If we’re talking clothing you’d wear to grab a drink, then I wear “cocktail attire” every day. But we’re not—we’re diving into the deets of cocktail attire for men, a sort-of specific and ubiquitous dress code for weddings and special events.
If you’re invited to a cocktail attire wedding or celebration, the dress code’s name alone doesn’t drop clues about what you’ll need to wear. That’s probably why you’re here: to find a few examples of cocktail attire men should wear to a variety of events. Whether you need help putting together an outfit for a party, or want to know what appropriate men’s cocktail attire for wedding guests looks like, you’ve landed in the right place. We’ll show you how to put together a look that’s right for any event.
For more information on dress codes, check out our full guide here.
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Cocktail Attire Definition
Cocktail attire is all about individuality. While other dress codes focus on specific garments (black ties for black tie), cocktail attire for men is a little more nuanced—a mindset more than anything (and that mindset is “I must celebrate”). Maybe that sounds like sweet freedom to you, but for some, choosing cocktail attire is like choosing a college major. #generalstudies
If that’s you, don’t worry—it’s not that difficult to look like you know what you’re doing, and no matter the event, we’ll get you there. Men’s cocktail attire can be as simple as a dark (or dark-ish) suit, an interesting shirt or tie, a pocket square, and dress shoes. For some events, it’s cool to show a little more flair with a bold suit or tuxedo that stands out. If you’re familiar with some of the other dress codes, cocktail attire sits between business attire and black tie optional. Somewhat formal, but not stuffy. Actually, with cocktail attire men can have more fun than with those “color by numbers” dress codes, like black tie, because you get to show a little more of your own style.
Wedding Cocktail Attire for Men
Let’s say you get an invite to a wedding, and they’re requesting cocktail attire. Unless you definitely know this couple wants to see some high-fashion realness, your outfit—in this case—should be on the conservative side. That means a dark suit, a patterned necktie (or bow tie if that’s your thing), pocket square and dress shirt with some dress shoes.
Wearing a dark suit, like a charcoal or navy suit, is the traditional approach to cocktail attire. Choosing a low-key classic makes it unlikely you’ll step on any toes as a guest (don’t steal the wedding party’s thunder), and almost any shirt or accessory looks great with these staples.
A solid-colored shirt in light pink or light blue works well if you’re a guest, because often, the wedding party will be wearing a white dress shirt. If you’re planning a wedding, don’t be afraid to use the shirt to add a little color to the groom or groomsmen suits.
When you’re trying to nail the basics, your tie is the star of the show—everything else is just supporting the grounded outfit you’re creating. Working with pattern and texture, you can turn a few heads in an otherwise simple outfit. Think a knit tie in a muted color, a patterned bow tie or a bold black and white necktie.
Back to the basics. Add a little color to your look with a solid color pocket square (this one gives you multiple options depending on how it’s folded), or keep it classic with black and white.
Cocktail Attire for Special Events
Invited to a special event with a cocktail attire dress code? You’ll need to decide whether this party has a fashionable vibe or a traditional tone. If you land on “traditional,” you’ll want to follow most of the guidelines we laid out for wedding cocktail attire above, but with a few exceptions. For one, you don’t need to worry about upstaging anyone on their wedding day, so skip “conservative” options like a plain white pocket square and dark suit color.
This grey suit isn’t flashy, but because it lets your accessories shine, it’s an extremely versatile suit. If you liked the look of the navy suit above but want a somewhat brighter, more colorful base to your outfit, try this rich blue suit.
If you think you’ll opt for a more colorful or detailed, patterned tie, a white dress shirt will serve you well. Otherwise, a solid color shirt like this light blue number is a good choice that complements just about any tie or pocket square.
The principles of men’s cocktail attire neckwear stay the same for special events, even if the colors get a little more interesting. Unique textures and patterns (knit silk, linen, and seersucker, for example) will cover your neck the right way.
Unique prints or bold colors are a smart move—either one of the suits we recommend would look great with a pop of yellow or orange, and likewise with this on-trend banana leaf pocket square.
Fashion-Forward Men’s Cocktail Attire
If this invite feels like more of an excuse to get together and look awesome, choose an outfit with more oomph, chutzpah, etc.: a suit in a vibrant color, or with a defining characteristic; a tie (optional) that works well with the previously noted suit; a dress shirt and dress shoes (a loafer, perhaps?). In this case, you’re aiming for cocktail attire men will want to emulate.
You know “you” best, so only you know how comfortable you’d be in this attention-grabbing rose shawl suit. It’s bold, but if the event you’re attending is fashionable, this suit makes an appropriately bold statement. If subtle moves are more your speed, try this emerald suit with a shawl collar.
When your suit is doing the talking, let it speak—and keep your shirt simple. For a seamless look, try this hidden button, fly-front shirt. (Bonus: you won’t need cufflinks, as this shirt comes with silk knots.)
Same. You don’t want your tie to compete with your suit, so you either ease up on the color, or skip the tie altogether (see the center “air tie” below).
Looking good isn’t all about volume. Sometimes, a low-key choice is the right choice. A simple printed pocket square, or one that creates a monochromatic look (green square with a green suit) is a good place to start.
You’re here to celebrate, damnit. That probably means dancing, which is why we recommend two of the most dance-able shoes out there: loafers. Both offer an interesting, luxe texture, so if you’re having trouble choosing, think seasonal: velvet loafers in colder weather, patent and grosgrain for warm weather.
A Better Way to Cocktail
Knowing the ins and outs of the cocktail attire dress code is one thing; having a fully-stocked closet to flex that knowledge is uncommon and, frankly, not that practical. It’s likely that you—like most guys—have one suit that you’ve worn to every wedding, bar/bat mitzvah, and anniversary party you’ve been invited to over the past five years. (We won’t ask if that suit has ever been dry cleaned—that’s your secret to keep.)
Half of the fun of this type of event is showing up feeling your best, because getting dressed up is kind of the point. You could drop a paycheck on an new outfit, or you could… rent everything. If you’re familiar with the typical rental suit, that may sound a little batshit (pardon my français), but helping guys show up looking (and feeling) their best is why we do what we do. There’s finally a better, more fashionable way to rent a suit (without leaving your house).
If you can handle the attention/compliments/dance floor invites, get started here.
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