Men are often at a loss when it comes to dressing outside of the office. Apart from not knowing what each dress code comprises, many events do not have official dress codes and leave much to the attendee’s own discretion. This is confounded by the fact that men’s attire in Singapore is generally more casual than their overseas counterparts for the same type of events because of the hot and humid climate. How do we dress appropriately to avoid looking like a cuckoo?
Read on to learn more about the likely unspoken dress codes for common occasions (in the local context too!), and what each dress code comprises.
Dress Codes In Descending Order Of Formality
Unless it is a wedding, and for a very somebody of very high stature at that, you’ll probably never attend a White Tie event in Singapore. Though this is known as ‘formal’ attire in overseas contexts, it is way too formal for our decidedly more casual style of dressing (and also much hotter climate). ‘Formal’ in the local context usually refers to the more casual Black Tie or even Business Formal attires.
What it consists of: Black Tailcoat, Waistcoat, White Shirt, White Bow Tie, Pocket Square
Also known as ‘Semi-Formal’ overseas and ‘Formal’ in underdressed Singapore. Some weddings, prestigious award ceremonies, and high society events request that you come in Black Tie attire, but this is probably the most formally we will ever be dressed.
What it consists of: Black Tuxedo, White Tuxedo Shirt with French Cuffs, Classic Cufflinks, Black Bow Tie, Pocket Square
Black Tie Optional
Black Tie Optional is intended to achieve the same effect as the Black Tie dress code, without requiring guests to rent a tuxedo if they do not own one. What it really means is, “Tuxedos preferred, but a close approximation is acceptable if you do not own one”. Black Tie Optional allows guests to use existing clothing such as a black suit, matching bow tie, and white dress shirt to achieve the same effect as a tuxedo. Requesting guests to be in Black Tie Optional instead of Black Tie makes you appear less presumptuous while keeping the pockets of your guests healthy – they will be grateful to you for that.
What it consists of: Black Suit, Black Necktie, White French Cuffed Dress Shirt, Classic Cufflinks, Pocket Square
Usually, Business Formal dress codes are applicable to work events that carry more significance, such as meeting a client in a formal setting, interviews, or an important presentation. Business Formal is meant to be subtle and conservative, and this is best achieved with matching (ONE colour) suits in a dark colour, such as black, dark grey, or dark navy. These should be paired with a conservative tie (no funky patterns). A pair of business cufflinks and pocket squares will earn you extra points in the elegance department.
What it consists of: Dark Coloured Suit Jacket (Black, Dark Grey, Dark Navy; Can be pinstriped), Matching Pants, White Dress Shirt (French Cuffs preferred), Business Cufflinks, Black Leather Oxfords, Conservative Tie, Elegant Watch
Unless you are a salesperson, or in a line that involves meeting important people everyday, Business Casual is how you usually come to work. It is a more relaxed version of Business Formal and is more comfortable.
A jacket is encouraged, but optional, and does not need to match your pants. You may wear something dressy like suit jackets, sports jackets, and blazers, or you could simply put on a sweater, or have no jacket at all (most apt for the Singapore climate). A necktie is similarly optional, and you can be more adventurous with the design and colour. You can also play around with the colour and pattern of your shirt, within basic rules.
However, you’ll still need to wear pants (no jeans) as well as dress shoes (no sneakers or unlaced shoes).
What it consists of: Jacket (optional), Dress Shirt, Dress Shoes, Watch
‘Casual’ in the context of social events is different from our everyday definition of casual. Casual is what most of us are wearing to Orchard Road for a shopping trip – save for those who subscribe to ‘swag’ culture.
Ties are definitely not required, but you could still slip on a sweater (if you will be in an air-conditioned environment). Try to wear something collared, like short-sleeved shirt or polo tee, or at least a fitting T-shirt.
Unless it is really warm, try to go with a clean pair of jeans. If you really have to wear shorts, get a pair that has a fitting cut, but not so tight that they are hugging your thighs.
For shoes, you may go with slip-ons like loafers, moccasins, or light-/multi- coloured dress shoes. Trainers and sports shoes are still a big no-no.
What it consists of: Almost anything, apart from what you wear to bed and what you wear to the gym.
Have you seen teens strutting around town and on campus in slippers and exercise shorts, sporting wildly coloured T-Shirts with really loud proclamations graffitied onto them e.g “You Don’t Understand Me”.
Well, it can be hard to understand why someone would package their precious selves in garish, attention-drawing, wrapping paper and walk out of the house. Sometimes, I wonder if those huge aviator sunglasses they sport is meant to hide their faces. It is just plain sloppy.
Admittedly, gym wear does have a place in Singapore outside of the gym because of our warm climate. Who wants to walk out into the 38 degree sun in even a pair of jeans!? Everyone will agree that even a slight breeze blowing through a sleeveless top provides much-need reprieve from the relentless heat. However, do try to confine them to within the neighbourhood, as being seen down Clarke Quay or Orchard Road in a tank top, loose shorts, and slippers, will definitely take a huge chunk out of your style points!