So you’ve received an invitation to a cocktail party. Perhaps it’s hosted by your employer or by a charity you support. Or maybe you’ve been invited to a wedding and the invitation calls for “cocktail attire.” Now you’re faced with the same questions as millions of guys before you: what is cocktail attire and do I own any of it?
Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash
What is cocktail attire for men?
Cocktail attire is best described by what it’s not. It’s not formal. Nor is it casual. Rather, cocktail attire is somewhere in between those two. Cocktail clothing is an attempt to bridge the gap between daytime wear and evening wear. So you’re not wearing a tux to the wedding that calls for cocktail attire. And your date isn’t wearing a floor-length evening gown.One way to think of cocktail attire is as office attire … but much nicer.
What is acceptable for cocktail attire?
So if you’re on your way to a cocktail party after work, you can wear the same thing you wore to the office. But while business casual attire is close to cocktail attire, it’s not the exact same. You’ll need to spruce up your business casual outfit with a tie, jacket, and/or pocket square. (But please, if you work in an office where very casual clothes like hoodies and t-shirts are acceptable, you need to do more than spruce. You'll have to change into an entirely different outfit.)
What is considered men’s cocktail attire?
If there is a key difference between office attire and cocktail attire, it can be found in one word: elegance. When you’re attending a cocktail party, you want to look like a successful and elegant man.
“The number one thing is you want to go with darker colors for a cocktail event, especially on the bottom,” says Joanna Medeiros, a stylist with Taelor. “You don’t want to show up with a khaki-or tan-colored chino. I would say start with either a deep navy or black Chino. You can even do dress pants.”
(However, khaki and tan chinos are a can't-lose choice for guys dressing for a first date. Read more about “When to wear chinos and what to wear with them.”)
Choose pants that are tailored to your body. A relaxed fit is fine. Wider silhouettes are in style now. But avoid anything so baggy as to look casual. And always avoid anything so tight that they look like leggings, regardless of how much you might want to show off the muscles in your legs.
(UPPER LEFT) ANTIOCH CREAM TEXTURED BUTTON UP SHIRT JACKET WITH FOUR FRONT POCKETS (UPPER RIGHT) SONS + FATHERS BLUE SEERSUCKER BLAZER (DOWN) MINISTRY OF SUPPLY KNIT PERFORMANCE HEATHER CHARCOAL BLAZER
On the top, you’re free to go with a lighter color. “You can do a crisp white shirt, that's definitely kind of a go-to. You can do a small pattern on the shirt, but I would stick with plain,” she says. Neckwear should be similarly classic. “You can get a pop of color with the tie,” Medeiros says. “But you wouldn’t want a big print. A smaller print is better.”Nicole Gibbons, another Taelor stylist, agrees. “Sometimes there are set rules (in clothing.) Obviously, you can break them, but most guys want to stick with them, and they should,” Gibbons says. “Go with a nice button-up and dress pants. That's the guy's version of the little black dress.”
Does cocktail attire for men mean wearing a blazer?
Once you’ve chosen your pants and shirt, it’s time to consider a jacket. Here you have a bit more leeway to show your personal style. But don’t overdo it.
“The most casual I would go with is a shirt jacket. There are some shirt jackets that have a little bit of pizzazz to them, but even those are usually too casual for cocktail attire,” says Melissa Slavick, another Taelor stylist. “But definitely an unstructured blazer works. Or we have some cardigans that might work if our customer doesn't like blazers.”
Gibbons agrees.“Add a nice blazer to make it a bit more formal,” Gibbons says. “Add some dark chinos to make it a bit more casual.”
Not all blazers and jackets are appropriate, however. You’ll want something that is well-tailored and fits your body well – neither too loose nor too snug. Single-breasted jackets are best for most men. And the simplest choice for cocktail attire is always a two-piece, single-breasted jacket in a dark color.
(LEFT&RIGHT) ANTIOCH DARK GREY BLAZER WITH THREE FRONT POCKETS
Weather is also a factor. In the summer, go with a lightweight linen suit jacket or blazer. And be prepared to remove it if the party is held outdoors. When the seasons turn colder, a wool blend suit may be best.
On your feet
Generally speaking, footwear for a cocktail party should be more formal than your business casual footwear. Wingtip oxford shoes are good if you’re going with a suit. Loafers can work with most cocktail outfits. “Don’t wear sneakers,” Medieros warns. “Even if you think you're being fun and whimsical. Don't do it.”
Feel free to experiment a bit with the material on your shoes. Suedes in muted colors make for a nice addition to almost any cocktail attire. Chelsea boots can make the two-piece suit you wear to job interviews look more modern and sophisticated. Socks are a must in cocktail attire – except in the summer months. “For something like a rooftop summer cocktail party, a guy can wear high-water chinos with no socks and loafers. That’s definitely a big trend,” Medieros says.
Overcoats are a nice touch
In the cooler weather, a long coat is the best choice for outerwear when attending a cocktail party.”I definitely suggest getting a long, wool coat,” Medeiros says. “It's an investment. But it’s a staple piece and it’s not going to go out of style. You'll have to spend a little bit more money, but you're going to have it for several seasons, so pick out something that's a timeless classic.”
(LEFT) PAISLEY & GRAY PLAID NAVY & ORANGE PLAID SLIM FIT MID LENGTH COAT (RIGHT) PAISLEY & GRAY PLAID NAVY & GREEN DOUBLE BREASTED LONG OVERCOAT
A long overcoat is a good choice, even if there’s a coat check at the cocktail party.
“You want to look good from the car to the door,” she says. “Especially if you're on a first date or going out with your wife.” Even in inclement weather, a long wool coat is a better choice than a down jacket.“If you can, steer clear from the puffy jacket,” says Medeiros.“A puffer jacket is OK if it’s definitely needed because it’s raining or snowing or very cold,” Gibbons says. “But a longer dress wool coat is for sure the best.”
When in doubt, ask
Cocktail attire can be tricky.
That’s especially true in spring, where you might get an invitation urging you to wear “casual cocktail attire” or, as it’s sometimes called, “Connecticut cocktail attire.” (In this case, lighter colors and lightweight fabrics are preferred. But you probably still need a tie.)
So don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re a Taelor customer, contact your stylist. They’ll have ideas. And if you’re invited to a wedding where cocktail attire is suggested, contact the couple and ask them what they expect (Two-piece suit? Dark chinos and an unstructured blazer? Something else?)
(RIGHT) SURFSIDE SUPPLY PASTEL GREEN WASHED TWILL SHIRT JACKET (RIGHT) CIVIL SOCIETY HEATHER TAN STRUCTURED KNIT SHIRT JACKET
The operative word in cocktail attire is elegant. Embrace that.
You might be comfortable wearing a button-up shirt with a few small wrinkles to the office. But don’t do that at a cocktail party. Iron your shirt and pants for a crisp, unwrinkled and classy look.
Similar rules apply for your hair and/or beard. Get your hair cut. Have a professional groom your beard.
A cocktail party is the time to wear your nicest watch. Cufflinks and lapel pins are also acceptable at a cocktail party (whereas they are a bit too over-the-top for the office.)
And do bring a pocket square. They are the epitome of elegance in men’s attire. And frankly, outside of cocktail parties, there are precious few places where you can wear one without looking foppish.
(RIGHT) WESSI BROWN HERRINGBONE BLAZER WITH THREE FRONT POCKETS (LEFT) WESSI NAVY HERRINGBONE BLAZER WITH THREE FRONT POCKETS
Don’t have a stylist? Want some help finding and choosing clothes that will make you the best possible version of you (without having to do laundry or spend a fortune), let Taelor help. Taelor is a menswear rental subscription service dedicated to helping men look their best when it matters most. Our styling service, powered by a human stylist and assisted by artificial intelligence, finds the clothes that help you win – at work, on a date, at a party, or wherever you spend your time.
by Paul Conley