WHAT EXACTLY is cocktail attire for men? While dress codes and formalities seem particularly foreign following a global pandemic, cocktail attire is generally about being respectful and thoughtful to both your host and the occasion. While cocktail attire is not as formal as black tie dress codes, it certainly requires a high level of polish and style.
“Cocktail attire straddles business and formal,” says Tom Broecker, the costume designer behind the leading looks in Bros. “As ‘business casual’ becomes more prevalent, it makes cocktail attire confusing.” But let’s be clear: nothing about your cocktail look should read casually.
A suit is your best bet. What type of suit, the shirt you choose, shoes, accessories, and how you style are all key components of the equation of what the full look amounts to. “When you enter a room your clothing speaks before you do,” says celebrity stylist Donté McGuine, who has dressed stars like Evan Mock and Vic Mensa for the red carpet. “It’s up to you to figure out what you would like to say!”
More From Men’s Health
If you truly have no idea what to wear (or how to wear it), the old standby navy, gray, or black suit with a white dress shirt and dress shoes is a no-brainer. Should your personal style be more inventive, separates of similar colors, patterns, or textures are appropriate if they look well thought out and put together. “Monochromatic and tonal looks are subtle yet bold statements,” says McGenuine. “Wearing the hues of one base color says, ‘I’m informed, fun, and distinguished.’”
Context is key. You can always check in with the host (but please, in advance) to ensure you’re aware of any requirements or faux pas. “Know your audience. Know your location. And know the time of day,” says Broecker. “All of those things will help inform your look.” You would not, for example, wear the same look to a family member’s daytime beach wedding as your company’s holiday party, despite both having “cocktail attire” dress codes.
Read more: How to Dress for Beach Weddings
For warmer weather cocktail events like summer weddings, a raise in temperature means lighter colors and fabrics, and often less formalities. Espadrilles may replace oxfords, and a knit polo or patterned shirt may be encouraged over a starchy button up. As the temperature drops, you can try layering fabrics and textures like velvets, knits, and brocades.
“Always err on the side of classic leading style,” says Broecker. “It will never let you down.”
Cocktail Attire Jackets
A well-tailored suit jacket or blazer is the foundation for all occasion dressing. (No pressure.) As Broecker suggests, “You will never feel out of place in a jacket.” While you can always opt for your old standby, this is also a space to lean into seasonal colors and fabrics.
Cocktail Attire Pants
Gone are the days where all dress pants look the same. When in doubt, choose a shape that flatters your body type and make sure to get them tailored. While Ryan Gosling sticks to a tapered leg, we’re seeing more straight and relaxed cuts for a flattering profile. “The silhouette must have balance and be functional,” suggests McGuine. “Lately the wider leg silhouette on a men’s trouser is the way to go. Brands such as Gucci, Egonlab, and Celine are advocates for this trend.”
Cocktail Attire Shirts
When selecting a cocktail appropriate shirt, you really can’t go wrong with a timeless, crisp button-down. Avoid the rookie mistake of not ironing or steaming any wrinkles before you head out! In cooler months, a handsome knit may replace a traditional dress shirt. “When completing a suit I always say go for the turtleneck,” states McGenuine. “It gives a more sophisticated look.”
Cocktail Attire Shoes
Stylish dress shoes set the tone for your look. Investing in a pair of trusty loafers or lace-up oxfords that you’ll have for years are always a good idea. A good suit can also look modern when paired with sleek Chelsea boots.
Cocktail Attire Accessories
Think of accessories as your look’s finishing touches. Where is the event? What vibe do you want to give? Face flattering eyewear, a cool watch, personalized socks, and a belt that ties the look together are all details that won’t go unnoticed. According to McGuine, “Personal style is a reflection of who you are or who you want to become.”
Sara Klausing is a contributing style editor with over ten years of experience. Following roles at Vogue and Google, Klausing specializes in future-facing coverage at the intersection of fashion, culture, and technology.