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time to dress up

What to Wear to Any Affair

Do you know the difference between a White Tie and a Black Tie event? What jacket do you wear to a party when the invite specifies Semi-Formal attire? And what in the world does Dressy Casual mean? Whether you're suiting up for a wedding or a charity gala, here's how to dress the part.

WHITE TIE

THE PERFECT WATCH: BREGUET


It doesn't get more formal than this. Take White Tie literally and don a white bow tie. Add a vest and a stiff white full-dress shirt (linen, cotton, or cotton piqué) – collarless, with room for a detachable collar – and top it all off with a tailcoat and black patent leather shoes. A top hat is perfectly appropriate for a White Tie affair, so you have our permission to go all out for this one.

BLACK TIE

THE PERFECT WATCH: JAEGER-LECOULTRE


A step down from White Tie, dressing for a Black Tie event (like a charity dinner) still calls for head-to-toe refinement. A tuxedo with a lightweight, pocketless white shirt and a black bow tie or skinny tie is standard, with little room for creativity. Black lace-up Oxfords or more formal glossy pumps (also called opera pumps) are a must. The rest is in the details: think black silk dress socks, suspenders, and classic cufflinks.

BLACK TIE OPTIONAL

THE PERFECT WATCH: CARTIER


A more inclusive version of Black Tie, either a tux or a dark suit fits the bill at a Black Tie Optional: You'll often find that the modern gentleman will opt for the latter. The "Optional" is just that, so don't fret if your tux is at the cleaners. But if you already own the makings of a Black Tie ensemble, why not show it off?

SEMI-FORMAL

THE PERFECT WATCH: IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN


If you're erring on the side of caution, stick to a dark business suit and a simple dress shirt or button-down when dressing Semi-Formal. If it's a daytime or summer shindig, the rules are more flexible – a light-colored suit, like a summer gray, may be an option. If in doubt, check with the host.

BLACK TIE FESTIVE

THE PERFECT WATCH: BREITLING


Sometimes called Creative Black Tie, Black Tie Festive does not call for you to sport your sequined holiday sweater. You can, however, don a black dress shirt instead of a traditional white. And make sure to add playful touches for visual interest – like bold socks, a bright bow tie, or a colorful watch.

DRESSY CASUAL

THE PERFECT WATCH: TAG HEUER


At first glance it's a sartorial puzzle, but an easy one to solve if you keep two words in mind: neat and clean. For Dressy Casual, think nice trousers (you can even get away with dark denim, depending on the occasion), a collared shirt, and an optional sport coat or blazer.