When you receive an invitation nowadays, it may read Cocktail Attire, Black Tie Optional or Formal but what exactly does that mean?
Back in the day, things were simpler: The Dresscode was either Black Tie for less formal evening occasions and White Tie for more formal ones. The women’s dresses were chosen accordingly.
Today, for many men the tuxedo is the most formal garment they will ever wear, and even then it is just rented. In the following, I want to explain to you 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.
If the invitation asks for Cocktail Attire, men should wear:
- dark to mid-gray suit
- dress shirt in white or a muted color
- necktie in subtle patterns or plains
- pocket square
- black dress shoes with leather sole
- Over the Calf Socks that match the trousers or something else in your outfit
- Of course make sure you are clean shaven and you have a proper hair cut
- Do NOT wear your tuxedo, that would be overdressed.
- For weddings: remember, this is the bride & groom’s day, so leave your pin stripe suit, bright colored ties and flashy accessories at home – the couple should be the center of attention, not you.
Cocktail Attire For Men at a Wedding
Interestingly, most women understand the attire required for such an event due to the aptly named, short cocktail dress (often black), whereas men generally do not have a clue as to what attire they should wear to a cocktail party.
Of course, these are general wedding instructions that will be appropriate in 95% of all weddings. 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 to Wear To a Cocktail Party?
Cocktail parties are supposed to be relaxed occasions and although not wrong per se, a classic navy or charcoal business suit is probably a tad too formal. The following fashion illustration is from 1936 and shows us a nice mix of cocktail attire for men that are perfectly adequate 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. Below: you will find a bunch of different examples of cocktail attire for parties.
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 2 buttons and jetted pockets. Instead of a pocket square, he opted for a red carnation which 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.
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 but 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 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.
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 wear to step aside, you would see that the trousers of this suit are without cuffs, which raises the formality bar by another notch.
In combination with a white crisp shirt collar, this outfit would almost be 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.
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!