You’re invitation’s arrived and it requests you to don your cocktail attire – that means, pull on a jacket and look neat and chic for a special occasion. Think of the cocktail attire dress code as overlapping with what you’d wear for a business meeting but with a touch more expression than in the office.
Your cocktail attire should be elegant and simple. You want to show that you made an effort for the occasion, you respect your hosts, and not draw attention away from the groom or the guest of honour.
Cocktail attire for men isn’t limited to matching jackets and pants. Matching your pants and jacket is optional for a cocktail party. In terms of fabrics, stick with cotton, wool, moleskin, or linen (weather permitting). The colour of your pants should complement your jacket and not vice-versa. Stick with darker greys, navy, and black for a safer look. Try to avoid your jacket and trousers being close to the same colour but made from different fabrics. This can tend to look like an attempt to create a suit. You’re better to go with a contrasting combination. A suit is two, or three pieces of matching fabric and colour and should be only worn as such. Having said that, a suit jacket can also be used effectively as a blazer providing it doesn’t have a pinstripe or herringbone texture.
Upon arrival, make sure that the buttons, with the exception of the bottom one, are done up. As soon as formalities, such as greetings are completed, it is acceptable to undo the buttons on your jacket. If you’re wearing a waistcoat, the bottom button of your waistcoat should be undone, but those above should remain fastened. When you depart the function and are thanking your hosts, return to the way you were dressed when you arrived.
Accessories can make or break the Cocktail ensemble.
If your blazer or suit has a slight check then make sure your shirt is plain in colour. A single coloured jacket can look great with a patterned shirt but an array of differing patterns rarely succeed, and it is all about a great coordinated look. Your shirt should be collared and fit well. The sleeves should poke out about a centimetre from the cuff of the jacket. Button-down collars are great when you’re wearing a tie, not so much if you choose to go without one.
The same can be said for the belt and shoes. belts are not only to hold your pants up but they create a neat transition between the trousers and shirt. If your pants have belt loops, you should always wear a belt, and that belt should be the same colour of leather as your shoes. Your shoes need to be lace-ups or slip-ons and made from leather. A good pair of dress boots are also quite acceptable. Brown or black will go with any colours, but make sure the browns are close in tone.
The cocktail ensemble can be worn with or without a tie, which can be a straight one or a bow tie that isn’t black or white, keep those for your tuxedo (see our Black Tie section). Match your choice of tie with a pocket hank to bring the look together. Pocket hanks are also great without a tie, adding that burst of colour to show some of your own style and pizazz.
Some items in your wardrobe won’t last for more than a season. You shouldn’t spend too much on those. But others will stay with you for years. That’s particularly the case with your suit or blazer. Decide which style you want and invest in quality over quantity. As very few gents can buy directly off the rack, buy your suit or jacket well before the event so that we at Brown’s can have it tailor altered for you. A poorly fitted suit is not worth having, let alone being seen in.
In general, if you’re requested to wear cocktail attire, it means that you should pull on a jacket and look sharp for such a special occasion. The location and time of the occasion will dictate how exactly you should dress.