Deciphering Dress Codes For Men

A party invitation in the mail can be as much a cause of excitement as it can worry. You're not a social outcast just yet, but a single fashion faux pas at this event could easily turn you into one. Understanding the dress code reminder that comes with any invitation is your first step toward preventing your own pariah-dom – or just looking good at a party.

Coming in Casual
Unless you're attending a lunchtime house party with a select group of intimate friends, you shouldn't take 'casual' in its strictest sense. No, your shorts, deconstructed denims and tattered round neck tees won't cut it for this dress code. You'll have to bring out clothes that are a little more formal, especially for 'smart' casual events like cocktails.

Start with a good, clean shirt with a light or bold colored pattern, but leave the neckties and the jacket at home. The un-sombre color of the design keeps your shirt happy and light without making you look boorish. Skipping the tie, the jacket and the closed top button lets you look casual yet presentable at the same time. Roll up the sleeves to really make yourself comfortable – all without offending the host.

Business Formal
In this case, you'll have to tone down the 'formal' in the term; it's more about keeping yourself incongruous at the workplace than anything else, really. Business formal usually involves a classic cut two piece suit, a solid shirt and a simple tie. You could wear items that are a little flashier, but it could end up making you look downright foolish. Business formal can also be stated as 'semi-formal' or 'business attire.'
One rule of fashion thumb for business formal is to look at how your nearest male boss dresses, and then try to dress either similarly or more subtly than he does. He probably has a better idea of the kind of attire that's appropriate for the company's dress code. Besides, it's rarely advantageous for you to look sharper or more attractive than the boss.

Bringing Black Tie
The penultimate in formality, black tie is a dress code that's not to be taken lightly. In the world of men's fashion, a black tie event leaves very little for improvisation or creativity; formal pants, a dress shirt and a bow ties are all imperatives, to be topped off with a tux or a dinner jacket. And while a cummerbund is traditionally part of the black tie ensemble, contemporary men's fashion institutions have lately been ditching it altogether.

A 'creative' prefix to the black tie dress code gives you a little leeway with assembling an outfit for the occasion. There are myriad ways to make the most of your creative license, but you should never take steps that are too risky. Going with white patent leather wingtip shoes instead of the usual black, for example, is widely accepted; novelty ties aren't.

If you're stuck for ideas on creative black tie, grab a bowl of popcorn and watch a major showbiz awards show. Media stars like John Legend, Justin Timberlake and Kanye West should give you a few ideas on pulling off a unique yet fashion-forward look. Take Legend, for example: he rocked the Grammy Awards 2007 red carpet with a very formal black tie ensemble – sans cummerbund – and an informally open black bow tie and shirt.
Unless you're the Richard Branson type and have your own island as a handy escape, social events are an inevitable part of life. Love 'em or hate 'em, wearing the right outfit to the right event is the key to getting invited – and noticed – by the host ever again.

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