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When is it okay for a guy to wear a suit without a tie?

The question

I have just purchased a new suit in dark charcoal with a faint blue stripe. When attending both weddings and funerals in it, I was amazed to find that no one else was wearing a tie with a suit like mine. If that's correct form, what style of shirt should I try this look with: button-down, straight or spread collar?

The answer

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I understand that some people have casual weddings, and that sometimes the groom himself may not be wearing a tie. (Even I have known sad, sad cases like this.)

But the rule with weddings is this: when in doubt, you wear a suit and tie. You only go casual if there is a clear stipulation on the invitation to do so, and you know the groom's dad is going to stick to it, too.

Funerals are another matter. People in charge of arranging funerals don't decide on dress codes: they have other things to be thinking about. Instead, the attendees respectfully adhere to a prescribed dress code to make everything easier. And that code is simple: Wear a tie – especially with a blue-pinstriped charcoal suit. That is not a casual item. Pair it with an open-neck shirt and you are going to look like a young banker who wishes he had time to go home and change before going out – a look that says he has chugged a couple of martinis and is about to remove his wedding ring, too.

Yes, there is such a thing as a casual suit, usually made of a fabric other than wool, or fashion-forward in some way (black and shiny, for example) that makes it a little less sober. There is a certain nightclub-friendly, art-collecting, suit-with-no-tie look that the more sartorially adventurous can pull off, no problem. With this kind of suit, you wear a dress shirt or sport shirt or even a T-shirt. There is no rule as to length of collar (although personally I have always found button-down collars to be a little sexless).

If you are in the Advanced Class – that is, you are confident – you can even wear sneakers with a suit. Just not with a charcoal banker's suit. And not to a funeral.

Novelist Russell Smith's memoir, Blindsided, is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a style question? E-mail

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