What would the world look like without dress codes for men?
Photos by Ali Morshedlou, Volodymyr Bahriy, Alora Griffith, Krystian Krzewinski at www.unsplash.com.
You might think the absence of dress codes would be a godsend to men everywhere. No more rules, guidelines, and suggestions that actually sound more like ultimatums. You’d have the freedom to be yourself and to wear whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. Don’t feel like tightening that noose (better known as a tie) around your neck? Don’t do it. Hate the thought of lacing and polishing those spiffy Oxfords. Leave ‘em at home. Like the idea of foregoing your plain black tux for a jewel-colored dinner jacket? Go for it! It’d be great, right? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
Uncertainty is actually the bane of civilized society. Think about it. What’s the one thing that can cause deals to unravel, markets to crash, and grown men to step back just when they should be leaping forward? The almost universal answer is fear of the unknown. Truth be told, most of us fare better when expectations are clear – especially when it comes to fashion. Navigating social and business relationships can be dicey, and it’s not uncommon to inadvertently send the wrong message with our choice of attire. For instance, is sporting a martini-print necktie playful or disrespectful? Confident or brash? Innocuous or suggestive? In some situations, if you’re doubtful about how your fashion statements will be received, it might be better not to take a chance. When you understand the rules, most mishaps can be avoided. In the game of life, a little sartorial know-how can go a long way.
Four Dress Codes Every Man Should Know
Just hearing the word “casual” is enough to evoke a sigh of relief from most men. But that initial wave of excitement fades fairly quickly when they realize that “casual” is not synonymous with “come as you are.” While casual attire typically means relaxed, comfortable and fun, it never, ever means sloppy or sweaty. The best place for your favorite tattered hoodie or silk athletic shorts is in the rag bag or on the basketball court. And those fleece-lined sweats you can’t wait to pull on, along with the loungewear you got for Christmas, should be reserved for mornings at the gym or evenings on the couch. The true definition of casual is more akin to clean, neat and presentable than it is to wrinkled, roomy, and sleep-inducing. In fact, a generous interpretation of “casual” might be a nice pair of straight-legged jeans, trendy new trainers, a luxury tee and a classic bomber jacket. If it’s the middle of summer and the mercury’s rising, dress shorts with pockets and an embroidered belt, a sharp-looking polo, nice leather sandals, and a pair of fashionable shades also will do.
On the other hand, if the casual dress code you’re attempting to follow is preceded by the word “Business,” you’d better be prepared to step it up a notch or two. Here, jeans are not an option. However, this particular designation does cover a broad array of other choices, giving you ample room to express your own personal style by mixing and matching a wide variety of trousers, shirts and accessories. How about trading in your ultra-conservative gray suit for something in royal blue and wearing it sans tie? Or if that’s still too dressy, try combining dress trousers or chinos with a solid polo or a button-up shirt in a subtle print (again, no tie necessary). Pair with brown leather loafers and a matching belt. And if a second layer is called for, top off the outfit with a crew-neck sweater or sporty blazer. Also, don’t be afraid to accessorize. Patterned socks, a masculine braided leather bracelet with silver accents, or a warm Merino wool scarf are all practical ways to add interest to an otherwise basic look. If you have a slender physique and are willing to take a chance, try wearing no-show invisible men’s socks with a pair of slim-fit, tapered trousers for a more dramatic vibe. Business casual is usually considered a no-fuss aesthetic, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
Workplace dress codes have definitely eased up in recent years. There’s no stronger evidence of this than young Silicon Valley tech workers who, in true Mark Zuckerberg fashion, show up to work each day wearing jeans and faded tees. Yet, there are still many sectors of the economy where the only acceptable attire is a suit and tie. If you have aspirations in finance, law, retail, government, business or even hospitality, dressing the part is a requirement. In these areas and others, first impressions really do matter. Your appearance absolutely influences how others perceive your work and with good cause. When you’re dressed appropriately, you’re more confident and better positioned for success. If you’re harboring doubts, give it a try. The rules are simple, and you’ve got nothing to lose.
Unlike the Business Casual dress code, there is very little wiggle room when it comes to Business Dress. The uniform of choice is a matched suit, preferably in navy or shades of gray (black is for formal events and funerals), a button-up dress shirt (you can’t go wrong with white or light blue), and a tie in a contrasting darker hue. Prints or patterns should be simple and understated. The color and finish of your belt and bag should match your leather shoes (preferably Oxfords, Derbys or Brogues in black, brown or burgundy). And don’t forget dress socks. Choose an over-the-calf style in a solid color that’s a shade darker than your pants. Or experiment with classic patterns, such as herringbone or houndstooth. Lastly, finish off your signature look with one or more carefully chosen accents: a silk pocket square, sterling silver cufflinks, and/or a sleekly styled wristwatch. That’s all there is to it. In the end, dressing for success is less about creativity and more about discipline. The result is a look that conveys professionalism, dependability, and trustworthiness day in and day out.
It might come as a surprise to you to learn that Black Tie is considered to be semi-formal wear as opposed to formal wear. The latter designation is reserved for the coattails and white bow tie that are emblematic of White Tie affairs. However, since most of us will never attend a state dinner or high awards ceremony, we thought it safe to focus our attention on the more well-known tuxedo. Although relatively few men actually own a tuxedo, most will have an occasion to wear one at some point in their lives, for instance, to a wedding, gala or night at the opera. And when that time comes, it’ll pay to know the rules.
Black Tie is a universally recognized label for men’s semi-formal dinner attire, which invariably consists of a black or midnight blue tailless wool dinner jacket (single or double-breasted) with satin or silk-covered peaked lapels or a likewise-covered shawl collar and trousers made of the same material with satin or silk striping covering the outer vertical seams. Black-Tie accessories are simple and few: a white shirt with a turndown collar and pleated or piqué front, black bow tie and cummerbund or waistcoat (vest) made from either satin or silk to match the jacket facing, hidden suspenders, black silk over-the-calf dress socks, and polished black patent leather Oxfords or pumps. More formal than a business suit, but less formal than the tails and Marcella waistcoat required of White Tie, Black Tie represents a century of sartorial refinement and is considered by many to be a near perfect form of men’s fashion. In fact, experts caution against setting even one toe outside the universally accepted rules of Black Tie, and if we’re being honest, why would you want to? A man in a tuxedo naturally appears taller, younger, stronger and more masculine than his counterparts dressed in casual wear. In fact, there’s no look that screams Casanova more so than that of a man clad in a black tuxedo and accessories.
What do you think? Do dress codes deserve a thumbs up or a thumbs down?
We suspect a world without dress codes would leave too much to chance. You’d constantly be second guessing yourself and the people around you. Worrying about what you are – or are not - wearing is a waste of good energy. So, at the risk of sounding conventional, we say “thumbs up” to dress codes. Knowing what’s expected can take the angst out of most situations, and maybe even beef up a shaky ego or two. Sometimes, that feeling of belonging is just the confidence booster you need to really let yourself shine. Whether you’re in the office, on the golf course, or dining out, when you go to the trouble of following a dress code, you’re letting everyone know you value the experience. More importantly, you value them. That’s a message worth sending.