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‘Business formal’ is a dress code that gets thrown around regularly.

But what does it mean?

Well, to answer this question simply, business formal attire consists of ‘a suit and accessories that don’t make you look like a clown’.

This article will cover that notion in more depth, and what you should and shouldn’t wear to allow your outfit to conform to the business formal dress code.


What is the definition of business formal attire?

First off, this dress code is formal (duh).

Therefore, the goal of business formal attire is to look as elegant, professional and presentable as possible.

The staple of the business formal dress code is the suit.

This means that there is a more definite definition of what you should be wearing:



A suit is blazer and trousers made of the same material, in the same colour.

The material is typically a worsted wool.

If you are wearing odd trousers and a blazer, you are not considered to be wearing proper business formal attire.

They have to exactly match.

Business formal attire is a suit.
His jacket and trousers properly match.

But that’s not it.

As we’re going for a formal look, the suit that you do wear should be in a dark colour.

This is because, the lighter the colour, the more informal your outfit. That is something you want to avoid.

It is especially important for the suit as it is the canvas of your outfit.

So, no looking like Al Pacino.

The Scarface white suit does not conform to the business formal dress code.

If you want to up your style game, some gentlemen like to experiment with three-piece suits.

A three piece suit consists of a blazer, trousers and a waistcoat.

Harvey Specter’s look is a perfect example of proper business formal attire with a waistcoat.

Harvey Specter standing in proper business formal attire.

It is conservative, doesn’t offend, and gets the job done.

You don’t have to be this boring though.

There are elements of business formal attire that allow you to bring in your personality.

For example, your tie.


The Business Formal Attire Tie

Your tie is your one opportunity to stand out and experiment within the business formal dress code.

You can do this through colours, patterns and different tie knots.



Although it is safe and never wrong to go for dark solids, such as navy or burgundy, it is a bit boring.

A favourite of mine is bringing in attention grabbing variations of these – they always go down super well.

For example, electric blue.

An electric blue pin dot tie.

It is within the same formal colour palette, but offers a bit of standout variety.

Conversely, though your outfit should typically be dark, you have the opportunity to bring in some bright colours with your tie.

Pink is a perfect example of this.

It exudes confidence, and really adds some personality to the rest of your business formal attire.



You can’t go wrong with spots or stripes.

However, smaller variations of these patterns are generally more formal.

Make sure that, if your shirt is patterned, your tie does not have a similar sized pattern.

So, if your shirt has large checks, then you tie should have a small to medium sized pattern (or none at all).



Your tie should be made from silk, the most formal tie material.

Wool ties are too casual, and polyester ties are often cheap looking.



There are hundreds of tie knots out there.

The business formal dress code allows you to really bring in any knot that you want.

Experiment with it and see what tickles your fancy.

Perhaps don’t go with the Trinity or Eldredge, though.

The Trinity knot it a bit too flashy for business formal attire.
This Trinity knot is a bit too flashy for business formal.


The Business Formal Dress Code Shirt

Business formal attire is conservative.

You should therefore tone down the second most visual item of your outfit, your shirt.

This is especially true if you have gone for a bold tie.

Now don’t get me wrong, your shirt and tie combination might look amazing when they are both busy.

But introducing too much colour, or too many patterns, can risk making you look informal and improper.

To avoid this, stick to the basic shirt colours of white and sky blue.

You may be able to bring in pink and some checks or stripes if you know what you’re doing.


Business Formal Attire Shoes

The business formal dress code requires that you wear dress shoes with you suit.

It would be improper to wear anything more casual such as dress trainers.



In following with the rest of the pieces in the business formal dress code, your shoes should be in a dark colour.

This could be black if you are wearing a grey suit, or dark brown if you are wearing a blue suit.

Lighter shades of brown and tan are not appropriate.



You should avoid heavy broguing which adds unnecessary visual elements and makes your shoes and outfit more casual.

This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid it completely, however.

Semi or quarter broguing is appropriate as it strikes a good balance between adding interest and maintaining a sleek look.

A wingtip brogue.
This is inappropriate as it is rather light in colour and has a lot of broguing.

On top of this, again because it is more formal, it is preferred that you wear shoes with a closed lacing system. This can be found on Oxfords, as pictured above.

An open lacing system is less formal and can be found on the Derby style of shoes. They are still formal enough to be worn as part of your business formal attire, though.


Business Formal Dress Code Accessories


There is a recent trend of wearing bright coloured crazy socks.

Brightly coloured socks.

Avoid this.

It is not appropriate for the business formal dress code.

Instead, you should use socks to your advantage to visually elongate the leg.

You can do this by choosing socks of the same colour as your trouser, or bridge the gap between your trouser and shoe with an intermediate colour.

Furthermore, try to find a pair of knee high socks. This will ensure that your bare leg will never show when you sit down, which makes you look sloppy.



To help create a cohesive look, if you choose to wear a belt, it should be of the same leather colour as your shoes and watch strap.

On top of this, the buckle should match the metals in the rest of your outfit.


Pocket Squares and Lapel Flowers

These should not command more attention than the rest of your outfit.

I would forgo a lapel accessory as it makes you look unnecessarily busy.

A man with a tie, lapel flower and pocket square.
This look is a bit too busy.

As for pocket squares, if you choose to wear one, you can never go wrong with a standard presidential fold in a safe, solid colour that complements the rest of your colour pallet.

It is always prudent for your pocket square to pick up a colour from your shirt.


So, to recap…

Business formal attire consists of:

  • A dark suit.
  • A silk tie (NOT OPTIONAL)
  • A sensible shirt.
  • Formal, dark coloured dress shoes.
  • Sensible and non-flashy accessories.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re wondering if something that you are wearing is too casual, then it probably is.


Conclusion – Business Formal Attire Explained

So there you go, you now know the business formal dress code.

It’s not that difficult compared to something more ambiguous such as smart casual.

The trick with business formal attire is keeping things simple.

You don’t have to add lots of bright colours and trendy pieces to look incredible.