Dressing for a dinner party might not always be straight forward
but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it look effortless. Sometimes a dinner party is a sophisticated formal affair at a high-end restaurant; other times it’s a casual night at a friend’s house. And then there’s the ultimate dinner party dress code dilemma: dinner with the boss. So how does a gent know what to wear? Every dinner party is different, so you’ll need to make some sartorial decisions based on the venue and guest list. But the good news is there are a few simple rules you can follow to ensure you’re looking dapper, but not overdressed.
Formal dinner parties
Black tie dinner parties
If you are invited to a black tie dinner party, this is the time to don your most sophisticated apparel. You’ll need to wear a tuxedo with a black bow tie, a white evening shirt, black socks (or bright red if you are a bit of a peacock) and well-polished black shoes.
Black tie optional
If the invitation says “black tie optional” then you can trade the tuxedo for a business suit in a dark colour, preferably black. Choose a crisp cotton shirt in a solid colour - white, blue or pink is best - and wear polished leather shoes in black (or dark brown if you are not wearing a black suit). A waistcoat or a bright silk pocket square will give you extra poise and add a splash of personality to your outfit.
Dinner with friends
Even if you’re attending dinner with friends, sometimes you will still need to arrive smartly dressed. For a formal but relaxed look, try a crease-free pair of dark wool suit trousers, a pure cotton formal shirt with a silk tie, and a good pair of leather shoes.
What not to wear
Dressing well for a formal dinner party is a sign of courtesy to your host, and you’ll feel like the odd man out if you’re underdressed. The simplest way to adhere to the dress code (especially if it isn’t clear) is by avoiding jeans, cords, chinos, t-shirts and polos. And don’t even think about shorts or a vest.
Casual dinner parties
At a low-key dinner party you can wear a more relaxed outfit. Cords, chinos or cotton trousers in a light colour are all appropriate and will pair rather nicely with a denim washed Oxford shirt. If it’s chilly, you can add a crew neck or V-neck merino jumper, and a cord or cotton jacket. Finish off your outfit with leather Derby shoes or brogues with a splash of colour.
For a very casual get-together, wearing a polo or rugby shirt with dark wash jeans shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. You could also wear boat shoes or trainers if the gathering is particularly informal.
Dinner with the boss
Formal business dinner
When it comes to dinner with your boss, clients or co-workers, opt for a look that’s as business-like as the conversation will be. A two-piece or three-piece sharkskin suit fits the bill very nicely, especially paired with a clean white shirt and a vibrant silk tie. For a splash of colour, add a pocket square in magenta or peacock blue.
Informal business dinner
If you’re attending a business dinner at an informal restaurant, you can wear clean pressed cotton chinos, a button-down collared shirt in a pale colour, and leather shoes or boat shoes. Make sure you stick to neutral colours and avoid bright shades or busy prints; otherwise you’ll just distract everyone from appreciating your scintillating business chat.