Opportunities to dress up are dangerous. You get to scrub up and show yourself off, sure, but only if you manage to sidestep all of the fashion faux-pas that stand in your way. And with our annual celebration of love and cheap chocolate rapidly approaching, many of you might be rooting around the back of the wardrobe for your ties and dusting off some old blazers that last saw the light of day at your auntie Jeans wedding six months ago.

So, how do you know what to wear when?

Shirts are the base layer for any smart outfit. On the whole, you won’t get past the realms of casual in a T-shirt. If you’re going for a well put together everyday outfit, a loose collar or even collarless shirt should cover it. But for anything smarter, you’re going to need a shirt that can take a tie, with a stiff collar and plenty of length to tuck in. Then you’ll need three items: a tie, a waistcoat and a blazer.

Smart casual:

You’re going for dinner with the family or with your mates at a restaurant. It’s nothing formal, but you’re celebrating, so a T-shirt seems a little too comfortable. In situations that require the minimum amount of dressing up a decent pair of jeans and a clean open-collar shirt of any colour might cover it, but to make yourself look as sharp as possible without looking overdressed you’ll want to add any one of the three accessories mentioned above. Be aware though, that though they will all work in smart-casual situations, a tie always makes things look dressier. From casual to smartest the combos go: shirt with waistcoat, shirt with blazer, shirt and tie.


You need to look good. You’re picking up a Valentine’s date in half an hour to take them to the theatre, but you can’t decide what to wear. In situations that require you to be clearly dressed up, but not looking like you run a bank, you want to wear a smart shirt, preferably white or light blue, with good trousers and two of the accessories mentioned above. As ever, there are different levels in this category. From most casual to almost formal the combos go: waistcoat with blazer, waistcoat with tie, blazer and tie.


You’re getting ready for a wedding or perhaps you have a job interview later and you’re terrified of being underdressed. Without crossing the line into tuxedoes and black tie outfits, you have to look amazing. Here you will need that crisp white shirt, this time with double cuffs that can take cufflinks if possible. Items like cufflinks and tie bars are good additions to spruce up an outfit, but they are not absolutely necessary if you don’t have any. The blazer and tie combo works here too, though for the more formal you’ll want to pay more attention to your colour and pattern use, mainly sticking to block colours and minimal patterns. Alternatively, you can go for the unequivocally formal; a three-piece blazer, waistcoat and tie combo. This is fine for interviews and the like, but is ideal for weddings and balls.

So there you have it! Who said dressing up nice was difficult?