What is a Cocktail Attire? Cocktail attire for Men Explained

Have you been invited to attend a dinner party or wedding and the invite says to attend in cocktail attire?

If so then many men are likely a little confused about what exactly they should wear, after all, what is cocktail attire?

Well, it isn’t exactly something that is common knowledge.

And unlike something like formal attire, there isn’t much of a guide in the name, is there? Cocktail attire is very open-ended and a term that could describe all kinds of different outfits. And in a way, that is exactly right because don’t all kinds of dress codes have some variety to them?

Now Men’s Fashion is an industry that is seeing a lot more development and interest nowadays. Men now have a lot of different outfits/garments to choose from when it comes to choosing an outfit for any kind of occasion.

Cocktail attire is no different in many respects you have some traditional choices like a suit but there are many other potential outfits you can choose from as well.

In fact, because cocktail attire for men isn’t quite as defined as formal wear or business wear you actually have a lot more options.

You see cocktail attire for men is a very general term in many respects and there really isn’t a fixed rule about what you should wear.

It all really depends on the event in question as cocktail attire can be used for all kinds of special events/ occasions.

Cocktail wear is suitable for weddings, dinner parties, drinks with friends, and other formal and semi-formal occasions.

So, for things like a wedding attire event, you might want to wear a more traditional classic outfit with a strong emphasis on looking formal.

While with an evening dinner with workmates or drinks with business, friends might be something you can approach from a more semi-formal/ business casual perspective.

So, if you are asked to attend in cocktail attire read on because my guide below will explain all the different things you can wear in more detail.

Men Cocktail Attire

Cocktail Attire For Men: What can you wear?

We’ll be looking at shirts, suits, jackets, shoes, accessories and much more.

So, let’s take a look at men’s cocktail attire by examining your outfit choices.

Here are some great ideas for men’s cocktail attire:

Cocktail Attire – Fun and Formality!

Because cocktail attire is more open than many other fashion styles it can be interpreted in many different ways. So, to help guide you through the process

  • I’ve compiled five different approaches you can take that will give you a good idea of how to dress for the occasion.
  • Each outfit can be customized in numerous different ways but by using these five templates as a guide you can ensure you are dressing for success!

So, let’s start our look into men’s cocktail attire with the most traditional and timeless look.

Outfit 1 – The Classic

Yes, it’s the dreaded suit! A suit is pretty much the go-to option for most types of occasions when it comes to men’s fashion.

Need to attend a business meeting, wear a suit, need to go to a wedding, wear a suit, attend an interview yeah it’s a suit again. Well, you get the idea don’t you a suit can be a perfectly viable outfit for an event asking for cocktail wear.

The only possible exception to this is if the event/ occasion in question is overly casual in nature. For example, if you are meeting friends/ workmates for drinks or attending an after-work party you might be better off opting for more casual men’s cocktail attire. But even on these occasions wearing a suit likely isn’t going to look out of place.

Another point in the suit’s favour is that they do have quite a bit of versatility you could opt for grey, navy blue or even a more unusual colour like maroon, green or purple.

Black suits can be a little divisive some people advise staying away from them because they are more traditionally worn for things like funerals.

Although to be honest I think this opinion is a little outdated, many people wear black suits for plenty of other events and occasions. Pair your suit with a nice dress shirt of a similar colour for a more uniform look or a contrasting colour like white for a more traditional style.

Then add a tie and some nice dress shoes and you have a nice outfit that ticks all the boxes for cocktail attire.

You can choose a more colourful tie if you want to create a more eye-catching look or even a bow tie if you like. Some stylish accessories like cufflinks and some men’s jewellery like a thick bracelet or ring can add some finishing touches but they aren’t really essential. You can even forgo the tie if you want to look a little more relaxed and casual.

Cocktail Attire Outfit Men

So, that is the classic cocktail attire for the modern man, it’s changed a little from the traditional choice decades ago but in many ways, it’s the same. I might sound a little harsh on it but while it might be a little boring it can’t be denied that it’s a versatile and easy-to-put-together option.

Many men will have a suit so if you don’t want to buy a new outfit it’s a great option to use.

It’s not the most creative option and might not be ideal for all kinds of events but even in more relaxed cocktail attire events, it will still do the job just fine. It’s timeless and traditional if a little dull but it’s popular for a reason and a perfectly viable choice for men’s cocktail attire.

Outfit 2 – The Shirt and Tie

Next, to the classic suit, the most common outfit for the modern man when it comes to cocktail attire is a shirt and tie with some smart dress/ suit pants.

However, unlike the suit, you have a lot more options when it comes to customizing the look to your own personal tastes. Whatever the event is whether it’s a wedding, drinks with friends or even a party a shirt and tie can make a fine choice.

Let’s start with the most important part of it the shirt itself.

Smart dress shirts come in a variety of styles and most men will have a couple of smart shirts in their wardrobe for work and other special occasions. Smart dress shirts come in a wide range of colours and you can use that to add some of your own personal taste to your outfit.

White, blue and black are the most common and safe choices but you could opt for something a little more unusual like yellow, red or pink which are great for Spring and Summertime or opt for a bold but lesser-seen colour like green or purple to give just a couple of examples.

Try not to be too outlandish if the event is more formal in nature but if it’s a more casual get-together have a little fun with things.

man in shirt and tie

Next is the pants ideally you’ll want to stick to black or grey smart suit pants there are other options but they’re hard to track down. Your shirt is what is going to carry this outfit so while it might be a little boring sticking with the classic colours is advised. You can add a tie or not that again is really dependent on the type of event.

If it’s more formal and professional a smart bold-coloured tie is recommended look for a colour that nicely contrasts your shirt. If it’s more casual in nature then you can either ignore the tie altogether or go for something a little more quirky.

A tacky tie can be a great conversation starter after all and can add a fun extra touch to your outfit.

Shoes should again be kept relatively simple opting for smart casual shoes is encouraged but professional work/ dress shoes will work just as fine as well. While this is a more casual outfit choice when compared to a suit it’s still a formal option so stay away from trainers.

You can add some extra accessories in the form of cufflinks and jewellery if you like and a smart belt is ideal for more formal occasions. Waistcoats are a little too much in my opinion even with a suit when it comes to cocktail attire so I don’t really recommend them. There’s no harm in them if it’s a more formal occasion but they aren’t really needed either.

The shirt and tie look like the suit, it’s a classic but it’s more open to customization and in my opinion a lot more versatile. This does mean planning your outfit can take more time though and you need to think carefully when pairing colours.

Outfit 3 – Relaxed Formal

Unlike the first two outfits, the relaxed formal look is open to a lot more variety because it can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. This can make it a difficult choice when it comes to cocktail attire for men.

However, with a little thought and planning, you can create a stylish and comfortable look that will work in both formal and semi-casual settings.

Because there are so many options when it comes to putting together a relaxed formal look I’ am going to give you some of my favourite options when it comes to a cocktail dress for men.

Let’s start with the pants, shall we? Smart dress/ suit pants can work well but you can also opt for something a little more fun. Rather than stick to black and grey why not try a more unusual colour?

If you want to stay away from that style of pants altogether you could always opt for jeans instead! Yes, jeans can be worn as cocktail attire when it’s a more casual occasion, black or darker blue jeans work best and make sure they are freshly ironed without any holes. Ripped jeans won’t work even in more casual cocktail attire situations.

Shoes again can be quite varied smart professional dress shoes work well but so do smart casual shoes. You are best sticking to bold colours like black, blue and grey in most cases though. Even some simple and plain stylish trainers can work although this is not recommended unless you know for sure the event is quite casual.

While this is a more relaxed look you still want to have that formal edge to your outfit don’t you? That is why a smart shirt and blazer are a great choice for a relaxed formal outfit. Pastel-coloured shirts work particularly well especially when paired with a darker blazer.

man in blazer for a cocktail attire

But you can also reverse this for a stylish look as well. Take a darker smart shirt and pair it with a lighter-coloured blazer instead.

The shirt and blazer combo is a favourite of mine but not the only choice you could also opt for a smart jumper. Darker colours work best for jumpers and turtlenecks, in particular, can look quite good even when paired with jeans, this gives you a great contrast between formal and relaxed looks.

A stylish dark cardigan is also another fine choice which is another clever hybrid of casual and professional.

In a relaxed formal look, you are best avoiding many accessories in my opinion instead of sticking to something small and simple. A few bracelets, a nice ring, a wristwatch or even a scarf in the winter can make a nice extra touch just don’t overload your outfit.

A small added touch is all you need to add some casual or formal flair to your look. Putting a relaxed formal outfit together takes some planning but it allows you to show a bit more of your sense of style and can be great fun.

Outfit 4 – Casual Cocktails

Outfit 3 was all about combining the contrasting clothes that make up casual and formal wear and still fulfilling the cocktail attire dress code. Not an easy task but also one with plenty of options this outfit, however, is mainly focused on being casual with just a few little touches of formality.

It goes without saying that this outfit choice isn’t something you can use for every cocktail attire event though.

If the event is work or business-related then unless it’s stated you can dress more casually you are best going for a more formal look.

Weddings and other similar occasions will also more likely want more formal cocktail attire. However, if the event is something like a party, wedding reception or meet-up with friends then opting for a more casual look could be the better option.

Casual cocktail attire for men is becoming more popular these days which means having an outfit together is sure to come in handy.

men's wardrobe for a cocktail attire

Let’s see what you can use to do just that in more detail shall we? First, let’s start with the pants for a more casual cocktail look you should opt for a nice pair of jeans.

Any cut can work although is best to stick with either slim-fit or straight-cut styles in most cases. The colour can be a bit more open to interpretation just make sure it fits well with the rest of your outfit. Smart chinos can also be used which will give you some different colours to work with.

Smart casual plain shoes in colours like black and grey are your best option however you can also add a little colour if you want. Smart trainers can also be used for these more casual outfits as well just make sure they aren’t overly gaudy or colourful.

The top half of your outfit can be approached in many different ways one particular common choice is to go for a plain T-shirt in either black or white and pair it with a smart shirt in a contrasting colour. Roll the sleeves up for a more casual look and you have a nice casual outfit with a touch of formality to it.

This choice is on the more casual end of the scale if you want something a little more formal a smart shirt and casual blazer or cardigan make another fine choice. You could even opt for a smart dress shirt to contrast with the more relaxed jeans.

Because this outfit style is more casual it is more open to interpretation so don’t be afraid to experiment a little.

Accessories are again best kept to a minimum with this particular look a wristwatch can be a nice way to add some extra formality while some beaded bracelets can add some extra casual style.

That’s really the best way to approach accessories if your outfit looks too formal add some casual accessories if it’s the reverse then add some formal accessories. Just make sure they are only small touches though as it’s easy to overdo things.

Outfit 5 – Embracing Lesser-Seen Styles

We’ve really examined all four different corners of men’s cocktail attire the classic formal look, the smart shirt and tie look, the hybrid style of casual and formal and the casual look with just a touch of formality.

But I did say I had five templates and this one can really fit into any of the other looks depending on what you use.

This outfit style is all about embracing the clothes that you don’t really see often. Men’s cocktail attire might be more limited than women’s but there are some great garments out there that many men ignore when putting together their cocktail attire.

So, let’s change that and look at some lesser-seen styles that would be great for cocktail attire.

For pants, I really have to champion suspenders! Yes, they might seem a little old-fashioned nowadays but truth be told these can look great for cocktail attire and will often be better than a belt. They are more comfortable and don’t restrict your stomach if a belt is worn incorrectly it can really make your outfit look unflattering not to mention be quite painful.

Suspenders, when paired with some stylish professional pants, look glamorous and have that vintage edge to them. Wear them with a smart casual dress shirt and you will have a smart look that is also a little casual making it perfect for all manner of cocktail attire occasions.

My next choice for men who want to embrace a lesser-seen look is patterned blazers and suit jackets. Blazers and suit jackets were a common choice in quite a few of the outfits I’ve talked about but they were never patterned! A patterned blazer or jacket requires confidence to pull off and you need to choose the colours and pattern carefully.

They are better suited for more relaxed formal occasions but can be a good choice for more formal cocktail attire as long as you choose a fitting pattern.

There is a lot of variety when it comes to colours and patterns so take your time choosing something. Just ensure you choose colours that complement each other and pair the outfit with some smart shoes to create a smart if unusual and unorthodox look.

Finally, let’s look at bow ties now I briefly mentioned these in outfit 1 but they are not something you will often see when it comes to men’s cocktail attire.

Which is a shame because they can add a fun quirky twist to your outfit. A black bow tie is a classic look but most men will opt for a more formal traditional tie.

A bow tie can be used for both semi-casual and formal-style outfits you could even opt for a more colourful one as well. They are fun and a little more unusual and actually were once the traditional choice for cocktail attire! So, if you want a more fun and quirky accessory then why not swap out your traditional tie for a bow tie instead?

The Tuxedo Dilemma

The tuxedo is another one of those outfits that were actually once the go-to choice for cocktail attire. But today it is not really going to be many men’s first choice but can you still wear one? To be honest, I would advise not to, the tuxedo might be a classic, you might look good in one and it might be traditional but these days it is going to look very out of place.

In fact, on most occasions these days a tuxedo will still look very out of place as it just isn’t as commonly used. Now it can still work but really only if every man at the event is going to wear one. If it doesn’t specify a tuxedo on your invite then I wouldn’t wear one they are simply a little too old-fashioned.

And unlike suspenders, they don’t really have that cool edge to them either. So, sorry to any tuxedo fans out there but they are best left behind I’ am afraid as they just don’t really fit the cocktail attire dress code. For dressier occasions, you might be able to get away from the traditional tux but I would still recommend going with one of the other outfit styles I talked about above instead.

So, that completes my look into men’s cocktail attire. Whatever the event is today’s modern man will have plenty of options when it comes to cocktail attire. From full formal to semi-casual and beyond you’ll be able to put an outfit together that will make you look and feel great.

Cocktail Attire FAQs

What is considered cocktail attire for men?

Cocktail attire for men typically consists of a dark suit, dress shoes, and a tie. A dress shirt and dress socks should also be worn.

Is a black tie event the same as cocktail attire?

No, a black-tie event is considered more formal than cocktail attire. Men are expected to wear a black tuxedo, black bow tie, and dress shoes.

Can I wear a patterned suit for cocktail attire?

Yes, a patterned suit, such as a pinstripe or plaid, can be worn for cocktail attire as long as the suit is dark and the pattern is not too bold.

Is it okay to wear a black suit to a cocktail event?

Yes, a black suit is appropriate for a cocktail event as long as it is paired with dress shoes and a tie.

Can I wear a coloured shirt to a cocktail event?

Yes, a coloured dress shirt can be worn to a cocktail event as long as the colour complements the suit and tie.

Are dress shoes and dress boots the same?

No, dress shoes are typically made of leather, have a glossy finish, and are worn with suits. Dress boots are also made of leather but have a more rugged appearance and are worn with casual or semi-casual attire.

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