Cocktail Attire for Men – This is how you Impress

With the holidays coming up it gives the gentleman an opportunity to attend a lot of different types of parties.  The main one is cocktail parties.  So you’ve received an invitation to a soiree stating ‘Cocktail Attire’ as the dress code because it is now fashionable for many companies, and people have holiday cocktail parties. So now you are asking what exactly is cocktail attire and how can I execute this look and stand out?

The History

First let’s take a look at the history of cocktail parties.  Cocktail attire gained popularity in the Twenties and Thirties, when it became common in wealthier, fashionable households to enjoy pre-dinner drinks and canapés in the hours between day and evening. Back then, social events, activities and ostentatious occasions required men to ‘change’ their kit to be more suitably dressed. And, so a new dress code formed.  During that time ‘Cocktail Hour’ became a fashionable event. Too formal for day wear, yet too relaxed and too early for full black tie, cocktail attire emerged from the necessity for a semi-formal ‘between the hours’ dress code.


men cocktail

Essentially, it’s a semi-formal look or outfit that will take you from day to night; bridging the gap between casual day wear, which is too relaxed, and formal evening attire, which is too prim and proper.  In a modern context, the ‘between the hours’ dress code applies to cocktail parties, obviously, but also weddings, anniversaries, formal birthday celebrations.

The beauty of cocktail attire is that, while it’s a relatively formal dress code, there is still room for creativity and personal interpretation. It is easier for women to dress for such occasions then men because, 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.  So in order to not be over or under dressed lets go over the rules of what do you wear to a cocktail party.

cocktail party

The suit

The most common options are a dark tone or grey jacket and trousers. A textured grey wool-cashmere blend suit is always a safe bet, but opting for slightly brighter or unconventional shades (think olive green or burgundy) will give your outfit a contemporary modern gentlemanly edge.

You can also have a patterned suit, or have a patterned jacket with some dress pants.  DO NOT WEAR DENIM, I repeat, DO NOT WEAR DENIM, a cocktail party should not be casual at all.  Also, DO NOT WEAR A BLACK SUIT OR TUXEDO, this is not a funeral, nor is it a good look to be too formal.

3 men cocktail suits


Yes, you can wear a vest without a jacket.  Below are the rules that you should follow for a vest  (even when you are not going to a cocktail party).

  1. The vest should fit snug, not baggy it should show off the best features of your body.
  2. The last button should be unfastened
  3. You can pair vests with jeans, chinos, dress pants, or even khaki pants. In order to do this you must vary the shirt that you wear, from short sleeve shirt to a casual button up to dressy button up.

For a cocktail party you can wear both a jacket and a vest but I recommend one or the other so you can stay cool and not get overheated.

sharp dressed chap


The Shirt

Keep the shirt in harmonious tune with your suit or blazer. A block color in a neutral tone – blue, white or grey – is your safest bet, especially when wearing a checked or striped jacket. Wearing a plain blazer? Look to low-key checks or stripes or even a floral jacquard is a good look.

A crisp cotton dress shirt is an essential element not only to your cocktail hour look, but it should be the foundation that your wardrobe is built on.  It won’t matter what else you wear if your shirt is wrinkled your outfit is ruined.  So make sure your shirt is freshly laundered and well-pressed. The biggest blunder made with shirting is the collar. Avoid floppy, limp shirt collar types, and make sure the collar and cuffs are sharply pressed.

gentleman-hackThis is actually a double hack: First, if you can afford it, keep a rotation of dress shirts, every week (or biweekly) you take a small number of shirts to the laundry to get cleaned and pressed.  Make a habit of it, that way you are never without any clean crisp shirts.


You can buy a garment steamer.  This calls for more work on your end, you must wash your own shirts and then steam them and use an iron to touch them up but in the long run you will save money.  These can run anywhere from 20 US dollars to 130 US dollars.  This websites has some reviews.

Solid tone options are the most traditional, but if you’re less of a conformist, a light pinstripe or low-key check are also agreeable – just make sure your suit isn’t patterned if you choose to tread this path.  Some people say that you need to avoid French cuff shirts and cuff links for daytime cocktail parties, I say an understated silver cuff link on a French cuff shirt is never the wrong thing to wear to a cocktail party.

dress shirt blue

The Shoes

When thinking cocktail, go the Oxford shoe or a monk strap shoe. Black and dark brown are the best color options for the streamline shoe, while a brogue punch hole design will give you a step up in the texture department,  and you will still look stylish.  Light brown is acceptable depending on the color scheme that you are going with.  Alternatively, monk strap shoes are fittingly formal and have secured themselves as footwear mainstay. Even though you will see this, for the modern gentleman loafers – from penny to tassel and even horse bit – should not be considered even if your event is on the less formal side.


cocktail attire shoes

Whatever footwear you choose, just remember to give your shoes a good polish and an once-over with a leather protector spray to ensure they look their best.

Also read: Shoemakers – Custom Made Shoes at a Reasonable Price

gentleman hack

This is an old school hack – rub a small amount of Vaseline petroleum jelly  on your shoes to give it a quick shine when you are short on time,  Make sure your shoes are dust free and dry first.


The Accessories

You can now get away with ditching the tie at less formal cocktail events, but at other times it is still a requirement. This is your opportunity to get a little more creative. If you opted for a simple shirt and suit, you can go for a bolder patterned tie.  Some may feel that a bow tie is out of the question, but as the modern gentleman you can wear a nicely patterned bow tie.  This works best when you are wearing a vest. If you wear a suit, stick with the regular tie.

If your shirt or suit has a pattern, it’s best to choose a simple solid color tie in a complementary color, but a big ‘yes’ to pocket squares this should be folded neatly you can opt for a big flare if you have a more bold look or have a nice folded square if you opt for a more conservative look. Like the tie, the square should be silk and neutral in color in your jacket.

With your pocket square, bear in mind the same rules when choosing your tie: if the rest of your look is patterned, opt for a clean-cut style, but go for a nattier design if your shirt and suit are solid tones.

Try to avoid ties and pocket squares that has the same design – the ‘tie matches the pocket square’ look is a common mistake many men continue to make.

pocket square variations


Remember in order to be totally comfortable you need good underwear, so opt for calf length socks and quality cotton undergarments. It will ensure that everything else on top looks great.  You can opt for multicolor socks, but the danger is that too much attention will be brought to the socks and not to the rest of your outfit.

If you’ve opted for double cuffs, choose sleek, elegant cuff links, this is a time you can show your individuality.  Don’t underestimate the importance of a quality belt – a reversible premium leather or suede design is a versatile investment that will last you years.  Do not fall into the trap of believing an expensive belt (Gucci, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton) is a must.  Much like your socks you don’t want your belt to be where the attention goes.

Now you are ready to party

As a modern gentleman it is very important to put time and effort into making a great impression when you attend different functions.  This is what separates you from the rest of the men who are not representing true manhood.  By following the above rules you will be sure to not only dress stunningly but also stand as an example of how men should dress.


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