Fashion Dictator On Confusing Dress Codes

Each week, Esquire's Fashion Director, Catherine Hayward answers your style conundrums. Tweet your questions to her @chaywardstyle, or email her.

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I've been invited to an event that calls for "cool chic" attire and I'm finding it difficult to dress for. How can I look pulled-together without appearing stuffy?
 – Adam , via email.


I feel your pain when it comes to party invitation descriptions: Cool chic, lounge suit, smart casual. What do they all mean exactly?

It seems they’re added to invites to confuse and bewilder rather than make the process – dressing appropriately for an event – a simple affair. But fear not. We are nothing if not helpful at Esquire and so let us decipher the style codes and get you togged up in something cool and chic. See? The addition of a simple conjunction and it’s getting easier already.

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Now, if the event is post 6pm, it probably falls into the ‘cocktail’ category – there you go, there’s another one – which means you could consider some evening wear options that aren’t too ‘black tie’. That’s another one – sorry. "Black tie" is, of course, the full-on penguin ensemble – and often stuffy – but certain key elements will most certainly work in this instance.

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Consider this: a plaid trimmed tux blazer from Alexander ‘McQueen’s younger McQ label – a more casual take on the brand’s more luxurious roots. The cut is very sharp and the flash of tartan on the shawl collar is a subtle nod to the punk era which transforms a classic tux into something altogether ‘cooler’. Team it with a smart dark jean and t-shirt and hey presto, you’re ready to party.

Or this:  Topman’s skinny fit navy tux suit can be bought as separates so the jacket is just £110. Midnight blue is the perfect hue for evening as it works so well under artificial light. Wear with a more casual contrasting black trouser or smart inky blue jeans. Or wear the tux trousers – which are just £50 – with a dark fine knit long sleeved polo sweater from Sunspel for a more relaxed feel.



A velvet jacket with a casual trouser is another fail-safe yet very chic option for well-put together event dressing. This inky version by Bellfield – an independent, vintage inspired London based brand – has the pre-requisite peaked lapels which feels very dressy yet at just £65, it begs to be dressed down with a faded denim jean and sneakers combo.


And if you’re feeling even more experimental, I’m all for breaking some rules in the evening so try this: a midnight blue navy suede blouson jacket from Reiss. With a dark shirt or t-shirt, a smart pair of strides in a textured cloth and a dressier monk shoe, it’s a very modern way to feel cool and chic for an evening ‘do’


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