There was a time not too long ago when formal wear meant formal wear. It meant suit jackets worn with suit trousers, dress shoes, shirts and ties. It echoed with the idea of formal occasions (your second cousins wedding, distant uncles funeral or your grandma’s birthday and other such ‘events’ you were forced to attend). Formal meant business meetings where everyone was bored out of their minds listening to the boss, in his ill-fitting formal suit, boring you rigid with brainstorming sessions.
Formal wear used to automatically bring to mind stuffy men in stuffy suits looking down their noses at people they believed to be beneath them, or else it recalled the daily 9 ‘til 5 rat race, suits crammed like beans in a can upon the underground, their once pristine suits now as creased as tracing paper.
Thankfully, the term formal wear has a whole new connotation. Of course it still retains its sense of classicism but it has softened around the edges in its old age; it has embraced the modern, the new, the contemporary. No longer do we think of formal wear as simply a part of Savile Row – formal has embraced fashion.
The boundaries of modern’s menswear have expanded greatly in the past decade and none more so than with the merger of formal and casual wear. Maybe once these two sides of the style-meets-fashion divide may have peered nervously at one another across the room but the 21st Century has seen a relationship blossom in to a full-blown romance.
Nowadays no one bats an eyelid if a blazer is worn with jeans, a formal shirt is worn done up to the neck but with no tie or if suit trousers are worn with a tucked in t-shirt and trainers upon your feet. These days wear a suit with a pair of trainers or ripped, slim fitting jeans with a pair of brogues and not only will no one mind, people will actually think you are cool.
Of course there are those who do not sit well with the formal-meets-casual amalgamation but frankly, no one cares what they think because as Dylan once said: “Times they are a changin’” and it’s time for the new guard, the pioneers of both fashion and style, to take to the helm and continue the progression of menswear.
Here are a few ways in which to expand the choice in your wardrobe without having to make wholesale changes to your existing items.
If you’d worn a t-shirt tucked into your suit trousers twenty years ago, people would have thought you had forgotten your shirt; these days it’s common practice amongst fashionistas and hipsters alike. A suit jacket is optional and the t-shirt you wear is of course entirely your own choosing but may we suggest you keep it plain thus keeping an air of refinery about your person.
Where an outfit crosses the divide between formal and casual I am not entirely sure but a suit with a polo neck top certainly gives it an edge. Of course this look has been around since Paul Newman was in his pomp but it has made a return to the head of the menswear fashion table over the past couple of seasons. It’s ideal for those occasions where you wish to make an impression but want to show you can have a laugh at the same juncture. With a pair of Vans or plimsolls (see design guru’s Agi & Sam for sartorial reference) this look really will have both sides of the fashion classes scratching their heads.
The idea of wearing a blazer with chinos has been around forever – both pieces fall on the formal side of the clothing social scale – but wearing a bomber jacket or denim number with your shirt and trousers is very much a newfound phenomenon. Many people might also choose to wear trainers with this look but keep your shoes smart just to accentuate the look of your preferred casual jacket – we’ve gone for the denim number.
The only boundaries placed upon and around what we can and cannot wear lay within our own minds, its immaterial what category an item of clothing should or shouldn’t fall in to.
The same is exactly true for the lines drawn between the formal and casual divide; as men we have never had so much choice when it comes to our style choices and the options are only getting larger, formal or casual, casual or formal, it doesn’t really matter, the choice is all yours.