Every now and then, at an event like a wedding, there is inevitably someone who brings it upon themselves to waltz into the event in jeans and a plaid shirt – often buttoned up to the neck in a touching nod to formality. Ultimately, arriving at a formal event underdressed could be an embarrassing experience — one that you may want to avoid. Clothing, after all, is the social armour you fashion for yourself; the tailored image you present to the world. What exactly is at stake, you may ask? Well, to dress informally at a job interview could cost you a job; to arrive underdressed at a business meeting could deprive you of new connections; and to be ill-prepared for the fancy dinner with your significant other’s family could have you exiting the dinner date with a glass of water emptied over the band t-shirt you carefully selected for the occasion.
In all seriousness, everyone is entitled to wear what they please, and should never feel any pressure to do otherwise. However, if you’re hoping to look sharp at fancy dinners, the opera, or wherever else, here are some handy style tips that you can fit up your sleeves — as long as they’re tucked carefully past the cufflinks.
Formal Wear: Formal wear can be divided into two types: ‘white tie’ and ‘black tie’. White tie is for those rare occasions that call for the most formal of clothing such as weddings, galas, balls, or that Downton Abbey-themed party you’ve always wanted to have. Black tie is the more relaxed version of white tie, and is the most common style of formal wear today. Of course, not everyone has all the accouterments necessary for a formal dress ensemble, but it’s a good idea to check out the variety of rent options available in Toronto the next time you want to look snazzy at an Oscar party.
Dress options: A suit with a white shirt, a waistcoat or cummerbund, black dress shoes, suit pants, a bowtie, and a black or midnight blue dress coat. Alternatively, you can wear a floor-length gown, white opera-length gloves, and evening shoes.
Semi-Formal/Business Formal: A step down from the stiff formality of formal wear, keep it relaxed with semi-formal wear — the clothing you can wear to formal events held before 6pm such as daytime weddings, cocktail parties, or a formal lunch. Business formal indicates that the event is business-related, and not festive, which limits the choice of colour and creativity in dressing. Business formal is often the standard work clothing for professions in business, and is recommended when attending formal job interviews.
Dress options: For semi-formal wear, I’d recommend wearing a vest, white dress shirt, a tie, and leather dress shoes. You can also wear a shorter dress, otherwise known as the cocktail dress.
Tip: For business events, a jacket can be paired with the dress as well. If you’re a fan of the 80’s/Hillary Clinton style, you could also opt for the pantsuit.
Smart Casual/Business Casual: Smart casual is ideal for dinner dates and ‘casual Fridays’ at work. Business casual follows much the same idea, except with a slightly conservative twist. Generally a combination of jacket or blazer with informal items — such as creatively coloured shirts — this style is much more relaxed, and thankfully, way less regulated than formal wear. That being said, it never hurts to tailor your clothing and match colours as you see fit.
Dress options: Feel free to wear a sports coat or blazer (colour varies, but generally brown, blue, or black would work), a dress shirt, a button-down shirt, or polo shirt, khakis or un-ripped jeans, and loafers, brogues, or leather shoes. You could also opt for a skirt with a sweater, blouse, or open collared shirt.