depending on the setting can incorporate a little bolder pattern or brighter color, or lapel pin which can add a subtle touch of personality—but always be mindful of where the wedding is taking place, so you dress for the occasion appropriately.
Where to Wear the Formal Dress Code
Though true formal events are few and far between, those that do arrive are the time to take advantage and let your luxurious side shine. From weddings to galas, balls and proms, high-end dinner events and the theater or opera, the formal dress code is perfectly at home in venues and occasions that require elegance and class. Most commonly, the formal dress code will be called for at weddings that lean toward a more traditional style ceremony.
Though today’s weddings are must less traditional than in decades past—often permitting smart casual and cocktail attire—there’s just something about a wedding full of guests at their most well-dressed, and the formal dress code offers this opportunity without the rigid confines of the black-tie dress code.
Now that you know the basics, sneaking in a few touches of personality will be easier to get away with. Even though formal attire requires a certain sense of sticking to rules, Suitsupply’s take always encourages bringing in some touches of flair, like brighter shades and a strong turn-up rather than straight hems.
Whichever way you put your own flavor into this elevated style, remember to stick to the foundational rules, because a formal dress code isn’t just a formality.