Men's formal suit rules and trends: Are we wearing socks or what?

How to look smart when you're styling yourself this season.

How to look smart when you're styling yourself this season.

(Courtesy of Christopher Turner, Photography by Ryan Emberley)

Dressing up for a wedding or any formal event can be challenging for most guys. After all, there is an art to wearing a suit that has us trying to balance seasonal trends with standard menswear style rules that are steeped in tradition. Before you suit up for your next formal event (hello, summer weddings), read through ten of our favourite menswear style rules, and find out what the trends are to ensure you'll impress even the most sartorially aware guest at your next formal function.

Fit is key

The fit of your suit is everything. It doesn't matter how much you spent to get dressed up, if your suit doesn't fit you properly, it simply won't look good. Trend watchers have been embracing the trim-fitting suiting aesthetic for years. But still, one of the biggest mistakes men make when they buy a new suit is they buy it too large. Pay attention to the fit of your suit before heading to the cashier: make sure your knuckles are even with the bottom of your jacket, and your jacket sleeves fall where the base of your thumb meets your wrist. Mostly importantly pay attention to the fit of the shoulders, making sure that the shoulder pads end with your shoulders. Unsure if your off-the-rack suit is the right fit? Take it to a tailor and double check.

Button up — properly

Wait… there are rules for buttoning up your suit jacket? There are, and thankfully they are easy to follow. In this case the trend follows tradition. Every time you slip on your suit jacket, the bottom button should remain undone. Single breasted or double breasted, it doesn't matter. It's a menswear style rule that should always be followed to ensure a cleaner silhouette. When you're ready to take a seat, you're safe to unbutton your jacket to avoid wrinkles and keep the buttons from popping.

Showing off some cuff

The correct shirt sleeve length and jacket sleeve length is a hotly debated style topic, and is personal decision to the dresser. The challenge? You want to show a bit of the shirt cuff peeking out from your suit jacket, but not too much. The trend these days is to ensure that half an inch of your shirt cuff is peaking below the jacket sleeves.

The right tie length, and the tie for right now

One of the simplest menswear style rules if often the most ignored. If you are wearing a tie with your suit, the bottom of your tie should reach the belt buckle or the waistband of your trousers. No exceptions. Next? Nothing against that trusted navy neckwear hanging in your closet, but tie trends dictate that you should be wearing a knit tie this summer, or a skinny tie with fine vertical-stripes, a dark floral print or a uniform-inspired badge.

Upsize your bow tie

If you are keeping up with menswear trends and aim for your suited-up look to be fresh, replace your tie with a bow tie and you're already winning. This season the trend is to go big or go home with a bow tie that measures 2.5 inches or 3 inches in height instead of the standard 1.5 inches. The bigger, butterfly bow tie looks sophisticated, adds a bit of personality and is the size most commonly spotted on designer runways and the red carpet.

The debate: Socks or no socks?

There is something undeniably cool about the menswear trend of wearing a tailored suit with bare ankles. This easy, undone formal look is a spring/summer menswear trend that's a favourite on designer runways and makes a serious style statement. However, do wear a pair of no-show socks with your leather dress shoes for maximum comfort. Of course, this trend isn't for everybody. So if you're not onboard with the "sun's out, ankles out" menswear trend, no problem. Just remember if you do choose to wear socks, they should be pulled up high enough so that when you are sitting down there is no leg showing.

No belt too?

Wearing a belt with your suit is an old menswear tradition that is being challenged by the impossibly cool, sartorial set. The argument behind the no belt trend — and menswear aficionados having their belt loops removed by their local tailor — is that if you have a good-fitting pair of trousers, there's no need for a belt. These days it's all about personal preference. When getting ready, think carefully about whether your belt adds to the outfit or takes away from it.

Always match up your shoes

Some trends never change, like this one. If you are wearing a belt with your suit you need to remember to match your leathers. If you're opting for a brown pair of shoes, you should be wearing a brown belt to match. If you're wearing a black pair of shoes, you should be wearing a black belt to match. You get the point. The colour grade doesn't have to match perfectly, but always avoid a black/brown, belt/shoe combination.   

The do's and don'ts of pocket squares

The main rule of wearing a pocket square (and you should always be wearing a pocket square) is that it shouldn't exactly match your tie. While the colours of your tie and pocket square should complement each other, replicating your tie colour or pattern with your pocket square is a tested way to look like you've tried way too hard. Don't ever do it. Follow the trend and try wearing a bold pocket square that not only complements your suit and tie, but sparks a conversation too.

And finally, the proper way to spray cologne

Another trend that never changes is how you spritz your fragrance. Many men wear cologne on formal occasions, but most men don't actually know how to wear it the right way. Don't spray and walk out the door. Don't spray fragrance on your clothes. Lightly mist your fragrance on you wrists, neck, behind the ears and chest. Generally a distance of 3-6 inches is recommended.


Christopher Turner is a Toronto-based writer, editor and lifelong fashionisto with a passion for pop culture and sneakers. Follow him on social media at @Turnstylin.