Dressing for not-too-formal occasions

Dressing for not-too-formal occasions

Q. You recently wrote about shoes with a blue blazer and gray slacks. I was wondering about something more general. Is this “uniform” acceptable for not-too-formal occasions after work? Having taught since the ’90s in a jacket and slacks, I have lost touch with the subtleties of male dress in the evening.

A. When in doubt as to what to wear to any occasion, you can be sure that a navy blazer and gray pants are almost always appropriate. A blue blazer is perhaps the single most important piece in  a man’s wardrobe; it’s certainly the most versatile for dressing “up” and dressing “down.” Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus) once said, if heaven only allowed each man to bring three items, he would take a navy blazer, a navy suit, and a tuxedo.

Time was when a blue blazer was thought of as Sunday afternoon sort of dressing. These days, when   suits are worn so seldom and therefore would not be part of a man’s standard clothing at night, the blazer is widely seen after 5 o’clock at slightly dressy occasions. A blazer can take you to many social events where in the past you might have needed a suit.

A lot depends on how you accessorize it. The possible variations are almost endless.

The cut of the jacket, the color and fabric of the trousers, the style of the shirt collar and cuffs, the pattern of the tie – all change the attitude of the blazer itself. Jackets may be single- or double-breasted. They may have a single-vent or double vents. The buttons may be the traditional nautical look of brass or the dressier look of dark suit buttons. 

For a casual air, when moving, say, from the office to a bar or a medium-level restaurant, you might choose a single-breasted cut and team it with a solid blue (or striped) Oxford button-down collar shirt and a conservative silk, wool, or cotton tie. You can’t go wrong. It’s safe, but perhaps not very exciting. 

On the other hand, as the sophistication level of the location, event, or attendee/date increases, you should choose these items carefully as to color, cut, and pattern. In this way you can up the overall effect.                                                                                  

The single-breasted cut is a more laid-back look. A double-breasted blazer has more presence, and a spiffier silhouette that strongly suggests evening. So, you might opt for the double-breasted choice if you are going to something special, or going with someone special.                                                                                          

Which trousers you choose also definitely changes the look. They can include a diverse range from medium- or dark-gray wool for a quiet, traditional vibe, or a light shade of gray for a more dapper effect. Or for a more casual, preppy style, you might choose cotton khakis/chinos. In summer when there always seem to be more casual social events, it’s hard to beat the snappy sharp contrast of a tailored blue blazer paired with either white wool or white cotton pants. And most guys enjoy occasionally combining a blazer with a pair of slim blue jeans for a young casual look.                                       

Shirts, too, vary widely from dressy point- or spread-collars with French cuffs (and, of course, cuff links) to the button-down collar style mentioned earlier (with its less formal button cuffs). 

Different ties and their different knots can send very different messages. The ones you choose to accompany your blazer can range from dressy silks in solids, stripes, and elegant geometric patterns to casual wool, silk, or cotton knits. They can be long ties, bow ties, or today’s seen-everywhere tie-less looks. Each one projects a different image of you to the world.

You can decide what your image will be. It’s sort of like dressing for the role you are playing in a theater production; you are in control of the costume you choose and how you project that image to the world.

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions and comments to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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