Let me guess. You just received a party invitation that says that men should wear their cocktail attire for the occasion. Congratulations!
But what exactly is a cocktail attire for men, you might ask? Excellent question, mister.
In this installment of our series on the modern man dress codes, we look at the ever-glamorous cocktail style.
You will usually be requested to wear a cocktail attire when attending a wedding or an evening party. It can range from a very formal affair to something much more laid-back and informal. What the dress code means and what you should wear will vary depending on the location and the occasion.
In this guide, you will see exactly what to wear and how to pull off your cocktail attire in style thanks to our experts’ tips. We illustrated this guide with plenty of photos and pictures to make it as easy and unambiguous as possible.
Hurry up! That party invitation is waiting for you.
Exploring the cocktail attire style
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: dressing for a party doesn’t have to be expensive. While you can spend a lot of money on an upscale cocktail garment with a luxury jacket if you want to, you don’t necessarily have to.
You’ll see in this guide that with just a few well-chosen items, you’ll be able to look great whatever the occasion might be.
We’ve broken down this guide into several sections. You can skip to the part that’s most important to you.
- What is the Cocktail Attire style?
- How should men dress for a cocktail party?
- 4 Men’s cocktail attire style rules to guarantee success
- 5 cocktail attire brands men need to know
- Cocktail attire dress code: Frequently asked questions
- Resources and further reading recommendations about the cocktail attire
The modern cocktail attire look
Welcome to our cocktail attire look guide for the modern man. This article is part of a style series covering the seven essential dress codes for men:
- Loungewear style guide for men
- Casual style guide for men
- Smart casual style guide for men
- Business casual style guide for men
- Business professional style guide for men
- Cocktail attire style guide for men
- Black tie style guide for men
What is the Cocktail Attire style?
Put simply, men’s cocktail attire is a dress code asking you to dress up for an occasion. It isn’t a very well-defined dress code, however. As a result, you have a little bit of freedom as to how you want to execute the style. But you also have more room for errors.
In general, if you’re requested to wear your cocktail attire, it means that you should pull on a jacket and look neat and chic for a special occasion. The location and time of the occasion will dictate how exactly you should dress.
If you’re attending a wedding, your cocktail attire should be elegant and simple. You want to show that you made an effort for the occasion and that you respect your hosts. But you don’t want to attract attention away from the groom.
If you’ve been invited to an evening party or a classy sporting event, the location and the type of the party will help you decide what to wear. A business networking event will call for formal cocktail attire. On the other hand, a new year’s party will probably mean a much more groovy interpretation.
As a rule of thumb, you should always consider the occasion, the location, and the time of the day to select your cocktail attire. If you’re unsure about what the host expects, you should ask them or ask other guests to avoid any faux pas.
That said, our style experts have 3 simple rules to help you along the way:
- Are jeans ok to wear for a cocktail attire?
You can wear jeans on certain occasions, but in general, you should avoid them. If unsure, don’t wear them.
- Are sneakers ok to wear for a cocktail attire?
Same as above and probably in the same circumstances. Sneakers are ok for a laid-back party but shouldn’t be worn at a wedding or a serious occasion.
- Do I need to wear a suit?
Not necessarily, but it’s probably the safest option to stay chic. If it’s a wedding, don’t wear a black suit. If it’s an evening party, black is fine.
Dress code definition: What does cocktail attire mean?
A party invitation with a cocktail attire dress code for men usually means that you should wear a suit with a shirt, dress shoes and a tie or bow tie. In some instances, just a blazer and a pair of dark-colored jeans will be acceptable if the dress code is more casual.
You don’t necessarily need a dedicated cocktail suit. Your usual business suits will do as long as they are well-fitted and in good condition. You can invest in a dedicated cocktail suit if you expect to attend a lot cocktail party, however. In that case, you should look for a suit that has more structure and that is made with heavier fabric to emphasize the evening party element and separate it from a day business suit.
Initially, the cocktail attire emerged in the 1920s in the upscale community. Sometimes also called the after 5 attire, men would change their clothes from their daily work suit to a pre-dinner dress to wear while having a drink with canapés (or many drinks on some occasions).
Today, the cocktail look and purpose has changed of course. However, the essence of the style remains the same: you’re looking for something to wear that is less formal than your business professional look but classy and formal to attend a party.
Luckily, cocktail attire is convenient for men as you can usually pull it off by using garments and accessories that you already have for other dress codes.
How should men dress for a cocktail party?
The secret to a successful cocktail party wardrobe for men is in the details. The quality of your suits’ cut and fabric. The fit of your shirt. The finishing and details of your shoes. And how well you’re able to pull it all together in an attractive and compelling way.
Your cocktail attire starts with a jacket, a shirt, a tie, and a pair of dress shoes. It’s that simple.
Once you have the foundations taken care of, you can start to work with accessories to complete your look: a belt, a dressy watch, a pocket square, and cufflinks.
Let’s look at each garment one by one. Our style experts have handpicked specific recommendations to help you achieve the look.
1. A suit or jacket that’s ready to party
You can wear one of your usual office suits for a cocktail party. Go with dark colors such as navy blue and charcoal to be on the safe side if you’re unsure. As a general rule, remember that the more patterns and colors you wear, the less formal you’ll look.
Midnight-Blue Slim-Fit Wool-Twill Suit
Navy O’Connor Slim-Fit Wool Suit Jacket
Black Slim-Fit Paliette-Embellished Jacquard Blazer
2. The white button-up collared shirt
A classic white shirt is next on your list. Make sure that your shirt looks good when fully buttoned up. You want the collar to have some substance and structure to perfectly frame your tie, if you wear one.
White Jenno Slim-Fit Cotton Shirt
Poplin Solid Point Collar Dress Shirt
3. Add subtlety with your ties
A tie is your chance to express emotions and personality through your cocktail attire. It’s also an excellent way to differentiate your evening dress from your office wear. A party is a perfect occasion to go for more daring tie styles.
Expert tip: your tie knot should always conceal your shirt’s collar behind it. Tighten it up until it does.
Silk Bow Tie
Metallic Silk-Jacquard Tie
Puppytooth Silk Tie
4. Carefully choose your dress shoes
The last critical element of your cocktail attire is a pair of dress shoes. The most commonly worn business shoes are called Oxfords (or sometimes also Balmoral in the United States).
Named after Oxford University, Oxford shoes are the quintessential dress shoe. Opt for black or dark brown dress shoes to complete your look.
Elkan Whole-Cut Patent-Leather Oxford Shoes
Cap-Toe Suede And Leather Sneakers
5. Elevate your business look with the right accessories
Once the foundations of your business attire are in place, you can start adding accessories to express your personality and style further.
Here are a few suggestions of accessories that you can keep for years to elevate your business casual look.
DOLCE & GABBANA
4 Men’s cocktail attire style rules to guarantee success
When you’re ready to build up your chic party wardrobe, there are four simple rules that you should always keep in mind. These style rules will help you execute your cocktail look with class and elegance every time.
Rule 1: Know where you’re going
Your dress code will look very different depending on the occasion. If unsure, ask the host or people who have been there before for advice.
There are three crucial elements to know before picking your cocktail attire:
- The location of the party
- The reason for the occasion
- The time of the day that it will take place
Once you have the information, you can pick your cocktail look with confidence.
Rule 2: If you are invited to a wedding
Weddings are the most common occasions for men to wear a cocktail attire. You want to show respect for the bride and groom by dressing up. But you don’t want to attract unwanted attention away from the couple.
For the majority of weddings, look for something elegant and neutral.
That said if the wedding invitation calls for something specific, respect their wishes and adjust your outfit. This might be the case for a beach destination wedding, for example, where the couple might request light-colored linen suits.
Rule 3: If you are invited to a formal cocktail party
If you’ve been invited to a formal business party in the evening, remain conservative with your look and opt for a dark-colored suit with a white shirt and black leather dress shoes. Take a tie with you but be ready to take it off and unbutton the collar of your shirt if suitable for the event.
You can use accessories to differentiate your cocktail attire from your usual Business professional look. Go with a light-colored pocket square to contrast with your suit and wear classy cufflinks on your shirt cuffs.
Rule 4: If you are invited to a casual cocktail party
Casual business parties are an entirely different affair. Your business suit will be too formal so opt instead for a blazer or sports jacket with a pair of dark-colored jeans. This is particularly true in the summer when you’ll want to adjust your clothes for the heat.
Depending on your industry, you might also be able to swap your dress shoes for a pair of leather sneakers to relax your style further.
Rule 5: Whatever type of cocktail party it is, never do the following
As you know by now, the cocktail dress code for men will mean different things for different occasions. That said, five essential rules should never be bent unless explicitly told otherwise by the party host:
- DON’T wear a black suit. Black suits are reserved for funerals or the office.
- DON’T wear a tuxedo, you will just look silly. Tuxedos are reserved for more formal occasions.
- DON’T wear clothes that are too casual. Chinos, polo shirts, or t-shirts won’t do even when paired with a blazer.
- DON’T wear casual shoes. The only exception is dressy sneakers if you know for certain that the party will be casual.
- DON’T go to the party without a tie or a bow tie. You might take it off at some point through the night but you shouldn’t arrive without wearing one.
7 Pro style tips and basic principles to perfect your cocktail look
We’ve reached out to a panel of expert stylists and fashion advisers to ask for their recommendations on the cocktail attire dress code. Here are their tips to help you look great when dressing for a special occasion:
- Start with your goals. This will form the backbone of your style. Do you want to project an air of assurance? Do you want to show that you care about an occasion and dressed up accordingly? Or do you prefer to prioritize comfort?
- Dress accordingly and with consistency. Pick an outfit that will help you achieve your goals. When dressing for a party, men should also consider what their usual business attire is and maintain a degree of consistency with their usual look.
- A few timeless items are worth investing more in. Some items in your wardrobe won’t last for more than a season. You shouldn’t spend too much on those. But others will stay with you for years. That’s particularly the case with your suit and your watch. Decide which pieces you want to keep and invest in quality over quantity.
- Cover your bases. When starting to build up your wardrobe, begin first with neutral colors such as black, white, navy, tan, grey and brown for your outfit. Those are all easy to mix and match and will never go out of fashion.
- Elevate and personalize your look with a one or two items. Once you have the foundations of your style in place, you can add personality to your outfit by playing with luxurious fabrics such as silk or cashmere and bolder colors. These should be reserved for your accessories such as your belt, watch strap, socks, etc.
- Consider the occasion and the weather before selecting your cocktail outfit. Whatever your style is, you should always pay close attention to your environment and social context. Understand what is expected and then design your outfit according to your goals.
- Always look for the right fit. There is nothing more saddening than seeing a man pulling out the right style with the wrong fit. It will completely ruin your efforts if your clothes are overly tight and uncomfortable or too baggy and sloppy. If you invest time in defining your style, make sure that the execution is right.
5 cocktail attire brands men need to know
When shopping for new clothes, you should always decide first what you want and then look for the best items to complete your look. We don’t recommend that you start by picking a brand and then aimlessly browse through their collections.
That said, there are a few selected brands that our style editors tend to favor over others. Those are the brands that offer superior quality for the right price and never seem to disappoint us.
It’s essential that you know which brands you can trust when shopping online so you don’t waste time or money. Check also our list of the 15 most popular luxury brands of the year for more inspiration.
Here is our selection of the 5 best casual attire brands for men.
1. Tom Ford
We absolutely love Tom Ford’s clothes. The fashion designer dresses some of the most stylish men on the planet, from James Bond to Harvey Specter. You can’t go wrong when dressing up with Tom Ford.
2. Ermenegildo Zegna
High-quality materials and superb tailoring. Ermenegildo Zegna’s brand name might be hard to pronounce but you’ll look effortlessly stylish with their men’s clothes.
The essence of Italian luxury tailoring for men. Brioni is expensive, but it’s worth it if you want the best of the best.
4. Hugo Boss
Hugo Boss is synonymous with refined fashion wear and modern luxury. With razor-sharp cuts and premium fabrics, they are a must to add a level of sophistication to your look.
If you want to add a touch of sparkle to your outfit, trust Lanvin. The oldest fashion house in France delivers impeccable quality and strong, detail-focused aesthetic for a modern luxury look.
Cocktail attire dress code: Frequently asked questions
At its simplest, cocktail attire means that you should wear a suit in dark colors, ideally navy or charcoal, with a white shirt, a pair of black leather dress shoes, and a tie. You can divert from this template only if the invitation explicitly calls for it.
No, most of the time. However, if the party is explicitly casual or if you know that the host is ok with jeans, then opt for navy or black jeans with a blazer.
In general, a wedding cocktail attire dress code means a navy or charcoal suit, with a white shirt, a pair of black leather dress shoes, and a tie or bow tie. You can divert from this template only if the invitation explicitly calls for it. This might be the case if you’re attending a destination wedding or a beach wedding.
A cocktail party attire is generally the same as described above. Try to find out ahead of the party if it’s a casual evening or a formal occasion to decide what to wear.
Yes, or a bow tie if you feel more audacious. You might remove your tie as the night goes on, but you should arrive at the party wearing your tie.
Most definitely yes. This is the only unambiguous rule for the cocktail attire: you need a jacket.
Resources and further reading recommendations about the cocktail attire
We used several authoritative sources to help us write this guide to men’s cocktail attire. We recommend that you read them if you want to learn more about dress codes in general. These are also great resources if you want to understand a particular aspect of men’s fashion or want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends:
- The Journal, by Mr Porter, is an excellent source of inspiration to execute your style with class.
- Wikipedia has an interesting in-depth article on the history of the modern cocktail attire for men. It’s valuable to understand why you are expected to wear a particular type of clothes.
- The London College of Fashion and the Parsons New School for Design both offer excellent courses if you want to learn more about fashion design.
- The Victoria and Albert Museum can also help you explore the history behind men’s dress codes. It ranks number one on our list of the best museums in London.