Cocktail attire for men is has no strict definition but this also opens up a variety of opportunities. A dress code reserved specifically for festive occasions, it’s less formal than black tie, but more fashion-forward than a simple business suit.

Nevertheless, the following guide will help you prepare for a cocktail dress code so you can make sure that you get it right. You’ll soon know whether you’re in need of a shopping spree or already well-equipped:

Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.

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How Men Dress For Cocktail Attire

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What Is Cocktail Attire For Men?

two men in cocktail attire

Cocktail attire for men takes on various forms, but the easiest way to think of it is to treat it as the “optional” portion of the black tie optional dress code. To be more specific, it’s typically safe to opt for a dark suit, light shirt, rich tie, a pocket square, and dark, well-shined shoes.

You could even regard it as the business casual dress code of black tie optional. While cocktail attire tends to find itself gravitating towards business attire, there is lots of room to manoeuvre.

While the suit may very well come out of your capsule wardrobe, it doesn’t have to. It’s great to opt for striking details like peaked lapels or hacking (angled) pockets. In other words, stuff that wouldn’t normally fly at the office. Feel free to let your rake flag fly a bit, as it were.

You should never wear a strict black-tie tuxedo to an event with a cocktail attire dress code. This is overkill and you’ll look very much out of place. However, you can wear smoking jackets.

With that said, there are some events that are more formal, and some that are more casual. Below, we’ll do a garment-by-garment breakdown of what’s best for a casual cocktail event and a formal cocktail event.

Note that the word “formal” is being used loosely (and purposefully incorrectly) throughout this page. This is simply for ease of use, not as an attempt to re-define the word “formal.”

Do I Need A Suit For Cocktail Attire?

You don’t technically have to wear a suit for cocktail attire, but you’ll look best in one. You can opt for an odd jacket and trousers combination. For instance, a blue sport coat and medium grey trousers with a light blue shirt, burgundy tie, and dark brown shoes would work well.

However, this assumes that the event is informal in nature. Indeed, there are several grades of cocktail attire according to the nature of the occasion!

When in doubt, contact the host. You’ll come off as a thoughtful guest, and the host will appreciate having as many people staying “in their lane” as possible.

Otherwise, wear a dark suit in navy blue, charcoal grey, or, if the event is in the evening, black.

Jacket & Trousers For Cocktail Attire

  • Casual/daytime: Light-to-medium grey or medium blue matching jacket and trousers or an odd combination thereof
  • Formal/evening: Suit in charcoal grey, black, or deep navy blue

What Shirts To Wear For Cocktail Attire

During the day or for a more casual event, you can wear white, ecru, or pastel colors such as pink, lavender, or yellow if your skin tone is sympathetic to it. Play around with a bit of pattern in your dress shirts too if you like. Any cuff style will do for casual cocktail attire.

Meanwhile, white or light blue dress shirts are typically appropriate for a formal cocktail event. Furthermore, dress shirts with French double cuffs will dress up your presentation a lot, and we suggest them highly for cocktail attire.

In either case, a safe choice will always be a dressy white shirt with a classic spread collar and double French cuffs.

For a comprehensive primer on dress shirts, see our shirt guide. We also recommend the best dress shirt brands including Jermyn Street’s Hawes & Curtis and Eton Shirts from Sweden.

Best Shoes For Cocktail Attire

No matter what time of day, you need to wear dress shoes for cocktail attire. For a list of our preferred shoe styles, take a look at our shoe style guide.

While you should avoid tan shoes because they’re too light, a medium brown or burgundy calfskin shoe is perfect for more casual events (and most daytime ones). You may also wear black. Oxfords are the preferred style, but a slim, streamlined loafer like a Venetian will work as well.

In the evening or for more formal daytime events, you should wear either black or dark brown dress shoes with your dark suit. Oxford styles (cap toes, whole cuts, etc.) are your best bet here.

If you need to shop for a new pair of shoes, check out our dress shoe buying guides. We offer a variety of guides according to your budget or preferred style. Otherwise, our two current preferred brands are Beckett Simonon and Ace Marks.

Beckett Simonon effortlessly offers the best value for money with Argentinian calfskin shoes at only $170 when you use our exclusive discount code “BU20“. The only downside is that their dress shoes group made-to-order, which means that you need a wait a few weeks for them to arrive.

Meanwhile, Ace Marks provides men with slick and beautifully-crafted Italian shoes at a very competitive price. Unlike Beckett Simonon, they offer swift delivery in exchange for a slightly higher price point.

Cocktail Attire For Men Accessories

Accessories for cocktail attire can include:

For further reading on how to wear any of these accessories, simply use the links above!

man in cocktail attire smoking cigar

Daytime/less formal cocktail attire events allow you more leeway in terms of color and pattern with your accessories. Socks can match something besides your trousers, the prints on your tie and square can be bolder, that sort of thing.

This does not mean that you should go bonkers, but rather that you can add a few flairs of color if you’re into doing so and if you won’t be taking attention away from people such as newlyweds.

As for formal evening cocktail events, you want to keep your colors a bit simpler. Socks should match your trousers, and your tie should be a rich, deep color like plum, burgundy, or navy blue. As for pattern, subtle neats, especially pindots, are quite handsome.

Furthermore, we strongly suggest wearing a pocket square too. As this is a particularly stylish dress code, you’ll benefit from its colour pop to your cocktail outfit.

Finally, a cocktail event is the perfect opportunity for wearing a bow tie! In many circumstances, men may feel uncomfortable by the way they draw attention. However, a cocktail event is the ideal occasion for a bow tie to look right at home.

Check out our guide to bow ties to learn how to wear one as well as the best brands.

When To Wear Cocktail Attire

If you were invited to an event or celebration, then there may be a dress code included on the invitation. Obviously, if the invitation states “cocktail attire,” then you should abide by the invitation.

However, there are many occasions that implicitly call for cocktail attire even if it’s not explicitly stated on the invitation or in the event details. Indeed, it’s a dress code often you could potential regard as the business casual of black tie.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s always better to be a little overdressed for an occasion than it is to be underdressed. To paraphrase the late, great, Glenn O’Brien, “You can always tell people you have somewhere to go afterwards.”

We discuss some of the most common occasions that call for cocktail attire including weddings, anniversaries, formal sporting events and other occasions.

Cocktail Party

Cocktail parties can include holiday parties, office get-togethers, fundraisers, and similar events. These will typically be held in the evening, so it’s best to opt for the more formal options we mention above, but only to an extent. Give yourself some leeway in terms of color and pattern of your accessories. This is fun, after all.

Wedding

groom and bride during weddingWeddings can be tricky as it relates to cocktail attire. Sometimes the reception will be held immediately after the ceremony, and sometimes there’s a break of a few hours in between each part of the wedding.

The invitation should have the information you need in that regard, but if it doesn’t, contact either the bride or groom to confirm.

As the spotlight should be on the bride and groom, it’s advisable to keep your cocktail attire on the quiet side. With that said, if you know the bride and groom to be fun-loving party animals, have some fun with your cocktail attire. If you know them to be a bit more staid, opt for a more conservative look.

For a comprehensive introduction to what to wear to a wedding, see our guide to weddings.

Anniversary

When folks reach milestone anniversaries (typically starting at ten years of marriage, with additional markers at 25, 40, and 50+ years), they will often throw parties, or their children will throw parties in their honor. A common dress code is therefore cocktail attire.

While it’s still important to let the couple take the spotlight in the sartorial sense, a good rule of thumb is the inverse-anniversary rule: the more years being celebrated, the less flashily you should dress.

Some Sporting Events

There are various equestrian events that have dress codes, and cocktail attire is one of the dress codes you may see if attending one. Here, it’s a great idea to let some colors and patterns fly if you’re so inclined.

Other Semi-Formal & Formal Occasions

Engagement parties and garden parties are some other cocktail attire-driven events that you’ll want to be sure you’re properly dressed for. You’ll want to dress  a bit more quietly for engagement parties, whereas a garden party calls for some more daring in your clothing choices.

Please note that truly semi-formal or formal events do not call for cocktail attire. They call for a tuxedo or white tie and tails, respectively.

What Next?

Now that you’re familiar with cocktail attire, how well-versed are you with the other dress codes than men tend to find themselves dressing for? Take a look at our guide to dress codes and some related content:

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