Today, we’re going to guide you on what to wear to a birthday dinner.
Whether it’s a work colleague, someone close to you, or a friend of your wife or girlfriend, it’s important to dress the part at anyone’s birthday dinner.
Not only is it the respectful thing to do, but it’s always a good idea to present your best self at any celebration, regardless of the dress code (or lack thereof).
It’s important to not look out of place. Casual doesn’t mean sloppy, and formal doesn’t mean boring. Don’t worry, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds!
Let’s get to it with the first and most basic question…
What is the Location of the Birthday Dinner?
The location can sometimes make all the difference. If you weren’t given any guidance on what to wear, where it’s happening can give you a hint or even be a dead giveaway.
The usual suspects for a birthday dinner are:
- At someone’s house
- At an event space
- And at a restaurant, of course
If the dinner is happening at someone’s house, you can never go wrong with a smart casual approach, unless the hosts have noted otherwise. This applies to whether or not it’s at the celebrant’s house.
If it’s at an event space, there are a few questions to consider. Is it indoor or outdoor? If it’s at a banquet hall, you might have to dress more formally.
If the dress code is cocktail, but it’s at the beach, you might want to consider sleek but easy footwear, like leather slip-ons.
We’ll go into more detail on how to navigate smart casual in a bit!
Since restaurants range from very casual to very formal, let’s talk a little bit about that.
What to Wear to a Birthday Dinner at a Restaurant
The first thing to reference for a restaurant dinner party isn’t actually the restaurant’s dress code, but the invitation.
If there’s an official invite, even if it’s just a message in a group text, check to see if there’s any note regarding what to wear. The host might put a theme or jacket request on top of the place’s dress code.
You could also ask other friends who are attending what they plan on wearing, if you’re really at a loss. But again, the safest and most common approach is to go the smart casual route.
Different Approaches to Smart Casual
In addition to smart and business casual, there’s also “cocktail” which is just a tad bit more formal. The difference between the two is usually more relevant at weddings, rather than birthday dinners.
Still, when dressing somewhere between casual and formal, analyze the below three qualities of a piece of clothing, to figure out whether it falls more on the casual or formal side of the spectrum:
We go over this in detail on our How to Dress Business Casual post, but basically, the simpler the item of clothing is, the more formal.
For example, neutral colors like black, gray, and navy are more formal. Patterns, bright colors, and added complexities like utility pockets are less formal.
Higher-end and Formal Restaurants
If it’s a really high-end restaurant, or one that requires you to wear a dinner jacket, lean more into the former than the latter. You can go for an after-work mid-week look here, meaning a nice crisp suit sans tie, or you can go for a broken suit approach.
If you work in a pretty formal office, and the dinner is for a colleague, you should definitely go for a blazer over a sport coat.
If it’s a friend’s birthday (still at that fancy restaurant), you can go for a sport coat, as long as it’s a solid-colored one. Try to avoid patches, herringbone, and a lot of pockets. From there, balance it out with clean-lined, solid-colored pieces.
How far you can stray from this depends on the restaurant.
You can be more creative at an upscale place that’s trendier. Examples include Vegas hotel restaurants, or places like Tao or Buddakan in New York, and most high-end late-night restaurants at destination-type areas.
If you’re not sure what this means, look for the following qualities: Louder music, darker lighting, later hours, and a generally more modern look.
You should still stick to clean and streamlined shapes, but you can go for brighter colors and dark denim—basically what you’d wear to a high-end lounge.
Contrast stitching or minimalist men’s jewelry can go a long way on a classic silhouette. And instead of formal leather shoes, you can go for slip-ons and even clean, monochromatic low-profile sneakers.
Be relaxed, not sloppy. Unless the birthday dinner is a last-minute stop at a Shake Shack or an In-N-Out, skip the zip-up hoodie.
Even at a super informal restaurant, maybe at a casual dim sum place or a low-key brick oven pizza situation, just go a step beyond a t-shirt and jeans. It’s a celebration, after all.
Quarter-zip sweaters and neutral-toned cashmere sweaters make excellent outerwear. And speaking of outerwear, another thing to consider is the time of year and season.
The difference between cold and warm season party wear is mainly in color and knit. For the most part, in the winter, you’ll want to wear the darker-colored, heavier-knit counterpart to what you’d wear in the summer.
For example, instead of the ecru linen sport coat you wore to a beachside lobster dinner in July, go for a sophisticated brown tweed coat.
Here are a few more examples:
Birthday Dinner Outfit Ideas for Winter
Here are some essentials for the cold seasons. A combination of any of these will work perfectly at casual restaurants or a dress-code-ambiguous party at someone’s house.
- Shawl cardigan or cashmere sweater
- Oxford cloth button down, otherwise known as the OCBD
- Gray dress trousers
- Tweed sport coat (you can start wearing this as early as fall)
- Leather loafers
To play it safe, stick to these menswear neutrals: Black, winter white, darker browns and tans, olive, and navy.
Birthday Dinner Outfit Ideas for Summer
Now here are a few easily-matched separates for summer.
- Light-colored linen sport coat
- Lightly-woven polo
- Khakis / chinos
- White low-profile leather sneakers
The menswear neutrals that work best for summer are white, lighter tans, khaki, light blue, and navy, which also works in winter, as previously mentioned.
Sometimes themes call for costumey pieces, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look put-together.
Of course, if the theme is James Bond or prohibition-era murder mystery, your best suit will do.
But if the theme is more irreverent, say Studio 54 or Hawaiian luau, the best way to pull off looks you wouldn’t normally go for is by ensuring all of the pieces are well-fitted.
From there, find ways you can level up certain accessories. For example, if it’s a tiki theme, wear leather boat shoes instead of cheap flip flops.
Just don’t completely avoid the theme because you’re scared of looking silly or it isn’t “your style”. It’s important to be respectful to the celebrant, and also to not look like you’re too uptight to have a little fun with yourself!
Sometimes, for big birthdays, like 30ths, 40ths, and 50ths, people will throw a genuinely formal party. They might rent a banquet hall or a private room at a nice restaurant.
For these rare occasions, follow the same rules you would when attending a wedding. The good news here is that there will usually be a formal invitation and that the dress code will be pretty clear.
If the invitation says “black tie” or “white tie”, you’ll wear a tuxedo or a black, formal suit. If the invitation says “formal”, that usually means black tie optional, so you could go for a dark suit, tie, and neutral
Some Important Pieces to Have
Now that you know how to dress for different birthday dinner situations, here are some of our favorite essentials, all dinner-appropriate!
Bonobos Jetsetter Stretch Blazer
This blazer features a laser-sharp silhouette and light construction, making it more versatile than its formal look will have you think. If you go for a neutral hue, like washed blue or gray, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this guy.
Spier & Mackay OCBD
"A cornerstone of American sportswear for decades, Oxford Cloth Button-Down shirts are as iconic as they come. A heavier fabric with a distinct texture, oxford cloth breaks in, softens and simply gets better with age, creating a shirt that’s literally lived in." –S&M
When in doubt, go for an oxford cotton
Uniqlo’s high-value chinos are built with a flattering streamlined silhouette. They’re thin, not skinny, perfectly balancing modern and classic fits. They can be worn in smart casual or casual settings, which is exactly what you want out of chinos. Plus, they come in all the menswear neturals, from beige to olive.
Bonobos Dark Rinse Denim
Not only are these denim pants sleeker than the average jeans thanks to their dark wash and classic fit, but they’re made to be extra stretchy too. They’re easy and comfortable to move in, meaning you can wear them to a birthday dinner, and whatever else the night might bring, from nightcap bar-hopping to clubs or lounges.
Naadam Essential Cashmere Sweater
Naadam makes a lot of high-quality outerwear, including some great cardigans and quarter-zips. Their Essential Cashmere is one of the best deals out there. For $75, you get a sustainably-built classic sweater in several color options. It’s made from 100% Mongolian cashmere, which is especially long and fine, effectively keeping you warm in winter and cool in spring.
Properly follow the dress code in more formal situations, and go for clean smart casual pieces on more informal occasions. Regardless of where you’re at in a relationship, you never want to take date night for granted, so you dress like you care.
Lunch is a generally less formal affair than dinner, so you’ll likely be choosing from the casual-leaning points above. Still, the same rules apply. Check the invite for any themes or requests, consider the location, and dress accordingly.
If it’s your birthday, you’re allowed to level up from the party’s dress code if you like. If it’s smart casual, feel free to wear your favorite suit. If it’s casual, don’t be afraid to wear a snazzy sport coat over your polo.
We Hope That Was Helpful!
Most birthday dinners don’t stray too far from the cocktail and smart casual realms, so it helps to think of that category as a starting point.
Which essential pieces did you like best?
If you have any other style questions, feel free to DM us on Instagram!