Cocktail Attire For Men – Dress Code Guide For Weddings, Parties & Events

When you receive an invitation nowadays, it may add a dress code such as Cocktail Attire, Black Tie Optional, Semi-Formal Attire or Formal Attire, but what exactly does that mean? 

Back in the day, things were simpler: the dress code was either Black Tie for less formal evening occasions or White Tie for more formal ones. Women’s dresses were chosen accordingly. Today, for many men the tuxedo is the most formal garment they will ever wear, and it is often rented. In the following, I want to explain what Cocktail Attire For Men is all about and what options you have for weddings, parties or events when you receive an invitation that asks for it.

Video – Cocktail Attire For Men

Want to look the part at the next cocktail party? Get our cocktail attire pocket guide for men here.

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The Basics of the Cocktail Attire Dress Code

Dress Codes Formality Scale
Dress Codes Formality Scale

How Formal is Cocktail Attire and When Should You Wear It?

On the scale of dress codes, cocktail attire is the middle, a step up from business casual but less formal than black tie. It is considered on par with business attire, so it is easy to use an outfit you would wear to your office or an interview to create a great cocktail attire ensemble. This dress code is most commonly found on invitations for parties, weddings, and professional events, which are formal events.

Dark Flannel Suit with Silk Tie & TV Fold Pocket Square
A Dark Flannel Suit with Silk Tie & TV Fold Pocket Square is perfect for Cocktail Attire

Even though times have changed and style is becoming ever more casual, if a dress code is called for, you should do your best to stick with it because dressing appropriately is a sign of respect for the host and the event. Cocktail attire is likely to be one of the more frequent dress codes most men encounter because it falls in the middle of casual and formal, but it is also one of the most convenient because it is made up of garments and accessories that most men likely already own. 

Sven Raphael Schneider wearing a DB flannel suit
Sven Raphael Schneider wearing a DB flannel suit that would work for cocktail attire

Cocktail attire is also versatile in that when in a pinch, you can wear a cocktail attire with a dark suit instead of a tuxedo when black tie is called for as the dress code. It’s also appropriate for funerals and other solemn occasions when formality is required. In this case, a solid dark navy or charcoal suit can be worn if you don’t own a black one, and your accessories should be muted, such as a black grenadine tie, black leather oxford dress shoes, and a solid white shirt. Even if you wear smart casual or jeans on a day to day basis, it pays to have at least one cocktail attire outfit ready in your closet for short notice events. 

What is Semi Formal and Formal Attire for Men?

Colin Firth in Kingsman wearing a classic British suit with padded shoulders that works for cocktail attire

If your invitation states a semi-formal or formal attire, these are vague and challenging dress codes to deal with today because they mean different things to different people. In the past, formal attire was a tuxedo, while semi-formal would be like cocktail attire. These days the ambiguity of these dress codes can make them frustrating for guests.

If the Invitation Asks for Cocktail Attire, Men Should Wear:

  1. A dark to mid-gray suit
  2. A button-down dress shirt in white or another muted color
  3. A necktie or bow tie in subtle patterns or plains
  4. A simple pocket square
  5. Black dress shoes with a leather sole, such as oxfords
  6. Over the calf socks that either match your trousers or pick up something in your outfit such as a color in your tie or bow tie
  7. Of course, make sure you are clean shaven and you have a recent haircut
Opt for a dark suit for a black tie optional event
Opt for a dark suit for a cocktail attire event

Cocktail Attire Don’ts: 

  • DON’T wear your tuxedo or white tie, as that would be too formal for this dress code 
  • DON’T wear a black suit – these should be reserved only for funerals
  • DON’T wear your pinstripe suit, bright colored ties, a bold paisley shirt, or flashy accessories at home to a wedding – the couple should be the center of attention, not you
  • DON’T wear casual clothes such as khakis, chinos, jeans, polo shirts, or a sports jacket; if it would work well for business casual, don’t wear it!
  • DON’T wear casual shoes such as loafers (or any shoes without laces)
  • DON’T go sockless – this may be a trend now but it is inappropriate for cocktail attire
  • DON’T forget to wear a tie or a bow tie- it’s too casual without one

Cocktail Attire For Men at a Wedding

Navy suit with burgundy grenadine tie
Navy suit with burgundy grenadine tie

Even though the above guidelines for cocktail attire may seem a bit subdued, they will be appropriate for the majority of weddings. The result of the cocktail attire dress code is that you will be elegantly and respectfully attired for the occasion without being flashy or otherwise drawing attention away from the focus of the day – the bride and groom. Unless you have information suggesting otherwise, such as a beach or barn location, you can’t go wrong with traditional cocktail attire at a wedding. 

 If the bridegroom is a flamboyant artist or someone who wears shorts and t-shirt, no matter what, try to adjust your outfit so you will not be completely out of place: For an artist wedding, go with more colorful accessories and for a completely informal wedding, skip the tie and just wear a combination with a dark jacket and lighter colored slacks – again, it is their day so you should try not to catch much attention with your outfit.

What Should Men Wear to a Cocktail Party?

Single-breasted suit
Single-breasted suit with a bold shirt is a good choice for a cocktail party

Interestingly, most women understand the attire required for such an event due to the aptly named cocktail dress (often black), whereas it is not as clear for men what attire they should wear to a cocktail party. Unfortuntanely, the cocktail party and cocktail attire do not go hand in hand, and you will need to make a judgement about the nature of the event before you decide what to wear. 

If the event suggests a dress code, then go with it.  If not, consider that cocktail parties are supposed to be relaxed occasions, and although not wrong per se, a classic dark suit such as navy or charcoal is probably a tad too formal. During the winter, you can wear flannel, with patterns, and maybe a bow tie. Be more daring than with your business wardrobe and pay attention to accessories such as cuff links, tie bars, pocket squares, boutonnieres… but don’t overdo it and only use two accents at the most.

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Sven Raphael Schneider wearing a DB flannel suit

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Madder Silk Bow Tie in Purple with Paisley

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Cornflower Boutonniere

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White Linen Pocket Square

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Sunglasses are a must for an event outside. Click to find out what shape suits you best.

During the warmer months of the year, you can go with lighter colors, such as the light blue linen sport coat below.

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Pink Two Tone Knit Tie Fort Belvedere

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A knit tie in a two tone color is perfect because it is casual yet unusual.

Click to learn more about this tie.

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A lapel flower boutonniere makes your outfit special & fun.

For a selection of boutonnieres, click here.

Traditional Cocktail Attire in the 1930s

Cocktail Party Suits
 Cocktail Party Suits

Fashion illustrations are a window into a bygone era when every man seemed to be dressed to the nines. The following fashion illustration is from 1936, the golden age of men’s classic style,  and shows us a nice mix of cocktail attire for men that would still work today. This illustration clearly shows the evolution of women’s dress since the 30’s, since these women are wearing hats and suits that were then considered everyday attire rather than business wear. If the party is during the day or in the afternoon, you can add more color and patterns to your outfit, although the basics mentioned in the list above apply here as well. In the evening, you can wear darker suits, fewer patterns, and more muted colors. 

The Stroller With Striped Trousers for Formal Day Event

Let’s start on the very left with the gentleman in the stroller. He leans by the fireplace, talking to the lady in red. Of course, this is an illustration, but note how neatly his coat fits around the collar, shoulders  and cuffs. There are neither gaps nor excess shirt cuff fabric to be seen. His stroller jacket is the typical single-breasted, peaked lapel style with two buttons and jetted pockets in a charcoal gray (this jacket is also found in black). Instead of a pocket square, he opted for a red carnation that goes well with his buff waistcoat, white shirt, and light blue tie. His trousers are striped but instead of the more common cashmere stripe, a special stripe for morning wear that does not really have anything to do with cashmere, he chose a wide stripe in black and white. Even though his shoes aren’t visible, they are probably black oxfords to match the colors in his outfit and the formality of this look. This cocktail outfit used to be particularly popular for wear on Sunday afternoons and was often seen at the smartest cocktail bars. Today, the stroller is definitely the most formal of all the cocktail suits yet different than another flannel blazer combination or a navy suit.

Windowpane Overplaid Sharkskin Suit – Great For Most Cocktail Parties

One of the highlights in this illustration is certainly the suit in the middle, featuring a large rust brown subdued windowpane overplaid on a grey sharkskin suit. Worn as a 3-piece suit with an ivory colored shirt and navy-red club tie,  the proportions of this suit are very moderate. It has a normal lapel width and gorge, round quarters and a fairly long jacket. In my opinion, windowpane suits are one of the most underrated outfits in menswear and hence, they are an ideal chance for you to differentiate yourself without being overly loud. As a general rule, you should keep in mind that the more patterns and colors (other than navy and grey) you have in your outfit, the less formal it will be. All of the suits shown here would be appropriate attire for 95% of cocktail parties.

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Silk Boutonnieres that look like real flowers - they just never wilt & travel well

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Blue Cornflower Boutonniere Buttonhole Flower Silk Fort Belvedere

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Orange Golden Fritillaria Silk Boutonniere Buttonhole Flower Fort Belvedere

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Edelweiss Boutonniere Buttonhole Flower Fort Belvedere

Wide Stripe Worsted Flannel Suit – An Option for Evening Events

On the very right, we have a gentleman in a suit with yet another large pattern: the wide-spaced colored stripe. The red stripes inspired the rest of his dress, choosing a red boutonniere and Bordeaux tie. This three-piece flannel suit with stripes benefits from the peaked lapels, which provide a little more formality. If the lady in blue were to step aside, you would see that the trousers of this suit are without cuffs, which raises the formality bar by another notch.

Striped Worsted Flannel
 Striped Worsted Flannel

In combination with a white crisp shirt collar, this outfit would be almost bank appropriate, expect for the wide colored stripes.

Nevertheless, I think it is a fantastic stripe and hence I wanted to provide you with a picture of an authentic cloth sample. As you can see, the stripe is more subdued than in the illustration, which makes it even more appropriate for a cocktail suit that is different yet elegant.

Conclusion

When cocktail attire is called for as the dress code at your next event, now you know what you need to wear to look and feel great. At a wedding, try to be properly dressed without being too flashy and always keep the bride and groom in mind. For cocktail parties and receptions, leave your business navies and grays in the closet and add a splash of color. If you have a vest – even a contrasting one – wear it if it pairs well with the suit. I hope I provided you with some food for thought for cocktail attire for your next reception – have fun and enjoy company and drinks!


Gentleman’s Gazette

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Holiday Attire for Men: What It Means & How to Wear It

The source of confusion in this dress code is that it can mean anything from cocktail attire with a festive twist to the recent vogue for ugly Christmas sweaters.

Our most general piece of advice for the holiday or festive dress code is to gravitate to the more formal end of the spectrum which we’re going to lay out today. After all, no one is ever going to fault you for looking put together. The exception to this advice, of course, is if the hosts have clearly stated that the party is going to be more extravagant and playful in nature and that ugly sweaters are expected. In that case, by all means, do loosen up and have some fun.

Ugly Christmas Sweater

Ugly Christmas Sweater

Your safest bet, of course, will always be to ask the hosts for advice directly as a gentleman always makes the effort to follow a dress code as closely as he can; to do otherwise would be an insult to your hosts. One more piece of general advice here before we dive in, keep it varied and have a few options handy, after all, it’s a busy time of year for parties and you may be invited to more than one that has a holiday or festive dress code to it so having a few options at your disposal will never be a bad thing.

Tartan adds a bit of playfulness to any outfit

Tartan adds a bit of playfulness to any outfit

How To Meet The Holiday Attire Dress Code Stylishly?

The simplest answer is this, think of it as being an offshoot of cocktail attire with an extra holiday touch in terms of color or some playfulness that’s incorporated into your outfit such as wearing tartan which has been an established alternative when it comes to holiday wear since at least the middle of the 20th century. Regarding color then, do feel free to incorporate some of the standard colors of the holiday season such as red and green. With that said, however, don’t go for bright and gaudy hues as these are just going to make you stand out a little bit too much. Instead, go for something subtle, understated, and elegant.

Now let’s cover today’s subject through the lens of multiple different types of holiday parties, each with differing levels of formality and cover the related dress accordingly.

Office Appropriate Festive Attire

Regarding how dressed up you should be for such an event, just take a cue from the regular day-to-day attire at your office. In other words, think of how you should dress as being a somewhat typical office outfit, maybe just a bit more relaxed and with a seasonal element to it.

White Collar Office Parties

Firstly, if you work in a traditional white collar office environment, go for something that’s appropriately conservative. For example, a suit perhaps three pieces or double-breasted in a dark color like charcoal, navy, or in midnight blue, if you’re feeling especially elegant. Along with this, you could go for a dress shirt, ideally French cuffed and probably in a pastel color as white might be just a bit too stuffy for a festive party.

Oxblood derby shoes is a great option for Festive Attire dress code

Oxblood derby shoes is a great option for Festive Attire dress code

In terms of shoes, you’ll want to keep things appropriately conservative as well so you could go for the classic black cap toe oxford or if you’re feeling just a little bit more playful, something in a very dark brown color perhaps an oxblood. You could go for something like a monk strap or something incorporating just a little bit of broguing in its design but you don’t want to get too crazy and you probably won’t want to opt for light colors like tan either. After all, if your regular office attire consists of those black oxfords, you’ll want to keep it in the neighborhood of that kind of shoe even for a party like this.

Refrain from wearing this loud Christmas tie at a white-collar office party

Refrain from wearing this loud Christmas tie at a white-collar office party

As for your accessories, the novelty tie emblazoned with huge Santa heads is probably going to be a little bit too informal for a party of this nature. Instead, you’ll want to go for something like a dark burgundy or a similarly muted hue perhaps with a slight pattern to it. Although solids are of course a safe bet. Your pocket square can be a little bit bolder in comparison to your tie and can possibly incorporate some small patterns as well. Just remember that all of the elements of your outfit should ultimately remain harmonious.

You’re likely going to have the most latitude here with your cufflinks, they can be solid metal in any shade of course and can incorporate stones or other engraved designs. This type of party is just playful enough, however, that you could also do something with miniatures, say, for example, a tiny reindeer just so long as it’s understated and subtle. Have fun with it and try to strike that ideal balance between formal and festive.

Eagle Claw Cufflinks with Malachite Balls by Fort Belvedere combined with green tie bar and malachite pinky ring

Eagle Claw Cufflinks with Malachite Balls by Fort Belvedere combined with a green tie bar and malachite pinky ring

Tie bars, collar clips, and rings can also be worn as long as they are similarly understated and of course, matching your metals is always a good idea. Finally here regarding boutonnieres, something light-colored and small so as also to be understated would be an ideal choice.

 

 

Do not attempt to wear super bright colors as it may make you look clownish

Do not attempt to wear super bright colors as it may make you look clownish

Less Formal Office Parties

For a slightly less formal type of office party, we recommend that you go with a combination of sport coat and odd trousers. A patterned or textured sportcoat would be a good choice here with or without a tie. Something for example in herringbone, houndstooth, or a mottled tweed will provide a rustic quality that’s still appropriate for the season. Wearing a blazer with a tartan or other plaid pattern would be an ideal way to be seasonally appropriate, a little bit bold, and a little bit rustic all at the same time.

Opt for tweed if you are going for the rustic look

Opt for tweed if you are going for the rustic look

Finally, this would also be a great opportunity to break out something like a burgundy velvet jacket if you’re feeling especially avant-garde. Your shirt could be plain in color, either in a pastel shade or alternatively in a rich dark hue if you’re going for something a little bit more fashion-forward. Also, the shirt could feature a pattern just so long as that pattern doesn’t clash if you’ve also got one in your jacket.

Aleks Cvetkovics with denim shirt on top of a turtleneck sweater

Aleks Cvetkovics with denim shirt on top of a turtleneck sweater

In terms of styling and materials, choices like the Oxford cloth button down or OCBD would be appropriately semi-formal. A chambray shirt would be another good choice or alternatively, you could substitute the collared shirt altogether for something like a dark turtleneck sweater under your jacket. You can round out this look with some flannel trousers or corduroys.  As far as shoes are concerned, you could opt for something like wingtips or loafers just so long as they’re well shined.

Casual Office Parties

Brown sport coat with fair isle vest and Fort Belvedere accessories

Brown sport coat with fair isle vest and Fort Belvedere accessories

Our advice is largely the same as for semi-formal office parties but with a few key distinctions.

Ralph Lauren Cable Knit Cardigan Sweater

Ralph Lauren Cable Knit Cardigan Sweater

First of all, you can feel free to swap out the sport coat with a cable knit pullover or a cardigan sweater in a warm color. Alternatively, a fair isle sweater or sweater vest will allow you to stand out a little bit more while still looking rustic and traditional.

Allen Edmonds Chukka boots paired with dark denim jeans

Allen Edmonds Chukka boots paired with dark denim jeans

In addition to flannel trousers and corduroys, a casual office party would also be an appropriate time to break out dark denim or perhaps even colored chinos if you’re feeling especially bold.

Crazy Christmas Socks

Crazy Christmas Socks

Finally, you can add an accent with some brightly colored dress socks or maybe incorporate your crazy socks featuring Santa and his reindeer here and you can round out the look with some informal shoes or perhaps a dress boot.

Residential /Private Holiday Parties

SRS in a brown turtleneck sweater

SRS in a brown turtleneck sweater

Now let’s briefly cover some advice on what to wear to a holiday or festive party given in a residential or otherwise similarly private setting. In the broad strokes, you’re going to want to keep things a little bit more relaxed for a home party than you would for an office party but the breakdown we’ve just given for three different formality levels of office parties can still hold mostly true here as well. In other words, all of the suggestions we gave for specific combinations of garments still hold true for home parties as they did for office parties but when we gave you more than one option in some of our breakdowns, you would here opt for some of the less formal of those options.

SRS wearing a denim shirt with a sport coat

SRS wearing a denim shirt with a sport coat

For example, at a semi-formal or mid-level holiday house party, you could perhaps go for the turtleneck sweater before going for the button-down. Remember, the bottom line for house parties is always the dress code that’s printed on the invitation and/or the personal advice of the hosts. If the party takes place during the holiday season but the invitation says black-tie, wear a tuxedo and leave that tweed sport coat at home.

Non-traditional Black Tie ensemble with velvet DB jacket and midnight blue trousers, following the clack black tie style rules

Non-traditional Black Tie ensemble for the holidays with burgundy velvet DB jacket and midnight blue trousers, following the black tie style rules

CONCLUSION

While the holiday or festive dress code covers a wide range of levels of formality, it doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety. For a party at work, take a cue from your regular office attire and add a twist or two and for a residential party, take your cue from the invitation and the advice of the hosts and feel free to be just a little bit more relaxed and playful and yes, if ugly sweaters are expected, do loosen up and feel free to have a little bit of fun.

What sorts of combinations have you worn to holiday parties in the past? Share with us in the comments section below.


Gentleman’s Gazette

MEN FASHION DEAL UPDATE:

Look like a Gentleman, Travel in Style and Enjoy the Best in Men’s Accessories at Hook & Albert. Get 20% Off Your First Order with Coupon Code TAKE20. Shop Now!