As blokes it can be confusing when you’re invited to an event where a dress code is required and you’ll wonder how to dress appropriately. The most common dress codes are Black Tie, Cocktail and Smart Casual. We spoke to the experts at M.J. Bale to get the real word on what they mean.

Black Tie



Black tie is fairly consistent in that there is rarely much flexibility. Having that said, there is some space to stamp your individuality on the event and lean toward either side of the formality spectrum.

Classically, a black tie dress code requires a dinner suit (the English term) or tuxedo (what the Americans call it). The distinguishing features of a dinner suit, compared to a traditional work suit, will be in the details: usually one-button, rather than two; and silk or grosgrain lapels (often contrasting texture to the rest of the suit). A tuxedo shirt (hidden placket buttons or tuxedo studs) and bow tie are also expected – a normal business shirt and/or tie will not be suitable for a tuxedo suit.

Having said that, it’s quite commonplace these days for a man to wear a normal black suit with a black or navy tie – just be wary of your choice in shirt and suit: it’s a delicate line to toe between nailing classic styling and being mistaken for the waiter.

While a black dinner suit is the most conservative and common form of black tie, midnight navy is also perfectly acceptable. The tradition of a navy dinner suit dates back to the very origins of the dress code and can assist those wishing to stamp a little individuality on a stuffy corporate event.





While there will always be a few IT workers who insist on wearing chinos and a jacket to a cocktail event, we are firm believers in the need for a suit. The tie is optional, but it’s often better to err on the side of caution and wear one: you can always take it off and use it as a lasso on the dance floor later in the evening.

Those looking to mix it up a little bit should try tailored separates (playing mix and match with a contrasting suit jacket and trouser can relax the style without compromising formality), just be sure to get the patterns right: too similar and it’ll look accidental.

Finally, make sure you add an element to the outfit that will make sure you don’t look like you’ve come straight from work. A knitted tie, a colourful pocketchief or some tasselled loafers (always wear socks) will help steer you in the right direction.



Smart Casual



A lot of gents out there see the word casual and immediately opt for their ordinary pub-on-a-Friday-night kit. While there is no need to overdo the formality, it’s always best to show respect for the host (and guests) by putting some thought into your outfit. A pair of chinos and a collared shirt worn open is the ‘go to’ look for most fellows, though we respect the guys who take it a little further with some tailored cotton trousers.

Avoid your Monday to Friday work suit jacket (looks terrible with chinos or denim) and ensure you wear a casual blazer, even if it’s hot and you have to take it off as soon as you arrive. The hallmarks of a casual blazer lies in the details, such as patch pockets, unstructured shoulders, minimal or lack of jacket lining and casual buttons. Finish the blazer off with a pocketchief, which adds the final touch of flair and thought into your outfit.