A caution for modern readers: the term "formal dress" is badly misused in today's society.
Wedding invitations are the chief offenders here. People will cheerfully request that their guests
appear in "formal dress" with no conception of what they're asking.

So let us be very clear: the term "formal dress" is a specific standard. There are two traditional
formal looks for men, at least in countries that do not have their own cultural formal dress: "morning
dress" in the daytime and "white tie" at night. Anything else is not truly "formal."

Even the tuxedo, which most Americans think of as "formal wear," is really only a semiformal outfit.
If invited to an official event like an awards ceremony or a ball that requests formal dress, wear the
appropriate daytime or evening costume. If it is a private, personal event like a wedding, and you are
unsure of the host's intention, check discreetly beforehand.

Daytime Formal Attire: Morning Dress

Of the two "formal dress" options available to most men, the daytime version is the less commonly

It is most popular in England, where it is still worn by government officials at some of their public
functions, and occasionally by members of the aristocracy at high-formality social events.
The primary components of morning dress for men are:

  • A morning coat -- a single-breasted, peak-lapel cutaway coat, usually fastened with a single button, sometimes with silk piping along the edges. Gray is the most common color for social wear.
  • Formal trousers -- striped (or, less commonly, checked) trousers from heavy wool. They generally do not match the morning coat, except in the "Morning Gray" suit sometimes worn for daytime weddings and in black for funerals. They are sometimes known as "spongebags" or as "cashmere stripes," the latter of which refers to the pattern rather than the material. Only suspenders are appropriate; formal and semiformal attire should never include a belt.
  • A waistcoat -- generally gray, black, or buff (a yellowish-tan color). Again, it does not match the jacket except in gray morning suits or black funeral garb.
  • A formal shirt with a high wing collar or a detachable turndown collar attached with studs. In formalwear, wing collared shirts traditionally have single cuffs, while turndown shirts have double cuffs.
  • A conservative necktie (with turndown collars) or a formal ascot (with wing collars). Note that a formal ascot is not the same thing as a day cravat, which is not worn with morning coats.
  • Black oxfords, riding boots, or dress boots.

Other optional items include pocket squares, boutonnières, canes, top hats (the only kind of hat that
should be worn with morning dress), spats, and suede, chamois, or kid leather gloves in lemon or

Note that these are the contemporary, modern standards for daytime formalwear. Historically, even
the morning coat was a casual option, with the now-obsolete frock coat worn for formal daytime

Evening Formal Attire: White Tie

The morning coat or morning suit, as the name would suggest, is meant for daytime wear.
In the evening, the maximum dress standard for men is defined by white tie attire. This is an inflexible standard even compared to the tuxedo, which most men already think of as a strict dress code.

Resist any temptation to play around with this one. Most men will never wear it, and if you find
yourself called upon to do so, stick to the classic standards:

  • An evening tailcoat -- double-breasted but worn unbuttoned, with peak lapels faced in satin or grosgrain. Black and midnight blue are the only appropriate colors, and the cutaway is straight rather than angled or swooped.
  • Formal trousers that match the material of the tailcoat, with stripes along the seam made from the same material as the lapel facings. Only suspenders are appropriate; formal and semiformal attire should never include a belt.
  • A waistcoat made of white pique, single- or double-breasted with oblong lapels and long enough to cover the trouser waist fully.
  • A wing-collared formal shirt with a stiff front placket, single cuffs fastened with links, and only one or two front studs (sometimes three for very tall men)
  • A white bowtie, generally made of pique to match the waistcoat. Either batwing or butterfly shapes are acceptable, but should always be hand-tied.
  • Black dress pumps, a formal type of slip-on shoe. Plain black oxfords can be substituted in a pinch, ideally ones made from patent leather. If plain calf oxfords are your only option, polish them to a very high shine for white tie wear.

Cultural Alternatives

Some countries may have their own native alternative to morning dress and white tie for a man's most
formal clothing option.

Famous examples include Scottish formal dress (which includes a kilt and sporran for men), the
Icelandic hátíðarbúningur, and the Philippine barong Tagalog.

Traditional cultural garments are also sometimes made in more elaborate forms to create a de facto
formalwear, such as the decorated dhoti and kimono sometimes worn at Indian and Japanese formal

If you belong to a culture that acknowledges an alternative to morning dress, you are of course free to
wear it (even outside its native country). Men who are not native to the culture, however, should be
wary of unwanted appropriation, and only wear such garments when expressly invited to, or when
given them as gifts in preparation for a specific event.

There are also a few situations where uniforms may be worn in place of white tie or morning dress.
High-formality military balls sometimes request dress uniforms of active servicemen and
servicewomen, and formal dress of all other attendees.

Apart from those exceptions, however, formal dress is a strict standard and should be treated as such.
On the rare occasion that a man is invited to a formal affair, he should either have proper attire made
for him, or else he should arrange a high-quality rental well in advance.

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