Men's Wedding Attire: The Complete Guide

There are many things to consider when it comes to the big day. There are also a lot of things to consider when deciding on your outfit that you may not have initially thought about, such as the time of day the wedding will be taking place; the additional events as part of the extended wedding celebrations; the time of year—you’d be buggered wearing a linen suit in December, or morning dress on the beach—are but a few examples.

Formal Dress

Yes, the best and most important day of your life does often tend to come with a fair bit of stress in the build up to it all, so the sooner your outfits are set, the sooner there’s one less detail to worry about. Let’s start with the classic Morning Tails. This traditional ensemble fairs well during daytime—as you can probably guess by its name—and is made up of a tailcoat, waistcoat and formal trousers. Whilst there’s always the option of sticking to an extremely formal all-black combination, it’s much more preferable (and palatable) to mix things up a little.

The tailcoat works splendidly in variations of grey—charcoal or mid-tone ideally, and always textured and matte rather than anything with a bit of lustre or sheen. The softer tones of the tailcoat, in comparison to a black iteration, will bring balance and harmony to the overall outfit. The coat itself should be contoured to fit your silhouette; be sure to avoid boxiness at all costs. Tailoring, no matter how formal or casual, is all about the fit—it’s the difference between looking like the leading man or someone that doesn’t have a clue.

The waistcoat is where you can introduce colour and a bit of personality. Speaking to menswear designer, stylist and resident sartorial expert Chris Modoo, “It was always the waistcoat where you could make things interesting. The West End of London was full of ‘wedding waistcoat’ shops in the ‘90s and ‘00s—think Four Weddings and a Funeral. Now it is about plain colours and interesting cuts.” On alternatives and style influences, Modoo goes on to say, “I think King Charles has been a positive role model in bringing back the fashion for slips (the white bordered undervest).” It’s a great element of your outfit in particular if you have a colour theme for the big day. However, at the risk of blending in with your decor, a soft yellow or powder blue will provide just enough colour and enough subtlety.

The trousers should be flat front without turn-up cuffs, although a high-waist pleated iteration does tend to look quite elegant, if not a little rakish. They’re often likely to have fishtail backs which should be worn with braces. Ideally in a contrasting tone to the morning coat—if the coat is darker, go slightly lighter and vice versa. “You also see more variation today with checks and tartans being worn, although I prefer the silver-grey cashmere stripes for trousers.” Shoes are where there needn’t be any fuss. Black polished cap toe Oxfords, sans broguing. Easy.

The unsung hero for me will always be the shirt. It’s the foundation of the whole outfit, so don’t let this slip by the wayside. Depending on the formality, you can go for a detachable wing collar with bow tie, or a cutaway collar with a classic necktie. Personally, I’ve much preferred a longer point collar over a cutaway, as I’m not a big fan of the wide tie knot, but this, as I say, is personal preference—go for whatever you prefer.

The benefits of wedding attire in 2023 is that the rules have generally been relaxing (to an extent), giving way to more freedom of expression and personality in what one wears. Modoo laments, “for the groom and immediate wedding party there has been no dressing-down or relaxing. Bespoke tailors and traditional outfitters are, in fact, recording high sales of formal occasion tailoring. Guests, however, tend to struggle a bit and now that suits are no longer commonly worn to the office, we are seeing some confusion as to what they should wear—particularly when there is no dress code.” English weddings traditionally do not express a dress code. “I think this is part of the appeal of the “black tie” wedding.”

A significantly more modern affair, the Black Tie wedding has always felt a little rock’n’roll compared to the traditional stuffiness of dress. Perfectly suitable for day or night time, you’ve also found yourself with a plethora of options in terms of jacket, suiting overall, as well as accessories and the finer details. Let’s say you have a morning or afternoon wedding, followed by an evening reception, there are ways to riff the jacket whilst always ensuring you look the part on the big day.

Black Tie Wedding

For a classic Black Tie wedding, a black tuxedo or three-piece suit are usually a failsafe. The jacket should be peak lapelled with contrast facings, and single-breasted if part of a three piece. You can also opt for a double-breasted jacket, be it 6x2 or the rather more difficult to pull off but all-the-more elegant 6x1, and although it goes without saying, you should never wear a waistcoat. I always find the latter to work so well, especially as the day (and night) goes on.

Whilst this outfit would be perfectly suited to wear all throughout the day and into the evening’s affairs, one can always swap it out for a velvet version à la smoking. These jackets are a bit more flamboyant and certainly more interesting, especially when you consider the frogging and cuff embroidery. What’s important to consider here is the harmony between the jacket and bow tie. The bow tie should be black satin or grosgrain, or alternatively, matching the colour and fabric of your jacket if you’ve gone for something other than black for the occasion—a green velvet bow tie with a green smoking jacket, and so forth. It’s important to add flair, but you needn’t clash.

The shirt once more should be a dress shirt—be it marcella, bib- or pleated-front, with dress studs or possibly a concealed placket, though I’ve never preferred the latter. There’s something quite special about dress studs, and do consider keeping a matching set of cufflinks for the shirt. Once again, harmony is the key consideration here. The formal trousers should remain black as standard, and the day time Oxfords can be swapped out for velvet slippers. I do find ones with emblems and crests a little elitist, but thankfully there are more and more iterations that are slightly more playful. And you can always fall back on a classic velvet pair without any adornments.

For guests, as Modoo says, it’s a little bit more of a minefield given the multitude of ways one can go. The most important thing is to ensure you’re not dressed so elaborately as to show anyone else up. Sometimes, simplicity is best. A classic black or midnight navy two- or three-piece suit is usually a good, and safe, bet. The dinner jacket should still be in keeping with a slightly more formal dress code—ideally with a peak lapel and contrast facings again, although now you do tend to see more self-on-self versions which can look just as good, but here keep in mind the quality of fabric—wool and cotton are safe bets, and the better the quality, the longer it will last.

Please avoid synthetics, and anything shiny. Pair this with matching trousers (uncuffed, pleated or flat front), a classic off-white cotton bib-front shirt, or, if you want to make things interesting, a cream silk. The slight lustre of the silk really makes things quite elegant and very Jagger-esque (trust me, it’s a good thing). I do like bow ties as a guest, but you can happily opt for a silk necktie. My personal preference when pairing ties with a silk shirt is a vintage black silk neck tie, as the collar of the shirt will likely be softer than those of a classic dress iteration. The cream will also work well with the black accessory, whereas if the shirt was white, the black necktie could end up making you look more like you are part of the staff. Pocket squares are a nice touch, though not essential. Again, keep it classic—white or cream will be sufficient, but if you’re going for a contrast colour and / or pattern, just make sure it doesn’t match the tie. It’s a rookie mistake that can and should be easily avoided at all costs.

The most important thing, as I touched upon earlier, is how it all fits. The jacket should be svelte and have room in the shoulders, it shouldn’t bunch at the top, or be too restrictive and tight around the arms. The shirt cuff shouldn’t be showing more than a quarter or half an inch, it’s a really big bugbear of mine. If the shirt sleeves come up long, invest in some shirt armbands so they stay plush. The shirt’s body shouldn’t be too boxy, nor tight. The trousers are more of a personal preference but in formal settings, don’t have anything that hugs your legs — it should be straight leg with a classic fit, not slim, and there should be a decent break in the trouser also. No one wants to see ankle. And I’ll leave it at that for now!