I have been struggling with this issue of dress code for a while...especially in casual and sunny Singapore, where we take lightly these issues.
I do like to conform to dress codes as specified by the host, because they have the honoured me with their invitation, and I would like to honour them with their wishes on how their guests should be dressed.
Strictly speaking, I would catagorize dress code into 4 levels, viz Formal, Semi-Formal, Informal and Casual. And as a student of the sartorial arts, I learnt that the following are the definitions:
For day time, this should be a morning suit. The morning suit is a special suit, where the coat is a cutaway from the long frock coat of former days. Typically the coat is single breasted, in black or very dark grey and worn with a lighter grey, or buff coloured waistcoat and striped trousers. An all grey ensemble is considered less formal, but acceptable as well. Traditionally the morning suit is worn with a formal hat, like the Homburg, but these days, the hat is often dispensed with. Shoes are formal, and should be closed laced. Oxfords with cap toes are the standard. No brogues, or double soled country shoes. Boots, if closed laced either plain toe or cap toe may be worn as well. Brown may be worn these days.
For the evening, the prescription is also known as the white tie. The coat is a cutaway single breasted with tails. A black matching trousers is worn with two stripes down the outside of each leg, with no cuffs. A white waistcoat, which may be single breasted or double breasted is worn. And a white starched shirt with a white bow tie (no options for other colour...that is why its called white tie) is worn. It is important for the coat to fit well, as it is cut such that it cannot be buttoned, and remains open to display the waist coat and shirt front. A well cut coat should also just cover the waistcoat bottom, and it is incorrect to have the waistcoat peeking out from under the tailcoat.
Traditionally a silk top hat accompanies the ensemble. Shoes should be patent leather oxfords or bow slippers.
Full National Dress or a Military Uniform (No.1 Dress) is always acceptable.
My proposal for Singapore: Black Tie or Semi-Formal as a substitute. Propose host to specify: Formal or Black Tie.
For day time, this is the stroller. The coat may be double breasted in oxford grey (very dark grey) or single breasted, peak lapel. If single breasted, a waist coat cut from the same cloth should be worn. A pair of trousers which is not matching the coat is worn. The trousers should have no cuffs, and may be striped, plain lighter grey or checked. Houndstooth is a rather handsome alternative.
For evening, the prescription (I don't use this word lightly, it is a prescription, and one is obligated to follow the prescription fully, no variations) is black tie. This typically comprise of a coat and trousers cut from the same material. The trousers should have one single row of braid on each outside trouser leg, and no cuffs. If the coat is double breasted, one may dispense of a waistcoat or cummerbund. But if the coat is single breasted, a waist covering of some form is mandatory. A waist coat or cummerbund in grosssgrain or the same cloth as the coat is essential. The coat may have peaked lapels for both single or double breasted. A shawl lapel may be worn for single breasted coats. Black, oxford grey or midnight blue are the only permissible colours for the ensemble, with the exception that white may be used for the coat in warm climates or during summer. Shoes may either be patent oxfords, pumps or black, plain oxfords in calf. A black bow tie is mandatory. No long ties of any sort is allowed. And black is the only colour permissible for the bow tie...that's why the ensemble is called black tie. There is no room in the prescription for alternatives, like those we sometimes see in Hollywood events like the Academy Awards, where Creative Black Tie is an abomination of the Black Tie prescription.
The is no room for variation because the intent of formal clothing for men, is for all men to look similar, so the ladies may shine in their glorious gowns.
My proposal for Singapore hosts: Tell your guests the dress code is Formal or Black Tie.
Informal dress code means a lounge suit for the gentlemen. The suit may be single breasted or double breasted. And may be worn with or without a waistcoat. Typically the suit will comprise of either coat and trousers or coat, waistcoat and trousers. All these components should be cut from the same cloth. Shoes may be open laced or closed laced, but the gentlemen is adviced to wear single sole shoes, as the bulk of the double or triple welted soles are too bulky and will spoil the elgance of the ensemble. Black or brown are acceptable colours, though the traditional advice is no browns in town, or after 6pm. This is often relaxed these days. Also brown shoes are more interesting sartorially.
A long tie in silk, which may be woven or printed is worn. And a gentleman never removes his coat. If a double breasted coat is worn, it should always be buttoned. If a single breasted coat is worn without a waistcost, it should also always be buttoned. But if a waistcoat is worn, the wearer may have the option to unbotton his coat.
Both day and evening wear are the same, though darker colours are more sober. Traditional colours are grey and navy blue. Stripes, windowpanes and discrete patterns may be worn.
My proposal is for Singapore host to specify: Lounge suit.
Casual dress means a coat, long sleeved shirt, and no tie or a knit tie.
My proposal for Singapore hosts is to specify: Smart Casual.
For all dress, a nice pocket square, displayed on the left breast pocket of the coat is essential.
For all other occassions, I propose the hosts need not specify dress code, and the guests may come as they wish.
Some examples with photographs to follow next week.