Cocktail attire for men is not the easiest thing to pin down. A dress code reserved specifically for festive occasions, it’s less formal than black tie, but more fashion-forward than a simple business suit.
Typically requested on event invitations around the holidays and often seen at weddings, it can be difficult to know how to fit into the dress code properly. However, it may be possible to dress accordingly without further investing in your wardrobe.
Nevertheless, the following guide will help you prepare for a cocktail dress code. You’ll soon know whether you’re in need of a shopping spree or already well-equipped.
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The following guide will tell you everything you need to know about cocktail attire for men. However, if you’re looking for a more generalised breakdown for both men and women, you can refer to our main cocktail attire guide.
Here, we’ll take a look at each component of the overall cocktail ensemble from jackets and trousers to shirts and shoes. There are also a number of handy graphics for quick reference.
Note: If you are interested in women’s cocktail attire, visit our complete guide on cocktail attire for women.
Fit right in. Our cocktail attire guide for men is the perfect reference for properply preparing yourself.
What Is Men’s 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, and dark, well-shined shoes.
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 tuxedo to an event with a cocktail attire dress code. This is overkill and you’ll look very much out of place.
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.”
Is A Suit Required For A Cocktail Dress Code?
You don’t technically have to wear a suit for cocktail attire, but you’ll look best in one. If you were to opt for an odd jacket and trousers combination – a blue sport coat and medium grey trousers with a light blue shirt, burgundy tie, and dark brown shoes, for example – you could pull this off assuming that the event is informal in nature. You want to be sure you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes, especially those of the host(s).
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.
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 too if you like. Any cuff style will do.
In the evening or for any more formal cocktail event, white or light blue are typically appropriate. French cuffs will dress up your presentation a lot, and we suggest them highly for cocktail attire.
For a comprehensive primer on shirts, see our shirt guide.
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 shoes with your dark suit. Oxford styles (cap toes, whole cuts, etc.) are your best bet here.
For a full encyclopedia of men’s shoe styles, see our ultimate shoe style guide.
Accessory Ideas For Cocktail Attire
Daytime/less formal cocktail 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.
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.
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 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.
Weddings 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.
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. 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.
In Summation: Other Dress Code Resources
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 for everything you’d ever need in that regard, and our suit buying guides will help you select the right clothes for many other occasions too.