Understanding all of the nuances and details of dress codes can seem daunting to most men. Furthermore, a major dress code violation can be the result of just a small error on your part which can lead to embarrassment and an unpleasant time.

On the other hand, knowing how to dress appropriately for a specific occasion can make all the difference in the world and will often gain you respect from others as well as stronger confidence in yourself.

In this introductory guide, we’ll be covering the following points regarding dress codes:

Scroll down to learn more about how to dress for all occasions or use the links above to jump ahead.

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What Are The Most Common Dress Codes?

In this series of suit guides, we’ll be exploring dress codes and various levels of formality in detail. You may see them on invitations to events such as weddings, funerals, balls, state dinners, awards ceremonies, and the like:

We also have a page on the difference between a suit and a tuxedo, along with a page for our younger readers dedicated to how to look good at prom.

Each of these guides will have specific information on the types of garments to wear, acceptable colors, and other actionable details that will enable you to build a wardrobe around whatever dress codes you most commonly find yourself in.

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Why Are Dress Codes Important?

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The way that we dress projects an image at all times, whether we want it to or not. We are definitely judged by the clothing we wear, and those judgments occur quickly.

Think of it this way: you’re lost in a new city and need directions to your hotel. You see a well-groomed man in a nice suit standing next to a scruffy guy in ripped jeans and a ratty t-shirt. Who are you going to ask for directions?

Getting dressed as a modern gentleman offers a plethora of opportunities for self-expression that weren’t available to us decades ago. We’re the beneficiaries of the perfection of technology and centuries of tailoring expertise.

Still, knowing how to dress for an occasion has its challenges.

Why Do Dress Codes Exist? Social Status & Workplace Norms

There are many reasons that dress codes have existed for centuries and continue to exist, but it’s likely that the biggest reason is as an indication of social status. This is particularly true in England, where dressing “correctly” is just as, if not more, important than dressing stylishly.

Couple-At-Royal-Ascot

For example, white tie events are rare nowadays, especially in the United States. If you’re invited to a white-tie affair, there are many things that can be inferred, two of which are:

  1. You and/or your family run in elite social circles that would throw such an affair: the rich, famous, politically connected, etc.
  2. You have the means to purchase a white tie ensemble, or already own such an ensemble. The latter would imply that you’re a regular attendee of such events, reinforcing the inference that you’re well-connected

Cultural norms play a large role with regard to dress codes as well. For example, certain religious sites will prohibit specific articles of clothing, or even just wearing an otherwise acceptable piece of clothing in an unacceptable way.

For example, the sacred temple of Wat Phra Kaew in Thailand prohibits rolled-up sleeves. Interestingly, short-sleeve shirts are permitted!

Professional Dress Codes

Business-Professional-Suits

In addition to one’s social status, our workplaces often define how we must dress. For sartorially conservative industries such as law and government, a business professional dress code is often the norm. Business-to-business sales executives will typically dress in business professional clothes when they call on clients and prospects.

Though it lacks the word “professional,” “business casual” is the other typical workplace dress code. The difficulties around business casual have been written about by everyone from Alan Flusser to Nicholas Antongiovanni, and we offer our two cents as well in a forthcoming page.

So, why do professional dress codes exist? There are a couple of reasons:

  • Minimize distractions
  • Increase productivity

But if you’re good at your job, shouldn’t you just be able to show up wearing whatever you’re most comfortable in?

Short answer: no. To further explain this, we turn to the military.

Soldiers-Marching-In-Khaki-Pants

As we all know, militaries worldwide utilize uniforms for service members. This has many functions, the most important of which is signaling to the wearer that it’s time for work. When the uniform is on, you represent something larger than yourself, and you must act accordingly.

The same can be said for workplace dress codes. The suit is, in a sense, a uniform, albeit with some variation. When we dress for work, we are letting everyone around us know that we are here to take care of business. We understand that leisure time exists, but this isn’t it.

Furthermore, the big take-away is that we feel different when we put on certain clothes. You know that feeling you get when you put on a suit that has been perfectly tailored? That elegant suit of armor feeling? You’re more likely to work better when you feel like a million bucks.

That’s why dress codes exist.

Parting Thoughts

A Fashionable Man In Suit & Straightening Tie July 2015

No matter what the dress code, navigating it well can be a bit of a minefield. We hope that the pages linked to above prove helpful in your endeavor to look proper.

There’s more to life than looking proper, though. You also want to look good. As it happens, we have guides to help you look your best at all times, regardless of dress code.

Throughout the rest of the site, we have sections on dressing for your face shape, body type, and color. We also have plenty of information on shoes, glasses, and grooming.

Take a look through these pages at your leisure!

What Next?

Now that you have read our primer on dress codes, consider reading some of our related content:

Men's Dress Codes Guide
Reviewed by John O., on .
"It's starting to finally make sense. These guides really helped in understand men's dress codes so I could wear the right attire at events."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★

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About The Author – Paul Anthony

Paul Anthony Sidebar PicPaul is a the founder and creative director of Bespoke Unit. His interests range from: suits, shoes, watches, sport, and travel. See his full profile here, and read latest articles.

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