In our modern dressed-down society where virtually every day is casual Friday, it can be easy to misjudge situations where you should dress up. As the old adage goes, it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. And more importantly than that, it’s about respecting other people and dressing appropriately for the occasion.
Firstly let’s be honest here: if you are a man, you should own a suit. It doesn’t have to be a fancy Tom Ford number or tailored on Saville Row – just something that fits you and in a conservative colour like charcoal, navy or grey in boring worsted wool (don’t buy a black suit please; only funeral directors, cast members of Reservoir Dogs, and Mormons should wear black suits). Something you can whip out for that job interview/wedding/graduation/funeral. Turning up to one of these events in just a shirt and tie makes you look like a school boy or a waiter (and in many cases is just outright rude). It shouldn’t have any stripes because stripes generally signify business and that’s not appropriate for weddings or funerals.
I’ll start with job interviews because it’s a contradiction that I cannot reconcile in my own mind. The thing I often hear is people saying they don’t wear a suit to a job interview because they don’t want to look “too formal” or dressed more formally than the interviewer. That makes absolutely no sense to me. If you show up without a suit and every other candidate is in a suit, then you look like a lazy sloppy schmuck. If you show up in a suit and the other candidates aren’t wearing suits, then you are already ahead of the pack before you’ve uttered a word. Most of all, wearing a suit says “I take this seriously and I want this job”. Again it’s about respecting the interviewers and being appropriate. I don’t see any situation where wearing a suit would disadvantage you. And if the interviewers aren’t wearing suits? They’re not the ones trying to get the job…
Weddings are less defined but the key message is to respect the dress code. If the bride and groom want formal and they really mean formal, then you should don the suit and tie. More and more, weddings are becoming less formal and smart casual is often asked for, particularly for a summer or country wedding. In the context of weddings, smart casual still should include a sport coat or blazer with odd trousers. If in doubt, ask the couple to clarify. If they want you to dress up as a cyber-goth T-rex, then that is what you must do.
On the other side of the spectrum is funerals. The funeral uniform is pretty standard and one you should definitely stick to, with a few rare exceptions. Dark suit, black tie, no stripes, white shirt, black belt and black shoes. Somber. Conservative. Respectful. Your clothes should reflect the gravity of the situation and this is definitely not the time to express your sartorial flare or be an individual stylish snowflake. One exception is if there are certain ethnic customs to be considered. The other exception is if the funeral is for a rock star and the family expressly asks you to show up in skinny black jeans and leather jacket.
People say “oh anything goes these days” but your clothes can say more than you realise. Dressing inappropriately in these situations can say to the host “I don’t care about you enough to dress properly”. The bottom line is that in all of these situations, it ain’t just about you.