The new way to look smart: alternative suits

words Alexa Wang

Do you split your wardrobe into dressed-up/work-ready and casual/off-duty? Don’t. The rulebook on how modern men dress for formal events is being rewritten.

Now, there’s no need to act on your knee-jerk reaction of reaching for your suit when there’s an important event on the agenda.

Whether you can’t stand the awkwardness of a full suit, or you’re just sick of wearing the same formal gear, there are plenty of substitutes to avoid the hassle. Check out this alternative suits guide to dressing formally without a suit and get a smart and confident look to match the tone of any occasion.

Belted mac coat, waistcoat and jeans

The way to do it when it comes to subbing the full suit, is to just take pieces from the formal outfit, instead. How about ignoring the suit jacket and trousers and wearing only the waistcoat? Team it with a plain, long-sleeve shirt, dark jeans, and pair of derby shoes to get a hint of suave formality on a background of comfortable alternative suit ideas.

It’s not only about the clothing when it comes to looking formal, you also need to consider how your clothes fit your frame. For a masculine outline that enhances a slimmer waist and broader shoulders, opt for a belted mac coat in beige, grey or black that pulls you in at your stomach. Cutting the right figure outline works to take your look from unkempt to urbane regardless of what you’re wearing without you putting in any extra effort.

Double-breast waistcoat, tee, chinos, and brogues

Double-breasted waistcoats are iconic as a formal menswear clothing piece, which means you don’t have to put any extra effort into the rest of your outfit to look ideal for an important occasion. Combine with a plain t-shirt and chinos to add workable comfort to your look, then finish with a pair of embossed panel brogues for a final formal twist.

Check patterns and dark shades look best when it comes to your waistcoat choice. Since the standard tee is a typical casualwear item, we suggest wearing the same colour in a different shade to your waistcoat to maintain a subtle, sophisticated palette.

Crew-neck jumper and smart trousers

Textured knitwear is another top avenue to head down when it comes to dressing formally without a suit. Woollen men’s fashion is on-trend and versatile, making it ideal when you want to minimise you’re prepping time in the morning before work.

Ribbed, crew-neck sweaters in burgundy, navy or moss green look great under a smart, wool-blend overcoat. Since you’ve gone for a more casual torso, we recommend ‘dressing-up’ your lower half. Throw on a pair of skinny-fit, smart trousers in black or grey, then polish off your look with a pair of smart, leather, laced shoes.

Suede jacket with jeans and a tee

Suede is a true luxe menswear fabric and you should incorporate it into your no-suit wardrobe wherever you can. Like we said earlier, deconstructing the standard formal suit and rebuilding it the way you want is the best way to approach this way of dressing.

Go for a smart, black suede jacket with black jeans for the ideal spin on the traditional suit. Then, throw on a grey tee with a v-neck cut to create a streamlined illusion to your frame and customise with a black and chrome belt and suede Chelsea boots. Since the standard men’s tee is typically low-key, try and style it up with a quality watch and masculine, square-top rings.

Roll-neck sweater under a tailored suit jacket

Shape and definition are essential when you want to look confident and prepared for a special occasion — and these are characteristics that tailored suit jackets for men deliver effortlessly.

To achieve the same level of masculine distinction without the awkwardness of a full suit, pull on a slim-fit, roll-neck sweater. Roll-necks are one of the few fashion pieces that feel comfy, but look like you’ve put the effort in. Get it in a fine-gauge fabric to create a polished and streamlined torso, then add formal definition with a tailored jacket and pair of skinny smart trousers. Finish off with black or brown desert boots, and you’ve mastered a fool-proof, contemporary side-step to the traditional full suit.

Oxford shirt and blazer with pocket square or knitted tie

If you really don’t fancy wearing a traditional suit, but know the occasion’s calling for formal, don’t stress. There’s no kicking aside the fact that the long-sleeve, Oxford shirt is the simplest way to guarantee a polished formal vibe without the feeling of a heavy, full suit. So, if you want to strike the ideal balance between contemporary-casual and established-formal, start with this and build out.

Shading is essential here. Bright and bold shirts won’t cut it if you want to look suave and sophisticated, nor will outerwear and trousers that are too light. Opt for a buttoned-down Oxford shirt in a subtle, block-colour — like white or pale blue — and throw a dark, skinny-fit, wool blazer over the top. If you fancy taking it one step further, slip a pocket square into your jacket or customise your shirt with a knitted tie — still avoiding bright hues. At this point, your outfit’s polished enough, so choose either smart trousers or jeans then seal it with leather brogues.

Mix and match styles from these outfits until you hit on the ideal combo for your formal look.


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