On a recent trip to the Opera at the Kennedy Center in DC, my date and I found ourselves engaged in a sartorial discussion about formal wear.  We realize that this level of dressing is confusing for most men for several reasons. The need for formal wear isn't as common as it used to be.  Today the average man may only don formal wear to a wedding (his or his buddies), a company business party, and maybe for a night at the theatre. But, it wasn't always this way. During the 18th and 19th centuries all gentlemen dressed formally after 6pm .  While formal wear may be less common among the average man than it used to be, this is no reason not to know what to wear and how to wear it when formal wear is called for.  Here we provide a guide to the task.


A gentleman's attire depends upon the time of day and the occasion.

DAY FORMAL: (Very formal diplomatic receptions) Black or Gray tailcoat, with matching trousers, gray double breasted waistcoat, long gray tie, gray gloves, white boutonniere, gray homburg hat, pearl cufflinks and studs.

DAY SEMI-FORMAL: (weddings) Gray morning coat (cutaway), black or gray striped trousers, gray double breasted vest, gray long tie or pinned ascot, gray gloves, white boutonniere, gray top hat, spats, pearl cufflinks and studs.

EVENING FORMAL: (The Opera, charity ball) White tie and tails (black tailcoat), black trousers, white pique waistcoat, white bow tie, white kid gloves, white boutonniere, black top hat, white silk scarf, black or gold cufflinks and studs.

EVENING SEMI-FORMAL: (weddings, theatre opening nights, most formal evening events) Black dinner jacket or white in summer (tuxedo), black trousers, black waistcoat or cummerbund, black bow tie, white silk scarf, black or gold cufflinks and studs.

DAY or EVENING INFORMAL: (Don’t think casual!) This requires a business suit with long tie and non-button down shirt for evening events.

Formal black shoes are appropriate for all formal or semi-formal events.

For more details on formal wear consult the Black Tie Guide.

Photos courtesy of Black Tie Guide

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