Events requesting formal attire are dreaded by men everywhere. But it’s not the uncomfortable, collar-tugging misery some may believe. For one, times have changed. “Formal” means something a little different now, with definitions relaxing in recent years. But the image of James Bond formality is still part of the bargain.  

So, if you’re one of those guys who’s unaccustomed to dressing up, relax. These six formal attire tips for men are about to take the heat off.

1.  It All Starts With Fit

Men’s suiting has seen a remarkable change in recent years. Formal attire has been reformed by reduced fussiness, offloading items like tie pins and pocket squares. The contemporary, pared-down look of formal wear is accompanied by a new emphasis on fit, highlighting the man wearing the clothes.

The slim suit has made way for less structured looks, with trousers often fuller and including pleats. That means more latitude for men in formal wear but it also means that fit comes to the forefront. Tailoring is your golden ticket to being the best-dressed man at any formal event, with a customized suit (preferably in a dark color like black, navy-black, or charcoal gray) that fits like it was made for you. While you may never have considered getting that suit in the back of your closet tailored, it’s an investment that pays long-term dividends. 

2.  Classic With A Twist

Button-through shirts worn with ties are formal but the words “formal attire” usually indicate the classic white dress shirt worn with a bow tie. This look is crisply classic but is no longer obligatory.

Today, formal means that your bow tie (if that’s what you choose) can be pre-tied. But it can also mean that you wear a conventional tie, a cravat, or nothing at all with your formal shirt. Going classic with a twist means imprinting your personality on the look you’ve chosen without going too far off-road. So, opt for that classic button-through shirt, choosing the neck treatment that most appeals to you. But keep it sleek, unfussy, and focused on how you wear it.

3.  Grooming Makes The Man

If your hair hasn’t been cut recently and isn’t well-presented, your formal attire will fall flat. Grooming is what sets you apart and crowns your look.

If the event you’re attending is important for your job or professional networking strategy, then go the extra mile. Treat your head to some nourishing, polishing hair products to freshen it up. Get a good haircut and trim those whiskers if you have them. A polished presentation means that all of you has been curated to impress – it’s about more than the clothes you’re wearing. Grooming tells people you’re self-aware and self-possessed. 

4.  Details Matter

Classic details played well are what define formal attire. Your dress shirt should have a double (or “French”) cuff that accommodates cufflinks. Unlike the pocket square or even the bow tie, cufflinks are a traditional formal attire detail that’s baked into the look, as the dress shirt is designed for them.

Choose cufflinks fit for the role. Classic styling that hits the tone of the occasion without trying too hard is what you’re going for. Avoid anything branded or too large and flashy. And remember not to stuff your pockets with your wallet, cell phone, or other needful things. While you may be “man purse” averse, a sleek satchel or cell phone pouch with space for other items prevents the bulging pockets that can make you look rumpled instead of sleek.

5.  A Simple Statement

Now that you’ve got your overall look handled, it’s time to make a statement. The most subtle way to accomplish that is with a wristwatch. A classic timepiece speaks the language of style like no other accessory.

Look out for watches with simple, coherent design aesthetics. Too many curlicues on your watch make it look gadgety. A watch is there to tell you the time, so simplicity is the order of the day, tying into the classicism of men’s formal dressing. Make sure the cuffs of your jacket and double-cuffed dress shirt are tailored to a length that allows you to subtly show it off.

6.  Spit And Polish

Going over your look in the mirror before barreling out the door is a confidence builder. If you’re not used to wearing formal attire, a last check tells you that all is in good order.

Give your suit a thorough going over for lint that may have jumped aboard. And shine those shoes. While some fashion mavens are saying that running shoes are acceptable as formal wear, that’s not true in every instance. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that your sister wouldn’t be thrilled to see your Chucks at her wedding, so choose formal footwear. Black shoes are always a good bet for the classic darker colors we’ve discussed above. And please – black socks only.

Go to your splashy, formal event looking stylish and confident with these six formal attire tips for men. You never know who you might meet.

Marshall Bone is a writer, copy strategist and all-around stylish guy who has been following trends in GQ for more than two decades. Voted best-dressed both his junior and senior year, Bone has continued this legacy and can be found covering various topics from men’s fashion to self care and grooming. He enjoys reading and is based in the greater Los Angeles area.