Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
So, you’re invited to an exciting event, want to impress with your outfit, and you’re counting down the days till you can strut your stuff. But the invitation has left you puzzling over the Cocktail Attire dress code. Before you get too hot under the collar, we’ve created the ultimate style guide to help you perfect the cocktail dress code for men.
The most important thing to remember (regardless of which dress code you’ve been assigned) is that you should always adhere to the given dress code. If an invitation specifically states you should be wearing men’s cocktail attire, do it. Don’t turn up in your tracksuit bottoms. That’s the easy part. But now for the question we’ve all asked ourselves at some point: what is cocktail attire?
What is Cocktail Attire for Men?
The term ‘cocktail attire’ is a dress code for a semi-formal, more relaxed occasion. As a result, you should be looking to avoid anything too dressy. Even though the event is somewhat formal, you will look out of place in anything fancy. So keep those tuxedos and business suits locked away in the depths of your wardrobe for now.
Consequently, you want something understated and classy, maybe with a small accent or a statement piece to add a little character. The formality of the occasion generally determines how extravagant or subdued you should be with your patterns, colours, and accessories. You want to be remembered for all the right reasons. Don’t go for anything too attention-grabbing, especially if you’re at a distant relative’s wedding.
What to Wear to a Cocktail Party
To define cocktail attire in a simple way, the style basically consists of:
- A suit – fitted neatly and usually in darker colours.
- A white shirt, or dress shirt.
- Neckwear – mainly ties, occasionally bow ties.
- Accessories – such as a pocket square or boutonniere flower.
- Socks – always over the calf.
- Shoes – formal and shined.
However, all of these options can be adapted to suit the occasion.
Cocktail Attire for Men
Formal Cocktail Attire
Men’s cocktail party attire is a timeless and charming style often requested at weddings or other big celebrations. To help you pull off this sharp and dashing look, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite cocktail party attire style options below.
The Formal Cocktail Suit
For more formal occasions, you will want to stick to dark coloured suits. A dark grey, navy or even light grey suit will help you look subtle yet stylish here, whilst also avoiding any unwanted attention.
Whilst it may seem as though there’s a very fine line between formal cocktail attire and looking too dressed-up, the best way to avoid any confusion is to steer clear of black suits. As previously mentioned, a cocktail attire dress code is based on a semi-formal style. If you choose to wear a black suit you risk coming across as overly formal. Muted colours are most effective at pulling off a formality without going overboard.
Formal Cocktail Suit Pattern
In terms of pattern, you should try to keep it minimum by opting for a light pattern or simply sticking with a solid colour. If the solid colour is a little too bland for you, look for patterns such as Glen Check, Windowpane, Shark Skin or Herringbone. Again, bear in mind you don’t want the look to be too eye-catching. If you’re going for patterns, keep them light.
When it comes to choosing your suit, it’s vital to ensure that it fits you correctly. This is particularly important if you choose to wear it as part of your cocktail attire, as a smart clean-cut look is imperative.
Handy tip: it helps if you only do the top button up on your blazer. This creates a V-Line effect, by making your shoulders look broader and drawing attention to a slimmer waistline.
The Formal Cocktail Shirt
For your shirt, a white collar shirt is always a safe option. Otherwise, an off-white shirt or dress shirt will do the trick. As with our suit advice, if you’re looking to incorporate a pattern or colour to your shirt, keep it toned down. Less is more when it comes to contrasting cocktail attire for a formal occasion. Be sure to choose a white shirt that has stiff collars and keep the colour or pattern in line with that of the suit.
Formal Cocktail Neckwear
Neckwear is fairly straightforward. If you’re feeling brave and can keep it looking subtle, a bow tie is a good alternative to the humble tie. Otherwise, a solid coloured necktie with an interesting texture (such as satin), or a small patterned neck tie (such as paisley), will be a successful choice. Adding texture or patterns to your tie will also help lift a suit if you feel it looks a little dull.
Formal Cocktail Shoes
Men’s cocktail attire works best in formal situations with a nice pair of dress shoes. These should be neatly polished and in darker colours. Naturally, trainers will create the opposite effect to what you want your formal style to achieve here. So avoid casual footwear (no matter how comfortable) and stick to a pair of dashing Oxfords, Monkstraps, or Brogues.
Cocktail Attire Socks
It might sound daft, but choosing the correct pair of socks is an absolute must when it comes to men’s cocktail attire. No hairy pins should be on show when the setting is formal, so it’s important to invest in a pair of over-the-calf socks.
When you come to choose your socks, match the sock colour to your trouser colour to play it safe. But, if you’re a little more fashion forward and looking for some contrast, you can try matching your sock colour to the colour of your tie.
Cocktail Attire Accessories
When it comes to accessories, the classy pocket square will help finish off the look. Match your shirt or tie colour to a similarly coloured pocket square and you are good to go. If you’ve never worn a pocket square before but you’re tempted to invest in one, now is the time to do it. Begin with a simple white one. A white pocket square can be matched with practically anything, so it won’t be an investment that resigns itself to the depths of your drawers.
You might also like to add some cufflinks or a smart watch. Overall, to be successful in this formal attire for men, keep it simple. Nothing too flashy, yet nothing too casual. Match your outfit to the occasion and you’ll fit right into this handsome and timeless style.
Semi-Formal Cocktail Attire
Now you’ve perfected your formal cocktail attire look, it’s time to shake things up a bit. When it comes to the slightly less formal occasions, it’s definitely acceptable for you to strip things back and add some character.
Semi-Formal Cocktail Suit Combos
There are almost endless options to shake things up a bit, all depending on how semi-formal the occasion is and how confident you are. To begin, instead of choosing a full suit, you can break it up by throwing on a smart blazer coupled with a pair of smart trousers or khakis. Whilst the look will still be sharp, you certainly won’t feel overdressed.
If your look feels more Mocktail than Cocktail, and you want to liven things up, try experimenting with some bolder colours. You can opt for a burgundy or olive colour to give your outfit some volume. Otherwise try out more prominent patterns on your suit or blazer here. A Houndstooth pattern or even Seersucker Suit items will really add some character to your ensemble.
Semi-Formal Cocktail Accessories
The cocktail attire look is fairly flexible and can even be adapted to suit occasion on the spot. If you’ve gone formal and have arrived feeling over-dressed, simply remove your tie or bow-tie and open a few top buttons. In doing so you’ve instantly transformed your look from something ceremonious to a style that is more suave and relaxed. You could also try stepping into a pair of loafers and ditch the socks to increase the casual flair. Or swap your shirt for a simple T-shirt.
If you’re a novice when it comes to being bold with your outfit choices, but fancy trying something new, try focusing on one accent piece. This could simply be a jacket in a bolder colour. Or perhaps even a bright pair of socks with a matching tie against a duller suit. While this might seem like a simple change, it will definitely add a sense of character to your semi-formal cocktail look. Wear it with confidence and you can’t go wrong.
Casual Cocktail Attire
If formality has been ditched altogether and you’re really looking to rock a more casual cocktail look, try rolling up the sleeves on your shirt or jacket.
There’s even more flexibility to be found in terms of trousers. If you’re certain that the occasion is suitable, there’s no harm in opting for a pair of jeans or trainers. However, it’s important to bear in mind that cocktail attire should generally have some element of formality to it. As a result, if you’re choosing to wear jeans, you should be looking for a pair that is nicely fitted, in a dark colour, and with no rips or signs of wear. Trainers should be relatively new, or at least squeaky clean.
Summer Cocktail Attire
Wearing a full fancy suit in the blazing summer heat is hardly on anyone’s holiday wish list. Regardless of formality, there are a few simple ways to help keep yourself cool when you’re trapped in the cocktail attire dress code.
As already mentioned above, opting out of neckwear is a possibility here, or you can experiment with lighter suit materials such as linen or cotton. The seersucker suit is a formal suit made entirely out of cotton, making it perfect for cocktail events in the summer months. In the right circumstances, a seersucker blazer – or even some seersucker shorts – could be a lifesaver when it comes to a summer event that requires formal men’s wear.
To keep in with the summery feel, you can certainly afford to be playful with patterns and lighter colours too. A light grey suit always looks dashing, whereas choosing a floral pattern for your tie and pocket square will help keep your look feeling bright and lifted. Finally, you can add a flower boutonniere, for a real touch of class and to help complete your look.
How To Wear Cocktail Attire
- Avoid wearing a black suit.
- Choose suits or pieces that are well fitted.
- Go for subdued colours, patterns and accessories in more formal situations.
- Opt for one statement piece if you’re feeling adventurous.
- Shine your shoes.
On That Note
With any luck, this article will have helped clear up any cocktail dress code confusion. And for our final tip…don’t fall into the ‘stereotypical man’ trap of not following the instructions. If the invitation says the dress code is Cocktail Attire, there’s really no room for argument… And having read this article, you have no room for excuses either.