Let's face it, the world has gone casual—so casual that even world leaders are giving their ties the boot. If the last few years have taught us anything, it's that the days of mandatory suit-and-tie combos are dwindling. In our post-2020 reality, the most formal many of us need to get is a blazer without a tie. But ah, herein lies the sartorial trap: viewing the “blazer sans tie” look as merely a business casual outfit with the tie omitted. That's like ordering an Old Fashioned without the bitters and still calling it a cocktail —that's just iced whiskey with sugar in it.
This isn't about dressing down an outfit by pulling a tie out of the equation; that's a mistake that feels like “I just loosened up after a business meeting.” Instead, we're aiming for a different league here. We want to assemble an ensemble that exudes the ideal level of formality, not a watered-down version of something else. The goal is to look like you’re wearing the perfect outfit for the occasion, not an altered one.
So as we get into the nitty-gritty of mastering the blazer without a tie, let's operate under a new framework. This isn't about subtraction; it's about reconfiguration. It's about understanding how each piece contributes to a balanced, complete look that perfectly matches the vibe you're going for. After all, in a world where even politicians are ditching the neckwear, it’s high time we all learned how to rock a blazer on terms that fit modern life.
Tip 1: Ask Yourself How Close to a Uniform You Want to Be
Historically, suits and formal wear have served as an exercise in uniformity—social manners manifesting as a singular, consistent way to dress for a group of people. Think of a black tie event where the men are all dressed in one of just a few variations of a tuxedo. The idea is to make everyone look somewhat similar, shifting the focus away from individual fashion choices and onto the event itself. This has changed somewhat as black tie events have become less rigid over time.
The blazer and sportcoat, while originally an act of sartorial rebellion against more formal requirements, still exists on this spectrum. It is possible and sometimes desirable to wear a blazer and appear less standout-ish and more uniform like.
Other times, the occasion calls for a blazer sans tie, be it a business function with written or unwritten dress codes, a rehearsal dinner at an upscale restaurant or other quasi-formal event allows for a lot of personalization and personality.
Knowing the answer to this uniformity question guides your choices in styling a blazer without a tie. If you choose to go down a more uniform approach, the classic and enduring combination of a navy blazer, solid dress shirt, and gray dress pants is an excellent business casual outfit.
Tip 2: Mess with Formality
When most men see a blazer, they immediately categorize it as either A) a dressed-up outfit or B) a less dressy, business-y outfit. But why limit yourself? You can play around with this perception.
Pairing Levi's 501s with a white oxford cloth button-down shirt, a casual blazer, and suede chukkas can create an effortlessly stylish look. It's perfect for a meal at a trendy yet relaxed restaurant or weekend outings like engagement parties, whiskey tastings, or winery trips.
The key here is choosing a casual blazer that complements your other casual pieces—don't just use casual items to dress down a formal blazer. Casual blazers are often unstructured and made from textured fabrics, like the cotton blazer from J.Crew I'm sporting. Other options include linen, linen blends, tweed, or even French terry (basically a sweatshirt blazer).
And keep an eye on the jean fit; you don't want too much break at the shoes. The goal is a thoughtfully casual but still intentional vibe. You can see in the photo above that the jeans fall just on top of my boots but don't overly bunch up.
Similarly, with a hefty enough blazer, a denim button up shirt makes a great layer. You start leaning in to the rugged outdoor aesthetics of the sportcoat's history.
Tip 3: Move the Missing Tie Pattern to Your Trousers
A necktie tends to act as a focal point for outfits that have them, usually by way of high contrast solid color or patterns. It can add visual interest to otherwise minimalist or solid basics, and is an easy way to mix things up with your capsule wardrobe items.
When we lose the tie, it can sometimes feel like something’s missing, and there is: a source for pattern. You can find a few ways to accommodate this, whether that’s stripes or checks on a shirt, the addition of a pocket square, or a fun alternative, replacing the missing pattern by choosing a patterned dress pant like these Banana Republic glen check trousers. It’s subtle and not flashy, but in person is quite noticeable and plays excellently with the solid colored jacket and shirt.
Tip 4: Make Up for Lost Collar Structure
We all secretly strive for that effortlessly cool James Bond post-strangling a guy with your tie collarless look but most dress shirts just aren’t designed for an open collar to stand on its own. This can be because the shirt material is too fine, which means it will collapse under its own weight or movement.
Other times a shirt collar slides under a blazer from movement and stays trapped there.
This can be a real bummer when you realize it much later, like for instance, this photo of me at a wedding rehearsal dinner in Ireland last year that I was the best man for:
All of our photos from the evening have wonky, droopy collar and it really kills an otherwise handsome and casually elegant look. The real bummer is I had my Slick Collar but I packed it with my suit that I was wearing in the wedding and so I forgot to put it on as we were rushing around getting ready for the rehearsal dinner.
The Slick Collar is one of those super affordable, easy solutions to an annoying problem that just works. I’ve been using mine for years:
It basically does for your full collar what a set of collar stays do for the tips of your collars: Keep them from curling and collapsing. It’s an adjustable lightweight band that sits under your collar. It’s completely comfortable and you don’t even know it’s there; half of the times I wear it, it goes flying across the room while undressing after a long day because I forgot that I was wearing it.
So, completely nonintrusive, excellent at fixing the problem, and super cheap. What’s not to love?
All of the outfit photos with collars in this article feature the Slick Collar, even the polo and OCBD.
Tip 5: Swap Out The Button-Up Shirt
Many guys get so stuck on the business casual look that they forget a blazer is a versatile piece, not just a topper for your dress shirts. Before you reach for that go-to button-up again, consider this: other styles of shirts can slide under a blazer and look just as smashing.
Knit polos have made a comeback, combining casual design with a more refined, smart-casual aesthetic, thanks to their knit texture. They pair beautifully with less formal blazers, offering another step away from the classic blazer-and-dress-shirt combo.
This look was first featured in a 2017 article about What to Wear When You’re Not Sure How Dressed Up to Be and it still looks great. Wearing a blazer over a sweater strikes that perfect balance of being dressed up without risking overdressing. If you find out the event is more casual than you thought, just take off the blazer. No fussing with untucking your shirt or worrying about wrinkly tails.
So go ahead, give that neglected blazer in your closet a new lease on life, and redefine what it means to be the best-dressed person in the room—even if that room is just your home office. Here's to embracing the new formal, one blazer at a time.