When my husband asks me for help dressing for cocktail parties or events, I’m at a loss. Do jackets and pants have to match? And when is a sports coat appropriate vs. a blazer or a suit? I need a cheat sheet with the basic dos and don’ts for dressing men!
—Jessica, Bonita Springs
Ideally, an invitation should state the dress code expected by the hosts, but confusion arises when there is no indication or it’s open to interpretation, which may lead to a sartorial faux pas. My guidelines below should help you with the basics.
The Sport Coat
A sport coat is essentially a tailored jacket that isn’t part of a suit. Available in a huge variety of fabrics—wool, velvet, corduroy, seersucker, tweed and plaids of every kind—a sport coat is an excellent way to wear a patterned or textured fabric. A sport coat can be teamed with a fi ne-knit sweater or silky polo shirt and chinos for a relaxed yet stylish look; or pair it with this season’s favorite—the vest—and a shirt (with or without a tie) for a professional look in a semi-casual environment such as a country club. For an updated “country meets city” look, your husband could wear his sport coat with a tie, silk pocket square and dark trousers.
The main diff erence between a sport coat and a blazer is that the latter is in a solid color and frequently has brass, metal or horn buttons. A navy blazer is the equivalent of a woman’s go-to little black dress—it’s one of the most versatile garments in a man’s wardrobe. For an informal weeknight out, a buttondown shirt and dark wash jeans are the perfect pieces to put with a blazer. Teamed with khakis, shirt, tie and tan wingtip shoes, it can be worn to a dressy daytime event or afternoon party. Swap out the khakis for gray fl annel trousers and black shoes, and the blazer becomes as business appropriate as a suit and can be worn to all but the most formal of events.
When an invitation states “black tie,” it denotes a special occasion where a tuxedo is the standard attire, but a black suit can do double duty as a tux. That said, tuxedos don’t just come in black anymore—midnight blue is a beautifully elegant option. Black tie indicates the event is formal, but it doesn’t mean that only a bow tie can be worn: a satin or grosgrain long black tie can be worn to equally good eff ect. A self-tie bow tie looks so much better than the pre-tied versions. Think James Bond—it always worked for him!
Black Tie Optional
Not surprisingly, this is the dress code that causes the most confusion. The occasion is still a dressy one, and in truth, the host is hoping that most male guests will wear black tie. However, some leeway is being given, so a dark suit, white shirt, solid dark tie and highly polished, sleek black shoes will fit the bill perfectly.
If no instructions as to dress code are given, call your host or the event organizer to fi nd out. If you or your husband are still in doubt, a good guideline is to dress up rather than down.