Formal style tips for men

A man wears a bow tie and waistcoat, holding his jacket over one shoulder

If you don’t have cause to dress formally on a regular basis, the rules of what to wear and how to wear it can seem confusing to say the least. There are many components to consider, from the knot of your tie and the cut of your dinner jacket to the length of your trousers and the shape of your shoes. With a little preparation, however, you can turn formal dress from a faff into a fashion statement.

How to wear a pocket square

A pocket square is something you’d traditionally only wear for very formal occasions such as a wedding or a funeral, but nowadays it is becoming more and more on trend to ‘dress up’ a more smart casual outfit with the addition of this stylish accessory.

When you come to choose the right pocket square for your outfit, it’s important to consider what else you’re wearing. If your suit and shirt are plain, non-patterned styles, then add a little flavour with a patterned tie and pocket square. If you have a patterned suit, however, stick to block colours for your accessories. You can choose either to have a matching tie and pocket square with the same fabric, or to take a secondary colour from your tie and choose a pocket square in that shade.

You should also think about the size of your pocket square. If it’s made out of a sleek, fine fabric such as silk or satin, your pocket square may fall down out of sight if it’s not big enough. Therefore, it’s best to choose a pocket square that is about 40cm by 40cm (or 16 inches by 16 inches).

As for the way in which you fold your pocket square, the world is your oyster. With one simple search online, you can find dozens of different folds to try, from simple beginner styles to stunning displays that showcase the flair of the wearer. Which you choose is up to you, but consider matching the level of flamboyance to the event. For a wedding or celebration, you might choose a more exciting style in the same way that you might use brighter colours in your outfit. For a funeral or a business meeting, however, something simple, classic and enduring is probably your best bet.

Where does a tie clip go?

As well as adding a touch of decoration to your suit, a tie pin serves the functional purpose of keeping your tie from flapping about in the wind. It’s also useful in preventing you from accidentally dipping your tie in your dinner when sitting down to eat - avoiding an embarrassing mishap.

Even though they’re relatively small, tie clips come with their own set of rules. Firstly, it’s important to make sure that when your tie pin is in position, it isn’t longer than or equal to the width of your tie. A good rule of thumb is to have your tie pin be 70 to 80% of the width of your tie in order to look right when worn. This means you can get different lengths for different tie widths.

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re wearing it in the right place. Too high up and it won’t hold your tie in place effectively; too low and you won’t be able to see it behind a waistcoat or a buttoned up dinner jacket. The right area is around your sternum, between the third and fourth buttons of your shirt from the top. And don’t forget to attach the pin to your shirt as well as the tie so that it keeps your tie in place.

When it comes to the style of your tie clip, there are two main options. The first is to get something with a classic gold or silver metallic finish - this will look stylish on almost any tie pattern you opt for. Alternatively, you could choose a novelty tie pin design that reveals something about yourself. For example, some people have pins relating to their workplace, their army regiment, a club or group they’re in, or even just a hobby or sport they enjoy. Whatever you choose, place your tie pin in pride of place and it might just spark up a conversation at your event.

When to wear a waistcoat

Although waistcoats have been associated with more formal events in the past, in recent years it has become increasingly popular to wear a waistcoat as part of a smart casual dress code to parties, weddings and – in the case of Gareth Southgate – football matches. You might not be ready to pop on your waistcoat to head down to your local ground, but waistcoats are becoming more and more a part of people’s everyday wardrobe. Some even wear them without a dinner jacket.

The first thing to remember when wearing a waistcoat as part of an outfit – whether it’s for a formal event or something more casual – is to leave the bottom button undone. You can, of course, choose to ignore the status quo and use all three buttons, or just one or none at all – whichever you prefer. However, the traditional way to wear a waistcoat involves the bottom button being left undone.

As for choosing the style of waistcoat, your options are either to match or to contrast. Wearing the waistcoat that accompanies your three-piece suit is the quickest and easiest way to match, but you can get them in most neutral colours separately to match any dinner jackets or two-pieces you may have in your wardrobe.

Alternatively, like your tie pin or pocket square, you could use your waistcoat as an opportunity to showcase your individuality with a bolder style or pattern. Just make sure to pick one - if you go bold with too many aspects of your formal dress at once, you risk turning your outfit into an eclectic mishmash of styles that stands out from the crowd in rather a different way.

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