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Cocktail Attire for Men: Everything You Need to Know

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Scores of people still believe that cocktail attire for men is a casual dress code. Nothing could be further from the truth. You get an invitation to a party and it specifically says cocktail attire for men, you then go into your closet and immediately pull the khakis and polo shirt you wore to that “one thing” you went to a few months ago.

Cocktail attire and casual dress code, it’s the same thing, right? 

Wrong.

When an invitation reads cocktail attire, what it really means is that it’s giving you the opportunity to be one of the best dressed, dapper people in the room.

Let’s get into it. 

What is Cocktail Attire For Men?

Men’s cocktail attire actually comes from a semi-formal dress inspiration that bridges the gap between relaxed, casual daywear and prim and proper formal wear. 

Simply put, cocktail attire for men is a dress code reserved for mostly formal but more colorful occasions, ranging from your friend’s wedding bash to that expensive dinner party. Perfect for that party invitation you received a week ago. 

It’s usually considered at par with typical business attires. You could easily create a fitting cocktail attire ensemble just by using an outfit you would wear to the office.

Now while this may be true, don’t confuse business attire with boring. There are a plethora of options available to you (as you will see from the photos below) that can take your usual business attire and make it elegant.

“It’s the dressing for a fun event,” says Mark Powell, bespoke tailor and fashion designer.

Designer Oliver Spencer describes it as being stylish, yet slightly unconventional.

The best thing about this type of dress code is that it allows you to show some of your personality.

Something like choosing a dark gray suit with colorful accessories (bow tie with suspenders and a pocket square) that compliment each other is a great example. 

In truth, your dress code should be dictated by the category of occasion you’re attending, its location, as well as the time of day. 

For instance, a cocktail outfit for a wedding event should be simple and charming. On the other hand, choose a smart outfit for a business networking event.

In contrast, a new year’s party demands something more – groovy. This dress code is often found on invitation cards for weddings and other formal events.

In this article, you’ll receive our experts’ tips on how to pull off a simple yet elegant cocktail attire.

We’ve included an assortment of photos to give you some creative ideas. And don’t sweat it, you’ll look good and have fun doing it.

Do’s and Dont’s of Men’s Cocktail Attire

cocktail attire for men, cocktail attire,
The perfect look for business casual and cocktail attire. Photo Credit: Adley Haywood

These rules are just a framework, something for you to consider if you have no idea what to wear.

Please don’t be afraid to experiment or outright ignore some of these completely, they’re just a frame of reference. 

Cocktail Attire Do’s:

If the occasion demands for a cocktail dress code, men should wear:

  • A button-down shirt in white or any muted color.
  • Any dark color suit that is not black or pinstriped.
  • A plain or subtle-patterned tie.
  • A pocket square.
  • Black or brown shoes with a leather sole. 
  • Socks that compliment your suit and shoes.

Cocktail Attire Don’ts:

  • Don’t wear your black suit to a cocktail event; this should be reserved for funerals.
  • Don’t wear a tuxedo or white tie – it would be too formal for the dress code.
  • Don’t wear a pinstripe suit, flashy accessories, or bright colored ties to weddings – the couple should be the cynosure of all eyes, not you.
  • Don’t wear casual clothes (such as chinos, jeans or khakis) to a cocktail event.
  • Don’t forget to include a tie – you’d look too casual without one.

Cocktail Party Tip #1: 

Going to a party where you don’t know many people? The bar should be your first go-to.

The easiest way to meet new people is when they’re standing right next to you waiting on their drink.

The bar is easily the most social place at a cocktail party. Also, you make the impression that you’re ready to mingle and have a good time with a drink in your hand. 

Cocktail Attire For Men: Pieces and How to Don Them

cocktail attire for men, cocktail attire,
A classic look. Suspenders and a gold watch for that pop of color.

Just a quick note, please don’t think you have to spend thousands or even hundreds of dollars to look good in your cocktail attire.

This guide is meant to break it down in simple elements of style any man can replicate and afford. 

Your Suit

cocktail attire for men, cocktail attire,

The type of suit you choose will frame everything else you wear. That’s why we recommend a classic solid color suit.

Plenty of men own a premium dark navy blue or Mud gray suit, so it gives you the option of focusing more on the accessories. However, there are countless suit styles that you can wear to a professional cocktail party.

Below are several options that work besides just the classic solid color suits.  

Typically, smart jackets and trousers appear better for a cocktail party than a traditional suit. This ensemble fits nicely with a colorful blazer or jacket combined with a modest-looking pair of trousers.

Color-wise, burgundy or olive green is better than grey.

The blend you finally achieve with your blazer and trousers may equally have the kind of details you would not ordinarily achieve with a conventional suit, such as the turn-back cufflinks or a silky grosgrain shawl collar. 

With that in mind, remember to make sure the textures patterns and of your blazer and trousers work together. They don’t have to match, in fact, we hope you won’t perfectly match them, but they should play off each other.

A lighter grey blazer with a bit more woolen texture and a windowpane pattern would work well with nice charcoal grey trousers.

Below are a few examples of ways to switch up your cocktail attire and look good doing it.  

Your Shirt

A cocktail event gives you the freedom to don a stylish shirt – with a characteristic collar shape.

Nonetheless, dress shirts aren’t that easy to execute and should only be combined with an appropriate jacket.

For a standard shirt, make sure it’s in black or white color and the type to hold a stand-up collar firmly if you choose to wear a tie with your shirt, select one whose color and pattern combines well with your entire attire.

Your Shoes

Photo by Jia Ye on Unsplash

Loafers remain the shoe of choice among sophisticated men for cocktail events – penny suede or tasseled do it. Monk-strap shoes are equally acceptable shoe brands, particularly when given a bright-shine polish. 

However…

The most important thing to remember for choosing the right pair of shoes is the implied perception.

Loafers may look great but if they give you the look of being on a boat then you shouldn’t wear them.

In a business setting or a wedding venue, the safest bet is the classic leather-soled Oxfords. They will never fail in helping you achieve a look of professionalism and elegance. 

The Roll Neck: What About It?

Unlike the open-neck shirt, the roll neck shapes the face and doesn’t look lost without a tie on.

If you fancy this alternative, opt for a cotton, merino or silk roll neck. Otherwise, you’d end up looking sweaty at your occasion.

And the Accessories? Check out our Top Shelf Men’s Accessory Box

gift box for men

With Cocktail events, you get to wear your flashy accessories even if it’s a workplace occasion.

Take such times as your chance for self-expression.

And of course, we’re going to suggest a dapper pair of suspenders.

Suspenders add a flash of extravagance without going overboard on excessive accessories.

Also, you’ll probably be one of the few people wearing a pair. Try out our Blue Navy Suspenders for instant splash of class and style.

blue suspenders, cocktail attire for men,

Quick Suspenders Tutorial:

The most important aspect to remember when it comes to suspenders is pattern and color.

Never choose a pattern that is the same as the shirt you’re wearing. If you choose to wear a pattern make sure it compliments your shirt.

A pattern that is too busy can quickly take away the dapper effect suspenders provide.

If going for a solid color, choosing a darker shade that is the same as your shirt or contrasting color is always a safe bet.

Check out our guide on How to Wear Suspenders.

Another accessory that can add a touch of your favorite color and patterns is the classic silk neck scarf. Alternatively, use a simple pocket square for combined effects.

You may add accessories to express your personality and style further. A bespoke wristwatch or distinctive cufflinks might be all that sets you apart from the rest at a cocktail event.

Cocktail Party Tip #2: 

The best way to introduce yourself is to be bold. Walk up to someone look them in the eye and say, “Hello, I’ve been meaning to introduce myself. My name is …”

Having the confidence to walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself in a straightforward manner seems simple but the majority of people wait to be introduced by a mutual acquaintance.

Don’t miss out because you waited for the host. 

Finally, Your Tie

cocktail attire for men, cocktail attire,

A tie presents you with a chance to communicate your personality through the attire.

Such an event is a perfect opportunity to select more daring fashion styles than on casual occasions

Experiment with different textures and patterns for your necktie.

Knitted ties are still very much in style and add an extra quality of texture to your suit.

Try a pattern that is not too overwhelming but far from boring as well. Polka dots, paisleys, even flowers are a nice touch.

Try our Navy Knitted Tie. It’s sure to give a great impression at any cocktail event (weddings, banquets, etc.)

navy knitted tie, cocktail attire for men,

Also, different style knots are an excellent way to show individuality. The style of knot you wear should be dictated by the type of shirt collar and material of the tie.

Silk works best for intricately woven knots.

Tip: The tie knot should conceal your collar behind it. Tighten it until it does. At the same time, your collar should perfectly frame your fastened tie, if you wear one. 

Bonus tip: 

A bowtie is a bold way to turn heads in any event, especially paired with a dapper pair of suspenders. 

Different Cocktail Attires for Different Seasons

This is a great example of a classic garden cocktail attire for a wedding.

Generally speaking, during the warmer summer months, you can attend cocktail events in light-colored or bright outfits. For the winter months, you may wear solid flannel with patterns, and a bow tie.

Don’t forget the general rule, “the more colors and patterns you wear, the less formal you’ll look.”

Cocktail Party Tip #3:

Have at least 3-5 topics of conversation to always fall back on.

Relevant topics that appeal to the general crowd around you is the best bet.

Something related to your city, like a new restaurant opening or maybe the debut of a play on Broadway.

Even something as simple as asking what they’re weekend plans are could open up a great conversation.

Always ask open-ended questions, never ask questions around sensitive topics like sex, religion, politics, etc. And a compliment goes a long way.  

Experts’ Tips On Cocktail Attire for Men

Here are four expert tips to consider when you’re contemplating the best choice of attire for your next cocktail event.

These style principles will help you assemble your cocktail wardrobe with elegance redefined

The Occasion Should Guide Your Choice of Attire

Depending on the occasion, your dress code will always be different. As such, you should know where you’re going before building your party clothesline.

The essential elements to keep in mind include the event’s location, the reason for the event, and the time of the event.

Once you’re armed with all relevant information, you can then proceed to pick your cocktail outfit with confidence.

If the Event’s A Wedding

You’ll want to respect the couple by dressing modestly with a hint of sophistication. That way, you’ll avoid diverting attention away from the bride and the groom.

For most weddings, elegant and simple outfits do the magic. Be that as it may, if the invitation mentions something specific, you may want to respect their wishes by adjusting your attire appropriately.

If It’s a Formal Cocktail Party

You may remain conservative with your dress code and instead select a black suit combined with a white shirt and black leather shoes.

In any case, your accessories could be used to show class.

Try our Blue Floral Pocket Square to contrast with the suit and don’t forget to wear your favorite cufflinks.

Floral Pocket Square, cocktail attire for men,

If it’s Just a Casual Cocktail Party

Casual cocktail parties are an entirely different proposition. Opt for a sports jacket or blazers with a pair of dark-colored jeans, because your business suit would be too formal for such occasions.

This is particularly true for summer cocktail events where you’ll often need to adjust your dress for the heat.

In summary, the basic principles to help you assemble a perfect cocktail wardrobe are as follows:

  • Start with your goals
  • Dress accordingly. Dark solid color suits work, but you can mix it up with a blazer and a nice pair of trousers.
  • Invest more in timeless fashion items. Ties, suspenders, watches, cufflinks, and pocket squares.
  • Cover your bases with fashion items of different colors, hues, and patterns.
  • Personalize your outlook with one or two valuable fashion items.
  • Always consider the weather and the occasion before choosing your cocktail attire
  • Always look for the right fit and style.

Wrapping Up Cocktail Attire for Men

You’re now in a position to confidently make your choices when “cocktail attire” is indicated as the dress code for your next occasion – have fun and enjoy yourself to the fullest!

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