Cooler temperatures on the horizon indicate that social calendars are about to heat up. Weddings, galas, parties … so many fantastic opportunities to don your favorite fine accessories! But what of the dress code? Some are by-the-book traditional, and others are open to interpretation. One that frequently perplexes is cocktail attire – what is considered cocktail attire for a man?
Fortunately, cocktail attire is pretty straightforward. Likely, you already have all the foundational pieces in your closet. No need to wonder how you should dress for that wedding cocktail party and other events - we’ve got you covered!
Decoding the Cocktail Attire Dress Code
First things first: read the invitation. Know that cocktail attire is not restricted to the cocktail party. Said cocktail party may very well call for a different dress code altogether - it’s all about the wording, really. Is the dress code plainly stated, or do you need to read between the lines?
If it’s spelled out, stick to your host’s request. If it’s not, look for clues by considering:
- Who is the invitation from?
- What time of day will the event take place?
- What’s the venue, and will it be indoors or out?
If you’re still unsure of what to wear, ask for clarification. If that’s not possible, err on the side of being overdressed rather than underdressed, but keep it conservative.
Whatever you do, don’t upstage your host — and definitely don’t overshadow the bride and groom with your style bravado!
The Perfect Cocktail Attire for a Wedding
Cocktail attire is a step down from black tie and a wonderfully intentional step up from business casual.
Sometimes referred to as semi-formal or business, cocktail attire is a little bit special - perhaps in line with what you’d wear to a formal job interview. You are neither dressed to the 9s, nor in your ordinary 9 to 5's.
Cocktail Attire + Wedding + Men = Suit
An evening event calls for a dark suit, ideally in blue or gray - say, navy or midnight blue, or graphite to mid gray. Afternoon events welcome lighter colors, as well as browns. Black is too formal for day or night cocktail attire, so wear it only if it’s your most suitable option.
Is a blazer OK for cocktail attire? Yes - if you don’t have a full suit, you can mix and match your jacket and trousers. Be mindful to choose colors with a similar color story, though - dark jacket with dark trousers, and vice versa. An ensemble made up of high-contrast pieces will read too casual.
Save your tuxedo shirt for your tuxedo! The ideal shirt for the cocktail attire dress code is your classic and crisp white dress shirt.
Next best is another solid, light color - blue is always a sure bet - or else a white shirt with a very subtle pattern.
This is where the fun begins. Cocktail attire invites the opportunity to accessorize with flair - again, as long as you don’t upstage your hosts.
Starting from top to bottom: first off, neckwear is essential. Bow tie and cocktail attire are a match made in style heaven, and adding the perfect pocket square offers a tremendous opportunity to inject some personality into your look.
A leather belt and leather shoes should be in relationship; if you choose brown leather shoes, go with a brown leather belt, for example. Don’t wear a black belt with brown shoes. But if you have an interesting belt or decide on colorful laces, make a judgment call that feels right to you. There’s room to tastefully mix and match with these sorts of details.
In some settings you can go sock free, but cocktail attire definitely demands socks. A statement sock is fine as long as it’s intentional. Most appealing would be to tie the main color of the sock, or else either a color that’s prominent or subtle in the pattern, into your outfit.
Lastly - cocktail attire is at its best with dark, lace-up shoes. Brown and oxblood leather is most popular, although the modern gentleman may opt for other colors and materials. Plus, laces are another great way to showcase your style. Consider fun colors that will let your funky side shine (and of course color-coordinate to your bow tie)!
What Cocktail Attire Is Not
You will likely be too dressy for cocktail attire if you opt for a black suit, black bow tie, or black shoes. And you will definitely be too dressy if you wear all three! Black signifies formality.
On the other hand, you will be uncomfortably casual if you wear denim or khakis, a polo shirt or heavily patterned shirt, or athletic shoes.
What is Considered Casual Cocktail Attire?
Casual cocktail attire for a wedding or event falls between semi-formal and business casual.
A good rule of thumb would be to keep the above guidelines in mind, but add more of your personal style into the mix, including pieces that are in line with current trends. A more casual event also suggests a looser agenda, so dress comfortably and stay awhile!
If it feels right, you may even consider:
- A statement blazer
- Brighter colors
- Prints and florals
- Signature accessories
Layer up with Winter Cocktail Attire
Wintery cocktail attire opens up a whole ’nother realm of fine menswear. For traditional cocktail parties, stick to classic takes on outerwear and accessories, and for casual cocktail attire, layer up with panache if you feel so inclined!
Winter pieces may include:
- Sweater Vests
Need More Ideas for What to Wear?
At R. Hanauer, we are asked for What to Wear (and not to wear!) and How to Wear advice every day. Here are some of the topics we regularly address - get in touch if you have What to Wear or How to Wear questions you’d like to see us cover in The Gentleman’s Guide.
- What to Wear to a Summer Wedding
- What to Wear on New Year’s Eve
- What to Wear to a Spring Wedding
- What to Wear to Prom for Guys
- Can You Wear a Bow Tie with a Suit?
- How to Wear a Cummerbund
- Bow Tie Fashion Rules