Decoding the Dress Code for Men

“Dress code isn’t just a bunch of rules; it’s more a spirit of style that varies from gentleman to gentleman.”

By Justine P. Castellon

Clothes make the man.” So goes the saying. When you dress better, you are automatically treated better. If you truly want to impress your date, your peers or your boss, a good place to start is with the clothes you wear. While you cannot always dress in your best every minute of the day, you should dress for the occasion, activity or situation.

One dilemma is interpreting the dress code. For instance, we get an invitation to a party where the required dress is “semiformal ”, or a wedding that calls for “formal attire”. These written requests for attendees’ attire are usually only one or two words long, meant to be printed on an invitation and understood by all the potential guests. With that in mind, we’ve decoded some of the most common dress codes. So whether your office suggests that employees dress in business casual attire, or your receive a wedding invitation that is black tie optional, we have you covered so you’ll know exactly what to wear from here on out.

Formal Dress Code – White Tie

WhiteDressThe phrase “formal attire” is badly misunderstood in Manila society. Formal attire does not mean suits and ties! It is the fanciest of all the dress codes (with clothing articles that most men don’t own), and is usually reserved for a seriously sophisticated affair.

You’ll need a tuxedo. Long black jacket with tails, white collared shirt, vest and bow tie — with black patent leather shoes. Although this is this strictest code, you can add a subtle touch of your personal style with your choice of formal cufflinks (silver, mother of pearl, etc.). Remember, formal wear for men changes depending on the time of day. During daytime you need to wear morning dress with a tailcoat and vest, while at night it means white tie. Most white-tie affairs are diplomatic events, or high-formality award ceremonies

Semi-Formal Dress Code – Black Tie

BlackTieMore commonly referred to as formal wear, it isn’t as severe as White Tie. But don’t let the wee terminology fool you — semi-formal attire is still the strictest dress code most of us will wear in our lives. This doesn’t mean it’s any less glamorous!

Go with a formal tuxedo — a black bow tie, and a cummerbund (it’s a horizontally pleated wide sash, that you wear at the waist) — or show up with a dark suit, and a tie. Don’t forget your black patent leather shoes. Like formal wear, semi-formal attire varies on time of day. In the evening it is the familiar black tie (tuxedo) ensemble, while in the daytime the stroller –a relaxed alternative to morning dress is appropriate. Formal or evening weddings, company awards dinners, and some private dinners are all occasions that may require you to don a Black Tie.

Business Dress Code

BusinessAttireA business dress code means one thing: matched suits. It is best to wear a dark, solid colored or pinstriped suit when one receives an invitation requesting business attire. Pair it with a matching vest (optional), a white dress shirt, a conservative tie, and black leather oxfords.

While “business dress” means the more formal end of your men’s suits, a lighter gray suit or a dark brown one is acceptable for day time event. This dress code is for semi-formal events – particularly work lunches and conferences where the idea is to wear something business appropriate, that also feels dressed up.

Business Casual or Dress Casual

BusinessCasualFor business casual, jackets are still preferred, but not required. The most straightforward outfit is a navy blue blazer with light to medium gray slacks or khakis. Wear a button-down or a polo shirt, paired with khakis, or dress pants. If you so desire, layer with a V-neck sweater, a blazer, or a sport coat. A tie is optional.

Once the phrase “business casual” is on the invitation, wearing blazers or sports jackets are the dressiest look within the code, while dress shirts without a top layer are more dressed-down. To be on the safer side, you’re better off showing up with a jacket and tie, and then stripping one or both off if you find yourself overdressed. It’s easy to dress a blazer or a sport jacket and slacks down, but hard to dress a plain shirt up. Remember that business casual requires slacks or khakis – not jeans and a collared shirt – as well as leather dress shoes and socks to match the trousers. When to wear business casual? During office parties, happy hours, and business luncheons.

Casual Dress

CasualAnything goes in casual dress code, including jeans and sneakers. This usually means you’ll even be uncomfortable in anything but your most comfortable attire. While”casual attire” invitation is mostly open ended, but there is still the expectation of dressing up for a social event. Neckties are definitely not needed, but a casual jacket could still be worn. Similarly, jeans are acceptable but they should be dark, fitted jeans, not plain work jeans or anything with rips and tears.

The casual code is meant to be for relaxed events where guests can be themselves. But you should still look like you made an effort to be polite with the hosts.

There, you have it! Dress code isn’t just a bunch of rules; it’s more a spirit of style that varies from gentleman to gentleman. So if you’ve been invited to an event with a dress code or you’re planning an event and you want to request a specific sort of attire from your guests — here are the guides that may help you dress right for the occasion.


  • Anything Other Than Naked: A Guide for Men on How to Dress Properly for Every Occasion by Glen R. Sondag
  • Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th edition, by Peggy Post, Anna Post, Lizzie Post, and Daniel Post Senning

6 thoughts on “Decoding the Dress Code for Men”

  1. Nice blog. I also like your FB very helpful. Suggestion lang to include the manners topic from the FB in this blog. Thank you and more power blackrhino


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