Cocktail attire is one of the trickiest dress codes for men there is, yet not impossible to achieve. This is all you need to know.
It is slightly more intricate than other dress codes because it is a transitional look. For instance, the cocktail look is fit to enjoy pre-dinner drinks between the hours of sunset and night. Therefore, it is a semi-formal look that needs to be suitable for the day 一so not too formal一, but also for the night 一so not too casual or relaxed either一.
Back in the 20s and 30s, the cocktail dress code for men was required for cocktail parties indeed. However, nowadays it has expanded to other formal events too like weddings, anniversaries, inauguration or retirement parties, important birthdays and even certain refined sports events, such as polo matches or the races.
As you can see, it is an elegant look, but there is more room to experiment and to add personal touches in comparison to the traditional formal look. Many guys confuse cocktail attire with business wear or the smart casual dress code, and they are not to blame.
But don’t worry, we are here to clear your doubts and help you dress the part.
The tailored cocktail look
Tailored pieces are a must for the cocktail dress code. Nonetheless, there is no need for a tuxedo. A pair of dress pants and a matching blazer, or a slim fit suit will be just fine.
On a similar note, while other occasions require a monochrome black look, that is not necessary for the cocktail dress code. You can choose other modern color alternatives like navy blue, light or dark gray, olive green, khaki or burgundy. When it comes to light blue, it is best to avoid it because it reminds people of denim fabric and it is too casual for this kind of event.
Pro tip: for the daytime it is best to opt for lighter colors; while darker, classic shades are better suitable for night.
As we said earlier, cocktail attire gives you a little bit more freedom to be creative than other dress codes, so use that opening to add your personal touch to the look. Whether it is opting for a patterned suit or adding an eye-catching pocket square into your blazer’s pocket. That is, of course, without upstaging the guest of honour.
If you are not comfortable with alternative colors or a patterned two-piece, but you still want to stand out, you can still play with texture. When choosing a suit, think about mohair or herringbone fabrics. A wool jacket is also a great idea for winter cocktails, while linen is best for the summer season.
Moreover, the cocktail dress code men allows you to mix and match jackets and trousers, so it is not mandatory to wear a matching two-piece if you don’t feel like it.
When it comes to the shirt, the guidelines are very simple. If you opted for a patterned suit, blazer or trousers, then you should wear a neutral toned shirt. It could definitely be white, but it could also be blue or gray as well. In the case you chose a block color suit or blazer-trouser combo, then you could pick a checked or striped shirt, for example, to add depth to the outfit.
Don’t forget to accessorize
The best thing about the cocktail look? You don’t need to wear a tie at all, unless it is a really formal cocktail event. If you chose to wear a block color suit and a neutral shirt, then you can get creative by adding a distinctive tie. But otherwise, it is not mandatory. Moreover, if you decide not to wear a tie, you can unbutton the collar to make the outfit more interesting.
On the other hand, you should avoid bow ties as they are too formal for cocktail attire. Instead, you can add a silk pocket square to the look, which could either be neutral or printed, depending on your suit. In fact, these are the pocket squares that you will want to wear forever.
In addition, while other formal dress codes do not give much room for accessories, you can also add a belt to the cocktail look. Although they are not a requirement, a leather or suede belt can provide texture and personality to the look. In this case, it is better to stick to the classics. Leather and suede belts are timeless, and they will always look stylish.
Finally, let’s talk about shoes. First of all, black and dark brown are always the best color choices, but you can always add creativity by playing with texture and design. That is, you can opt for a brogue punch leather design or a monk strap style.
The Oxford shoe is always a safe bet for the cocktail dress code men, but loafers can also be an alternative if it is a less formal event. By the way, don’t forget to polish your shoes before leaving your home.
One more advice, accessories allow you to add personality and make the outfit more interesting. Nonetheless, pay attention to not overdo it. Make sure to pick one or two accessories top, like a belt and a pocket square or a tie and an eye-catching ring, for example.
What you should avoid
The cocktail dress code men gives you enough freedom to get creative and showcase your personal style. However, there are a few practices or choices that you should definitely avoid.
For example, tuxedos and “white tie” attire 一which is the most formal dress code there is for men一 are off the table. As well, some smart-casual pieces, like chinos and polo shirts, are too casual for this type of event. They might work for after office gatherings, but they are not suitable for a wedding, for example.
Another item that is not appropriate at all are sneakers. Even if it is a daytime event or it is slightly less formal, there is no excuse to wear sneakers if it is labeled as cocktail attire.
If you would like to learn more about formal occasions, then this is how to dress for an evening event.