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Cocktail Attire for Men: Dress Code Guide

Master cocktail attire for men with style tips and outfit ideas. Elevate your look for formal events with our fashion guide for the modern gentleman.

By Jennifer Prince

Cocktail Attire for Men
Photo by Aperture by Amanda Photography

Whether your standard drink is a whiskey sour, Tom Collins, or bourbon—neat, of course—you most likely have a favorite cocktail. However, when it comes to men’s cocktail attire, that can be a complete mystery—and that’s ok. Our comprehensive guide will have you looking your best from what to wear and when to wear it, no matter what drink is in your hand.

Defining Cocktail Attire for Men

Invitations most often arrive with some sort of dress code indicated, and we all want to arrive appropriately dressed for the occasion. But phrases like “smart casual” or “summer formal” can cause many to do a double-take.

Fortunately, men’s cocktail attire allows a bit of freedom within a range of looks. So, here are a few basics on pieces to include for the perfect cocktail style.

  • A jacket is a necessity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean suiting. Well-fitting blazers paired with coordinating—not matching—pants will work correctly. You can also choose to wear a suit, but stay away from the formality of a solid black suit.
  • Wear a tie. This can be either a bow tie or a necktie, and be sure to include it in your look. You can always take it off if you feel it’s too formal, but don’t skip out on neckwear.
  • Put on those dress shoes. Ensure they are in pristine condition by polishing them or replacing the laces, but trade sneakers for upgraded footwear. The only exception is fashion sneakers that have never seen the gymnasium.
  • Don’t forget your belt. If you’re transitioning into your cocktail attire while traveling or after work, double check that you packed your belt. It’s a frequently overlooked piece, but it’s essential for a polished look.
  • Have your best shirt dry cleaned and ready to go. A semi-formal occasion isn’t the time for the sniff test to see if you can wear that oxford once again. Keep it classy in a freshly cleaned and pressed shirt.
  • Opt for extras. Even though there are relatively strict standards, don’t toss your personal style out the window. Add pops of personality with cufflinks and a pocket square, if you choose. Patterned socks and carefully placed jewelry—such as a quality watch or gold bracelet—can also add an extra style element.
Cocktail Attire for Men: A Comprehensive Guide Photo Credit // Unsplash

When to Wear Cocktail Attire for Men

Of course, cocktail attire is expected when an invitation indicates it as the dress code. Beyond that, here are a few events where you may need to wear a suit jacket and a tie.

  • Weddings: Cocktail attire is often the standard for men, especially for an evening wedding. Luckily, invitations will typically state the type of dress. However, you can take cues from the time of day and venue to figure out what type of cocktail wedding attire is expected.
  • Celebrations: You don’t want to show up at your nephew’s first birthday cake smash in cocktail attire. Yet, there are occasions where a jacket and dress pants are the perfect fit. Retirement parties, anniversary celebrations, and rehearsal dinners are ideal opportunities to kick up your style a notch.
  • Holiday Parties: The holidays lend themselves to dressing up a bit. Some families opt for cocktail attire during their Thanksgiving dinner. Similarly, heading to events such as office holiday parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations call for something more stylish.
  • Business Events: Quite often, cocktail attire is appropriate in the workplace. Likewise, an after-hours business event, such as a reception or open house, may call for a suit jacket and tie combo.
  • Cocktail Parties: The extravagant cocktail parties of the ‘50s and ‘60s have come back into vogue, providing the perfect opportunity to dress up a bit.

Final Tips for Nailing Wedding Cocktail Attire Like a Pro

Reach out to the couple if you have any questions at all about what to wear. The last thing you want to do is wear your best suit and bowtie to an ultra-casual backyard BBQ reception.

Consider the Location

An invitation to a summer evening wedding can leave dress up to interpretation, but take cues from the venue. If the couple is getting married in a barn and having lawn games at their reception, chances are you can go for more casual cocktail attire. For a hotel wedding and reception, you can err on the more formal side of cocktail attire. When in doubt, reach out for clarification.

Look at the Time of Day

Brunch weddings are social and relaxing, and there’s a good chance the attire is too. In contrast, a late evening event calls for a bit more formality. You can get away with wearing lighter colors during the daytime, such as camel and pale blue. However, nighttime calls for darker, more formal cocktail attire.

Think About Your Hosts

We all know “that” couple who might buck trends and require cocktail attire for a more informal occasion. There will be photos, after all. Considering the couple and their level of formality can help you decide what to wear while keeping the event’s tone in mind.

Add Color in the Right Places.

That fuschia suit you own fits like a glove, but it may not be the ideal choice for cocktail attire. In contrast, depending on the couple (see the previous point), it may work like a charm. However, when it comes to color, subtle is usually best. Although flecks of color in your pocket square, socks, and necktie can showcase personal style, think charcoal and navy tones for your base pieces.

Cocktail Attire for Men: A Comprehensive Guide Photo Credit // Unsplash

Pick the Pristine

When choosing your clothing pieces, consider their condition, fit, and cleanliness. Take a moment to buff scratches out of your belt, or take that old faithful jacket—with holes—out of your wardrobe. Being invited to a cocktail event is a great excuse to do a bit of closet inventory. If you find anything in need of TLC, either make repairs or ditch them.

Consider the Questionable

When it comes to jeans and cocktail attire, the answer is no—except when your host allows it. If your host is okay with denim, opt for dark blue or black hues, so that your look is still elevated. Skip the tennis shoes unless you have statement sneakers that are in immaculate condition. There should be no question when it comes to fit. Unless baggy is a part of your signature style, a perfect silhouette is the way to go.

Dressing for a special occasion can be a breeze by following a few guidelines. A jacket, tie, and a few simple accessories can set you up for success.

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