Formal wear, formal attire or full dress is the traditional Western dress code category for the most formal clothing, such as for weddings, christenings, funerals, Easter and Christmas traditions, formal balls and banquets with dancing, as well as certain horse racing events. Formal attire is traditionally divided into formal day and evening attire; implying morning dress before 6 p.m., and white tie (dress coat) afterwards. Generally permitted other alternatives, though, are the most formal versions of ceremonial dresses (including court dresses, diplomatic uniforms and academic dresses), full dress uniforms, religious clothing, national costumes, and most rarely frock coats. In addition, formal attire may be instructed to be worn with official orders and medals.
With background in the 19th century, the protocol indicating particularly men's formal attire have remained virtually unchanged since the early 20th century, and remains observed so in certain settings influenced by Western culture: notably around Europe, the Americas, and Australia, in addition to Japan. For women, although fundamental customs for ball gowns (and wedding gowns) likewise apply, changes in fashion have been more dynamic. Optional conventional headgear for men is the top hat, and for women picture hats etc. of a range of interpretations.
"Formal attire" being the most formal dress code, it is followed by semi-formal attire, equivalently based around daytime stroller, and evening black tie i.e. dinner suit (tuxedo), and evening gown for women. The lounge suit and cocktail dress in turn only comes after this level, associated with informal attire. Notably, if a level of flexibility is indicated (for example "uniform, morning coat or lounge suit", as seen to the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018), the host tend to wear the most formal interpretation of that dress code in order to save guests the embarrassment of out-dressing.
Since the most formal versions of national costumes are typically permitted as exceptions to the uniformity in Western formal dress code, conversely, since most cultures have at least intuitively applied some equivalent level of formality, the versatile framework of Western formal dress codes open to amalgation of international and local customs have influenced its competativeness as international standard. From these social conventions derive in turn also the variants worn on related occasions of varying solemnity, such as formal political, diplomatic, and academic events, as well as certain parties including award ceremonies, high school proms, dance events, fraternal orders, etc.
The dress codes counted as formal wear are the formal dress codes of morning dress for daytime and white tie for evenings. Although some consider strollers for daytime and black tie for the evening as formal, they are traditionally considered semi-formal attires, sartorially speaking below in formality level.
The clothes dictated by these dress codes for women are ball gowns. For many uniforms, the official clothing is unisex. Examples of this are court dress, academic dress, and military full dress uniform.
The required clothing for men, in the evening, is roughly the following:
Women wear a variety of dresses. See ball gowns, evening gowns, and wedding dresses. Business attire for women has a developmental history of its own and generally looks different from formal dress for social occasions.
In general, each of the supplementary alternatives apply equally for both day attire, and evening attire.
In Western formal state ceremonies and social functions, diplomats, foreign dignitaries, and guests of honour wear Western formal dress if not wearing their own national dress.
Many cultures have formal evening and day dress, for example:
Although ceased as a protocol-regulated required formal attire at the British royal court in 1936 at the order of the short-reigning King Edward VIII, the frock coat - embodying the background for all contemporary civil formal wear - has not altogether vanished. Yet, it is a rarity mostly confined to infrequent appearances at certain weddings.
As an example of more recent fashion, Prada's autumn editions of 2012 heavily embraced frock coats.
Men in morning dress and women in wedding gowns at wedding (1929)
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in evening white tie formal wear (1923)
Queen Elizabeth II (in ball gown) and Prince Philip (full dress uniform) before the formal (full dress) opening of the Parliament of Canada (1957), surrounded by participators of varying degrees of formal attire (morning dress, white tie etc.), presumably in accordance with their functions or time of arrival and departure.
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