If there’s one aspect of fashion that’s stumped people for time immemorial, it’s how to dress for an event, be it a gala dinner or a cocktail function. Unlike celebrities who have entourages of stylists to deck them out for the Met Ball, the Academy Awards or even a simple store appearance, us mere mortals are left to fend for ourselves. If you receive an invitation with stated guidelines like “lounge suit” or the perpetual head-scratcher that is “smart casual”, don’t fret. Here are some rules to follow that should get you to your next event looking fashion appropriate and on the right side of stylish.

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Boglioli blazer, available from MrPorter.com

Smart Casual
The term “smart casual” may be the two most confusing words ever strung together in fashion. The problem stems from the fact that everyone has different ideas of what makes up “smart” and “casual”, which only adds up to one big mess.
Idiot-proof solution: Invest in a well-fitted navy blazer. Pair it with dark jeans, a shirt or T-shirt and loafers. You can’t go all that wrong with this ensemble. Too warm for a jacket? Opt for a smart (and again, well-fitted) shirt with a subtle print or in a solid hue. Wear it with chinos and a classic pair of shoes like loafers, monk-straps or even sneakers.

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Thom Sweeney Blue Weighouse Suit, available from MrPorter.com

Cocktail / Lounge suit
Cocktail events are some of the most fun to dress up for. For one, there is always the promise of alcohol. Two, they don’t call for the stiff formality of a tuxedo and you can be a little more outlandish and experimental in your style to a reasonable degree. This is your chance to debut a new ensemble and play around with your accessories. Occasionally, the invitation might say Lounge suit, which translates to similar dress.
Idiot-proof solution: Cocktail events always call for a suit. A charcoal grey or navy suit is a fantastic choice. Wear it with crisp white shirt, a classic-print tie and a pocket square. If you’re feeling a little more daring, a printed bow-tie works too. When it comes to footwear, stick to black dress shoes.

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Lanvin Slim-Fit Tuxedo, available from MrPorter.com

Formal / Black Tie
Although frequently used interchangeably, there are slight variations between Formal and Black Tie dress codes. Black Tie is tuxedo mandatory. A tuxedo is just as fitting for a formal event, but in Singapore you can often get away with two- or three-piece suit worn with a bow-tie or tie.
Idiot-proof solution: If you find yourself invited regularly to such events (fancy, aren’t we?), go ahead and invest in a well-made tuxedo. It will see you through years of such soirees. Even if midnight blue has been making its presence felt on the red carpet, black is always the safest and easiest choice. Pick a single- or double-breasted jacket with a notch or shawl collar with a silk facing. Pair it with hi-rise pants of the same material. Wear it with a white shirt, black bow tie (never pre-tied, for the love of God) and black lace-ups.

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Tom Ford and Benedict Cumberbatch in White Tie

White Tie
I’d imagine only 0.1-percenters of society ever get invited to white tie events, but this ultra-rare dress code is still worth talking about. This is considered the highest formality in Western menswear. Examples of White Tie events include the Met Ball, State dinners and over-the-top celebrity parties like Sir Elton John’s White Tie and Tiara Ball.
Idiot-proof solution: This is a do-or-die situation. Compromise on White Tie and you’ll be blacklisted forever. Tailor a black tail coat, matching trousers with a satin or braid stripe down the seams, white wing-collared shirt, white waistcoat and of course, a white bow tie. Black socks and black lace-ups are mandatory.

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The Idiot Proof Guide to Decoding Dress Codes
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