Formal wear (more often in the United States) or formal dress (in the United Kingdom) is a general fashion term used to describe clothing suitable for formal events, including weddings, debutante cotillions, balls, etc.
Unlike most of the fashion world, the styles of formal attire take their names from men's wear rather than female attire. Traditional 'rules' govern men's formal dress; these are strictly observed at socially conservative events such as royal weddings, and serve as starting points for the creative formal wear seen at high school proms, formal dances and entertainment industry awards shows.
Civilian formal wear can be categorized by dress codes. For the first half of the twentieth century, the codes in North America were universally accepted as:
- Formal evening wear a.k.a. Full Dress a.k.a. white tie
- Semiformal evening wear a.k.a. black tie
- Formal day wear
- Semiformal day wear
However, the continual relaxing of formal standards since World War II have led to a blurring of what constitutes
"formal" and "semi formal". Some people in this day and age, would simply not know what to wear to a formal occasion at a
place like the norbreck castle hotel or
even The Ritz for that matter. While pedigreed etiquette and menswear experts tend
to still use the traditional terms - particularly when describing dress codes for weddings - many other consultants use more
contemporary labels and definitions. It is now common to see white tie described as "very formal" or even "ultra formal" and
black tie labeled as "formal". Additionally, modern advisors allow for black tie at the most formal of events and for black
tie alternatives at any other type of formal occasion. Subsequently it has become common to use the terms "white tie"
and "black tie" to differentiate these specific dress codes from the more ambiguous and contextual "formal" or "semiformal"
In the UK, the two evening categories are known as evening dress and the day categories are known as morning dress because day wear is considered informal clothing.
The degrees of formal wear and its component elements are described at the individual fashion articles.