The notion of cocktail dresses for women has always been simple and versatile enough for any gal to master the art of cocktail dressing before you snap your fingers. The truth is, the famous little black dress is the go-to choice for most women, whether it’s a long dress or a midi one of asymmetrical length, too. Spruce up an LBD with a string of pearls and ankle boots, and you have a perfectly assembled, feminine, cocktail-friendly look.
For men, however, things can get a bit complicated. Should you emulate Richard Gilmore, Harvey Specter, someone from the Mad Men gang, or aspire for a Colin Firth-worthy outfit? You don’t want to attend the event overdressed or choose something too casual.
Cocktail attire has adapted to become more suited (pardon the pun) for the modern man, but also to reflect some of the more recent trends that have reshaped the fashion industry. Then again, cocktail attire is also meant to be timeless in essence, letting a man have his go-to ensemble. Does it mean that you always must wear a snazzy suit? Not necessarily. Would classy, haute jeans work? Sometimes. Knowing when to wear what makes all the difference in crafting your unique style without stepping out of what cocktail attire entails for a man.
Whether you’re attending a winter wedding, a Christmas party with your colleagues, or a cocktail evening in the city, you can rely on the following advice to add some effort into your look and prevent many a fashion faux pas.
The cocktail attire boundaries
Modern fashion is all about pushing boundaries, in most situations, but some occasions call for a specific dress code that you need to follow. Much like women should never outshine the bride when attending a wedding, the same golden rule of thumb applies for men’s cocktail attire: do not steal the spotlight from the guest of honor, or the groom, depending on the event. Leave the neon hues, the fanciest combinations, and other flashy add-ons for another time.
A typical dress code varies from one event to another, and it doesn’t hurt to ask the host for guidance on what is expected, in case the invitation doesn’t clearly state the necessary attire. Most daytime events accept dark jeans with a collared shirt, while evening events require a suit. A tie is often not mandatory, but still expected.
Although a classic suit that you’d wear to a business meeting will suffice and is often required, try to avoid the all-black option that would be more fitting for a funeral. Then again, a suit is indeed enough, so you can leave the tux and the penguin suit for another, more formal occasion.
You’re always invited to give all of your cocktail ensembles that personal touch, be it a unique tie, a watch, or cufflinks, but make sure you stick with one or two choices that are subtle and sophisticated.
Go for a tailored look
While a tux or a penguin suit isn’t necessary, and it’s actually advisable to avoid it unless the invitation specifically states you should wear one, a tailor-made suit is a must. Slim fit is the best choice when tailoring your look, but make sure your ensemble isn’t too tight or too loose.
A two-piece suit in muted tones of grey, navy, and cobalt is a standard pick, although summer weddings, for example, can leave room for softer tones such as creamy linen suits. The fabric and the hue will perfectly fit the event, and make you feel comfortable at the same time.
Smart and semi-casual options
Less formal occasions leave room for more than a suit, so you can opt for dark-coloured jeans (no distressed denim, mind you), and a blazer. However, most cocktail events still don’t call for a pair of chinos, so let’s stick to fitted pants and jeans instead. You’re looking for the kind of dark, navy jeans that will allow you to pair them with a smart collared shirt and a jacket, and of course, a pair of elegant dress shoes.
The shirt is, in fact, what makes your less formal jeans elegant enough to be considered acceptable for a cocktail event. Even when it’s a crisp white shirt and steals none of the spotlight, it’s the piece that ties in the whole look together, and while a tweed blazer is a solid addition for cold-season events, the shirt is a must-have for cocktail parties.
When you choose a single-hued suit, then you can opt for a bolder, more colourful shirt to give your ensemble some zest. Monochrome in lavender is a frequent choice, while a shirt with vertical stripes in a couple of bolder hues can make your suit more festive and fun for a holiday event.
The key differences between a standard suit jacket and the blazer as your second-best option for a more casual look are the fit and the match. The former is made of the exact same fabric as the pants you’ll wear, and it will be slightly tighter, whereas the latter uses other fabrics and has a slightly looser form, hence the casual label for it. Both combinations are perfectly acceptable in most situations, but when in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to level up and stick with the suit, or just call the host and ask for guidance.
Elevate your look with accessories
By far the most effective way to craft a unique, personal style even out of your most formal suits is to utilize various subtle accessories. They are every man’s best friend to express your preferences and make your appearance as elegant and exquisite as you are.
Let’s start with selecting a tie or a bow tie that matches your suit or your smart, but casual pants-plus-blazer combination. When you like wearing single-hued, no-pattern suits, this is your perfect opportunity to play with colours and patterns, since interesting, unique neckties and bow ties are a brilliant way to add some whimsy to your formal ensemble. Sometimes clashing patterns (think: stripes and dots) can add a fun note to your look, whereas complementary colours are always a safe option.
In case you’d like to combine a necktie with a pocket square, make sure to choose a secondary colour of your collared shirt or your tie so as to avoid a monochrome look. Select a pattern that isn’t too dramatic or overly pompous, but that adds some playfulness to your outfit. Finally, make sure to learn how to fold your pocket square according to the occasion, and you can expect some impressed nods at the party for sure.
Next, you need a timepiece such as a stainless steel watch that will complete your entire cocktail ensemble. Such a powerful material adds sleek ruggedness to your look without depriving it of luxury or opulence. In fact, steel is often combined with wood for a balanced approach. This accessory pairs the best of what style and function have to offer a man: a watch serves a purpose while it simultaneously enhances your personal look and confidence.
Pick the right pair of shoes
Treat your shoes as the foundation of your outfit, not just another accessory, because they can make or break your entire look. Just like women reach for ankle boots as their primary cocktail-friendly footwear for any season, men also need a classic pair, be it for a holiday, or another business event. For instance, Oxford shoes in classic leather brown or black are the go-to option for these formal occasions, and they are the perfect choice to elevate even the more casual outfits. These shoes are the personification of style for men, so they are a no-brainer for any season and any situation.
However, you can give yourself some style space and opt for less formal shoes such as loafers, provided that the occasion is not as haute, especially if it’s a summer wedding at the beach. Make sure to check this with the host, though, since you don’t want to be the worst-dressed guest there when you have the chance to show off your finest Oxfords.
When to reach for a fragrance
Sometimes the accessory you cannot see or show off is your greatest ally in assembling the perfect cocktail attire for the evening. To put it simply, you can instantly give your suit the needed edge of personalization by choosing a fragrance to go with your look.
Once again, the choice of the cologne will depend on the occasion as well as the season, although some fresh and citrusy scents are adaptable for any situation. After all, this is not something you want the entire room to notice as soon as you enter, but use it as that final touch that will complement your look perfectly.
Look for long-lasting fragrances that won’t wear off in an hour, but that will linger with you for the duration of the event, and that will solely depend on the quality of the ingredients used in the cologne you select. That’s why it pays to invest in names such as Davidoff, Azzaro, or Armani.
Playing with hues, patterns, and texture
Some men like the minimalist approach and they stick to a navy-blue suit for any event that calls for formalwear. As safe as this option may be, you have so many other options at your disposal, it would be a pity not to look for an alternative and express your personal sense of style. When you’re ready to ditch that monochrome comfort zone, you can start with something easy and fun to combine and low-maintenance such as pinstripes.
Eager to try something more playful? Then perhaps something plaid is in order, although that will be more challenging to combine. When you’re about to attend a slightly less formal event, tweed-based houndstooth is a great, visually-appealing option.
For more conservative men who like the classics but still want to steer clear of simple single hues, you can go for a sophisticated glen plaid pattern that will give you plenty of room to accessorize. Although the most common variety comes in white or grey, there are options that include a single accent hue for the boldest among you.Much like with any other fashion choice, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for your cocktail event. Depending on the location and the occasion, as well as the season, you’ll need to craft an outfit to suit the blend of all of those factors. However, you can always give yourself plenty of leeway to get creative with personalizing your look with accessories, and still live up to the cocktail attire expectations that the event in question calls for. These tips can help you stay within the dress code rules, and master the art of cocktail dressing for your next event.