The phrase “formal attire” is badly misunderstood in modern society.
Formal attire does not mean suits and ties! It is a substantially higher dress code, requiring
clothes that most men don’t own.
If you request formal attire on an invitation (and you don’t belong to an extremely wealthy
and upper class set), understand that you’re probably asking the majority of your guests to go
through the rental process.
Formal wear for men changes depending on the time of day: in daylight hours, it means
morning dress with a tailcoat and vest, while at night it means white tie.
Both of these are extremely strict dress codes.
It would be unusual (and a bit presumptuous) to request full formal attire for a personal
event. Most white-tie affairs are diplomatic events, or high-formality award ceremonies and
the occasional British sporting event.
Don’t let the diminutive phrasing fool you — semi-formal attire is still the strictest dress code
most of us will wear in our lives.
Like formal wear, semi-formal attire changes based on time of day. In the evening it is the
familiar black tie (tuxedo) ensemble, while in the daytime the stroller (a relaxed alternative to
morning dress) is appropriate.
Most modern guests will not be aware of the distinction. Tuxedos at daytime events are a
depressingly common occurrence nowadays. If you, as the host or hostess, wish men to come
attired in strollers, it may be worth your while to print out a phrase such as “Daytime Semi-
formal (Strollers for Men)” in the “Attire” or “Dress Code” section of your invitation. It’s a
bit clunky, but it prevents confusion.
Some men own their own tuxedos, but for the most part this is another dress code that will
force attendees to rent attire. Use it sparingly, and only for events of great significance like
weddings. It would be very unusual for anyone outside of the jet set to throw more than one or
two semi-formal events in his or her lifetime!
If you receive a semi-formal invitation, give yourself plenty of time for the rental process.
Expect it to take several weeks from your first fitting and outfit selection for the clothes to
arrive and be adjusted.
Be firm with the sales staff, and make it clear that you are only interested in true black tie (or daytime semi-formal) attire — these days, most of the offerings at rental outlets are cartoon-
colored costumes for high school proms and novelty weddings, not real formal and semi-
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