All Things Formal

–by Mark MacDonald–


Special occasions call for elegant attire, and whether it’s a wedding, a ball, or a state dinner there is a plethora of ways to make dressing up look good. Don’t fear the formal, if anything it’s your chance to shine.

What’s Required

The meaning of the term ‘formal’ has evolved over time, from Victorian and Edwardian era tradition with posh standards to the introduction of the term ‘semi-formal’ and the rise of the tuxedo. At the turn of the century, even dinner with company required a tailcoat, formal trousers, a white pique bow tie, a white waistcoat and cufflinks, but as time went on the requirements were eased. By the 1960s, the tuxedo had been promoted to qualify as ‘formal attire’ as leisure suits and sport jackets rose in popularity and were deemed ‘semi-formal’. Tailcoats, once a requirement, became scarce, and black ties became acceptable. Today, traditional ‘formal attire’ is worn primarily at diplomatic functions such as state dinners and royal ceremonies or whenever there is a ‘white-tie’ dress code.


No matter what, you will always look sharp in a tie

No matter what, you will always look sharp in a tie

“White-tie’ events are rare in modern times, unless you are a diplomat or member of the aristocracy, so for the most part black ties will do. Wearing a white tie couldn’t hurt, however, and a white bow tie is especially formal and can give you a polished, and likely unique, look. Silk ties, though more expensive than cotton or polyester ones, are worth it and designers like Burberry and Saks Fifth Avenue have great selections to choose from. Most of us don’t know how to tie a bow tie, so H & M and others have a number of sharp-looking clip-ons, or else there are a multitude of videos online that can possibly help you. You can also ask your grandpa to teach you how.


Firstly, it pretty much goes without saying that your suit jacket and pants must match. Consequently, we’re talking about full suits or tuxedos. There are a variety of high-end designers like Versace and Armani that are famous for their creations, but there are also a variety of less costly options to choose from. Let’s face it, you’re going to spend a lot more on a tux or suit than you will on any of your other clothing, so you might as well get a quality product. Designs from Joseph Abboud and Calvin Klein won’t run you as much as more prestigious brands, but they are still well made and make use of the best materials. Make sure to get it fitted, if not tailored-it’s more than worth it.


There are a number of accessories that can put the extra touch on an already classy outfit. Cufflinks, like those from Harry Rosen and Swarovski are a stylish addition, as are pocket squares from labels like Simonnot Godard and Le Chateau. Belts should likely be avoided to give you a more formal look, so suspenders are a good call. They also up your style when you’ve taken your coat off.


Your shoes should be the last thing you pick out.

Your shoes should be the last thing you pick out.

Once you’ve got your suit figured out then get your shoes. Some tuxedos just don’t work well with certain shoes, so if you’ve already got a pair picked out make sure you bring them along when you try on the rest. There are a lot of high-end shoes to choose from; Alden, Mezlan, Salvatore Ferragamo, Crockett & Jones, the list goes on and on. Whatever you pick, make sure they’re made of leather or suede and have stitched (not glued) soles.

Don’t Neglect the Basics

Just because you’ve got a tuxedo on, a classy bow tie, and some nice shoes, it doesn’t mean you can neglect the rest. In fact, it would be a travesty to do so. If you can, get your hair cut before the event and make sure you’re either clean-shaven or your facial hair is neat and tidy. Otherwise you’ll look like a waste of a good (and likely expensive) suit.

Whether you’re renting or buying, formal attire is sure to make you look good. It also heightens the prestige of an event and makes us all feel like celebrities, royalty, dignitaries, or spies.

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