Dress Code: Wearing A Business Suit To A Social Event?

Invitation Card

Ever had the problem trying to decide how to dress up for an event, only to be limited to what’s printed on the invitation card? Well, the dress code is there to help us decide, not confuse us further.

It all started several years ago, when I had the privilege to attend an annual dinner cum installation ceremony of a Lion’s Club local chapter. What really got me all excited was that it was stated on the invitation card that the dress code was “Black-Tie”. This was going to be my first ever Black-Tie event, and I was as excited as a teenager looking forward to attending his prom.

So I removed the dust cover off my dinner suit and gave it a good brushing, took out my black Oxfords and gave it a good polish. I also took out the matching onyx cufflinks and shirt studs, which I reserved only for matching my dinner suit, and practised tying the bow-tie several times in front of the mirror. I didn’t want to appear with a crooked bow-tie for that dinner. I was more excited about dressing correctly for the event than actually attending the event itself.

And then the day came…

LCI emblem_2C_287+7406

Nobody Knows What “Black-Tie” Dress Code Actually Means Anymore

I take that back, there were at least five or six men properly decked out in proper dinner suits at the dinner, including me. That’s right, five or six men, out of a total of about five hundred attendees. Minus the ladies, there were only about five men properly dressed in proper dinner suits, out of a total of maybe 250 men? That’s a mere 2% of the whole male attendance, properly dressed for an event that specifically mentioned Black-Tie dress code on the invitation!…

I was utterly disappointed… But being a gentleman, I tried to pretend that it wasn’t bothering me. So I struck up an conversation with this gentleman who happened to be seated on the same table as I was. He was dressed in a mismatched and ill fitting business suit, and what looked like a very dark coloured necktie. I asked him if he knows what was printed on the invitation card, specifically the dress code. He replied “Of course, Black-Tie”, and promptly pulled out his black-coloured necktie, and waved it around…

I almost slapped my palm onto my face… Don’t these people know the difference between Black-Tie and black-coloured necktie?…

Well, apparently not many people actually did. Not even the organising committee. None of the men on the organising committee wore proper dinner suits on the dinner at all. No, not really… Some of the committee members at least tried to look the part, by correctly wearing a front-pleated dress shirt, but matching it with a black business suit?… And to top it off, wearing a clip-on bow-tie, like a toddler attending his kindergarten annual concert day?…

What Really Is A Black-Tie Attire?

If you really must know, this is what a proper Black-Tie attire looks like. It’s a proper dinner suit (erroneously called a “Tuxedo” by the Yanks). A white dress shirt with either pleated (pic below) or pique front, held together with decorative shirt-studs instead of the regular plastic buttons. A proper dinner jacket, with either shawl collar (pic below) or peaked lapel, both with no vents. A waist covering of either a cummerbund (pic below) or a low-cut waistcoat, a black bow-tie of the same colour, and completed with a side-tabbed trousers with a single piping made of the same material as the lapel of the dinner jacket, running down the entire length of the sides of the trouser seams.

Black Tie

And yes, you do have to tie your own bow-tie. You’re no longer a seven-year-old kid. If you can tie your own shoe-laces, you can definitely tie your own bow-tie.

But before you put on your dinner suit to attend a morning event, please take note that the name itself already gives you an idea of when it is to be worn, i.e. dinner events. So Black-Tie dress code is usually limited only to late afternoon onwards, until the end of dinner time, whatever your interpretation of “dinner time” may be.

So What Then Do We Wear For Morning Events?

While you can’t correctly wear a dinner suit for morning, equally important social events, there is a dress code that’s meant for morning events. It’s called “Morning Dress”. It is generally considered “correct” to wear Morning Dress for any events from dawn right up until late afternoon, when a gentleman will traditionally change into his dinner suit.

Here’s an example of what a Morning Dress dress code look like.

Morning Dress

This example is the semi-formal Morning Dress (again, erroneously known as the “Stroller Suit” by the Yanks). Charcoal-grey short jacket instead of a more formal cut-away morning coat, matched with a pin-stripped or chalk-stripped medium-grey, side-tabbed trousers. A necktie matching either the waistcoat (pic above) or the medium-grey trousers.

Wait A Minute… Did I Hear You Say “Semi-Formal”?

Yes indeed, Black-Tie is indeed only considered a semi-formal dress code. But it is already plenty formal enough for most events. The epitome of the formality of dress code for dinner events is reserved for the White-Tie, which is normally limited only to royal events which, alas, only a small fraction of people will ever get a chance to attend.

Just as for the morning events, the truly formal day-time dress code calls for the Full Morning Dress, complete with a cutaway morning coat and top hat in charcoal grey. Oh, and don’t forget the white gloves too.

Check out Wikipedia for more examples of the various dress codes.

In the meantime, don’t ever confuse a business suit with a dinner suit when planning what to wear to the next “formal” dinner party.

Edit – 16th November 2018
Now that you know what’s Social Formal, let’s read about Business Formal, and discover the difference.


5 Replies to “Dress Code: Wearing A Business Suit To A Social Event?”

  1. The aloha shirt , while considered casual attire in the mainland United States, is considered acceptable business wear in Hawaii , where it is well-suited to that state’s warm and humid climate. Similarly,

    • We have something similar in Malaysia and Indonesia, called the Batik shirt. Loose fitting, brightly coloured, and worn untucked into the trousers. It is an “acceptable” substitute for not-so-formal dinner events.

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