A Modern Man's Guide to Cocktail Attire: How to Get it Right

A Modern Man's Guide to Cocktail Attire: How to Get it Right

When the invitation calls for cocktail attire it can be highly ambiguous. Here to help you nail down the dress code of your next high end affair is this guide.
Keyword(s): cocktail attire

Modern Man's Guide to Cocktail AttireIf you're invited to an event that calls for cocktail attire, you want to make sure you look your best. A cocktail attire dress code can be pretty broad. Its definition depends on the situation.

History of Cocktail Attire

The cocktail attire dress code dates back to the 1920s. It was here in upscale communities where after 5 PM, men would change from their daily work suit into pre-dinner wear to enjoy a drink (or several) with canapés.

In 2019, cocktail attire's purpose and look as evolved. Yet the idea of the style stays the same.

How Formal is Cocktail Attire and When Should You Wear It?

If you were put dress codes on a scale, cocktail attire would fall right in the middle. This dress code is about a step up from business casual, but less formal than black tie.

Often cocktail attire is considered to be on par with business attire. This means, usually elements of what you would wear to your office or an interview can be used to piece together the perfect cocktail attire look. Usually, you'll see a cocktail attire dress code on invitations for weddings, parties, and formal professional events.

Although times are always changing, and we're seeing that everyday style is leaning more casual. You should still follow whatever dress code is asked for out of respect for the host and event.

You will see cocktail attire is such a popular dress code for men because it falls right between casual and formal. This dress code is also the most convenient for men because you can pull it together with garments and accessories you likely already have in your wardrobe.

This look is also incredibly versatile when you're in a pinch. You can wear your cocktail attire with a dark suit, instead of a tuxedo, in times when black tie is the dress code.

On a sadder note, cocktail attire is appropriate for funerals when you want to be formal. You can wear a solid dark navy or charcoal suit if you don't own a black one. You'll also want to do muted accessories.

The Basics Of Cocktail Attire Style

Basically, when you see cocktail attire as a dress code, that means you need to dress up for the event. Since cocktail attire isn't as defined as let's say black tie, you have some freedom on how you can dress. But with this freedom also comes the possibility to look ridiculous.

Typically, cocktail attire means you should put on a jacket and look neat and pulled together for an occasion. The location and time of the occasion will help guide you on how to dress.

For example, if you're attending a wedding, you want to keep your look elegant and simple. It's important you show that you made an effort to dress for this occasion, as this shows respect for your hosts.

But at the same time, you don't want to wear something too loud or too fancy as that could take the attention away from the groom and maybe the bride.

On the other hand, if you're going to a party at night or a classy sporting event, where that party takes place will help direct your style. For example, for a business networking event, you'll want a more formal cocktail attire compared to a new years party where you can get a little more flashy and funky.

Basically, also consider the occasion, time of day, and location of the party to set your look. If you don't know what the host wants, simply as them or other guests.

You might wonder if you can wear jeans or sneakers to a cocktail attire event. In some cases, you can, but in general, you should avoid wearing jeans and sneakers to these types of events. If you are unsure, then your best bet is to not wear them.

You also don't need to wear a suit for a cocktail dress code, but it's probably your safest bet to stay chic. Also, note that if it's a wedding don't wear a black suit.

What Should You Wear For Cocktail Attire?

If you're still stumped on what to wear, here are some ideas. Usually, your cocktail attire look should include a suit with a shirt, tie or bow tie, and dress shoes. In some cases, if the dress code is more casual, you can wear just a blazer and a pair of dark wash jeans

Know that you don't need a specific suit for cocktail attire. You can wear your usual business suit as long as it fits well and is in good condition.

A cocktail specific suit might be a good investment if you find yourself a lot of cocktail parties. But you want a suit made with more structure and heavier fabric. This will help separate this suit from a day business suit.

You should also make sure that you have shaved and have gotten a haircut recently. Here are some other things you should consider for your cocktail attire ensemble.

Here are some staple items you should have in your closet that can work for cocktail attire.

A Suit Or Jacket That’s Ready For A Party

You want a dark to mid-gray suit, which is perfect for evening events that request cocktail attire. You can wear one of your usual office suits to a cocktail party, just make sure that suit has a dark color like charcoal or navy blue. Usually, the more patterns and colors you wear, the less formal you'll look.

A White Button-Up Collared Shirt

You'll also want a white or muted button-down dress shirt to pair with a necktie or bowtie that's either plain or has a subtle pattern. If you want to add a pocket square, it should be simple.

You're going to want to wear a classic white shirt that's clean and pressed. Make sure this shirt looks good fully buttoned up, and none of your buttons are popping or gapping. You will also want the collar of your shirt to have some structure and substance so it frames your tie well.

Be subtle With Your Ties

You can express your personality through your cocktail attire's tie. A tie can differentiate your evening look from your office wear. Use a party and an occasion to play with more daring tie styles.

Make sure your tie knot conceals your shirt's collar. If it doesn't, you'll need to tighten it up until it does.

Choose Your Dress Shoes Carefully

The last crucial element of your cocktail look is your shoes.

For footwear, go for a black dress shoe with a leather sole like. The most commonly worn business shoes are Oxfords and sometimes Balmorals in the United States.

These shoes were named at the University of Oxford and have become the quintessential dress shoe. You'll want one in a black or dark brown to complete your outfit.

You can wear over the calf socks which either match your pants or add a pop of color that matches your tie, bow toe, or another part of your outfit.

Location, Location, Location

Another guiding factor of your cocktail attire is where you're going. Your occasion really can dictate your overall look. Other factors that will direct your look is the reason for the occasion, and what time of day the event takes place.

If You're Going To A Wedding

A wedding is one of the most common places men will wear cocktail attire. You'll want to be respectful of the bride and groom by dressing up, but you also don't want to take attention away from the happy couple.

For most weddings, you'll want to wear something that neutral and elegant. But if the wedding invitation calls for a specific look, be sure you adjust your outfit to that.

For example, if the wedding is on a beach, it might be requested that you wear a lightly colored lien suit.

Even though the cocktail dress code might see a little lax, usually this look is appropriate for most weddings. A cocktail attire dress code shows elegance and respect for any occasion especially a wedding, while not drawing attention away from the couple or being too flashy.

If the bridegroom is flamboyant, or someone who seems to live in t-shirts and jeans no matter the occasion, you might need to adjust your outfit so you're not totally out of place.

If it's an artist wedding, you'll want to do more colorful accessories. If the wedding is informal, skip the tie and wear a dark jacket with light pants. Again, it's not your day, so you don't want your outfit to catch too much attention.

Formal Vs. Casual Cocktail Parties

If you're going to a formal business party that takes place at night, you want to look conservative. Go for a style like a dark colored suit and black leather dress shoes. You can take a tie, and if it's too fancy, simply take it off and unbutton the collar of your shirt.

Typically, you can accessorize to separate your cocktail look from what you'd wear to the office. Accessories like a lightly colored pocket square. You can also contrast your suit with classy cufflinks on your shirt's cuff.

Casual business parties are totally different. Your business suit will be too formal, so go with a blazer or sports jacket with some dark washed jeans.

Also in the summertime, you will want to adjust your look to account for the heat. Another factor can be your industry, where you may be able to swap out dressy Oxfords for leather sneakers to relax your style.

Cocktail Attire Don’ts

If you're still confused on cocktail attire, just remember to never do the following.

Don't Wear The Wrong Suit or Jacket

You should never wear a white tie or tuxedo for cocktail attire, as this is way too formal.

Also don't wear a black suit, unless you're going to a funeral. Avoid pinstripes suits, bright ties, bold paisley shirts, or any flashy accessories especially for a wedding.

Again, when dressing for a wedding that has a cocktail attire, the attention should be on the couple, not you.

Don't Be Too Casual

Also don't wear anything too casual like chinos, khakis, sports jackets or polo shirts, these items are more business casual.

You shouldn't wear shoes that are too casual like loafers, or any shoe really that don't have laces. And on the topic of feet, don't be sockless, this trendy look is not okay for cocktail attire.

Look (And Smell) Clean

You also shouldn't wear it if it's not dry cleaned. Cocktail events involve planning, so your outfit should reflect that. Every time you wear a formal item, you should take it to the cleaners to get it properly cared for.

Also if it's been a while since you've been to a cocktail party, and your favorite jacket is in the back of your closet, drop it off at the cleaners at least three days before the event so it's ready in time.

Know that if your sports coat smells, that can really cramp your style. Also know that spraying your coat with cologne or an air freshener, doesn't make the smell go away.

Speaking of the condition of your clothes, you also don't want to wear anything to a cocktail event that has stains, holes, or a collar that is rumpled. Even if the hole is small, or the smidge is seemingly unnoticeable. At the same time, you'll want to be super careful with drinks and food around your cocktail outfit.

Get Your Cocktail Attire Look Together Today

If you have an event coming up that requires cocktail attire, don't wait. Put this outfit together sooner rather than later. Dressing appropriately to an event shows respect to your host.

You might need to get your favorite coat dry cleaned or get new pants, so don't put this off to the last minute. For more men's fashion advice and resources, be sure to check out our blog.

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