Cocktail Attire for Men: How to Select the Right Outfit for the Occasion

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Credit: Flickr, dollen

Some people say men have it too easy when it comes to formal wear.

While much of a typical guy's evening wear selection is some variation on the classic suit, it's not so simple. Sure, it might be simpler for a guy to merely fit in by grabbing something from the rack. But if he wants to stand out as someone with real fashion sense, he needs to know the rules. And as it turns out, there are a few biggies. We've taken a look at how cocktail dress codes have changed and what you need to know these days. If you're preparing for a fancy affair and don't know what to wear, take a look at our tips and suggestions on cocktail attire for men.


Here's What Cocktail Attire for Men is -- and What it Isn't

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Credit: pxhere

Cocktail dress is one of a variety of fashion terms that is easy to identify but tough to define. Women certainly have their cocktail dresses, which offer some variety within what is considered proper attire. But men have their own tradition that most fashionable guys still like to carry on today. Maybe you're just getting involved in the cocktail scene. Or perhaps you're worried you've been violating some fashion rules in the past. Either way, we aim to clear up the misconceptions about what makes good cocktail attire for men.

What is cocktail attire for men?

Before we start suggesting suit styles, let's start at the beginning. Cocktail attire originated in the U.S. almost a century ago. Back then, it was fairly typical for well to do families to gather for cocktails prior to their evening meal. These social gatherings typically took on a formal feel and led to unique fashion expectations. Of course, men were much more attuned to these norms and often changed into a new cocktail suit.

In its most basic form, cocktail attire for men splits the difference between day and evening wear. It adds another layer between casual and formal. Discussing this dress code in a modern context, you don't need to feel confined to cocktails. Once you determine this versatile style, you will feel comfortable wearing it in lots of environments. Consider it the guy's equivalent of the little black dress. You can wear it comfortably at a wedding, Christmas party or anywhere you want to add a bit of class.

What occasions usually call for this dress code?

The best thing about cocktail attire for men is its versatility. Having a selection of appropriate options in your closet will probably pay off on a regular basis. We think this is a great level of formality to suit most work functions. Whether it's the office Christmas party or a retirement celebration, you can show up dressed to impress.

And in your personal life, these clothes are just as reliable. Whether you are attending your birthday party, anniversary celebration or a quinceanera, you'll probably be safe. In most cases, you can even rely on cocktail attire for men if you're attending a wedding.


What you will need to follow this tutorial

So your ultimate goal is to fit in with the cocktail crowd. We'll try to help you get there. Before we start, you will probably want to keep a few things in mind and have these at your disposal:

  • A tailor - Okay, maybe you don't need a professional tailor (but it never hurts). At the very least, have a firm idea of your measurements so anything you buy looks great.
  • Another voice - No matter how flattering you think a suit looks, another set of eyes can help. Take someone whose opinion you trust and don't just take the opinion of store staff.
  • Some context - Knowing the history of cocktail attire for men will help you keep the tradition alive. But realizing what the current state of fashion requires will make sure you look fresh.
  • An invitation - After you have the right wardrobe, all you need is a party to attend. Once you start going out with confidence and style, don't be surprised if more invitations start coming your way!

The Fashion Rules Regarding Cocktail Attire for Men

There are a few pretty easy steps to master before you'll be ready to tackle any event with a cocktail dress code. Once you have them figured out, the fashion police will ever hassle you again. Here are our tips, in no particular order.

1. Consider the Hosts and/or Guests of Honor

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Credit: Max Pixel

Most women know they should not upstage a bride by wearing white to a wedding. But similar rules apply to other social situations. And some of the rules of cocktail attire for men revolve around this basic concept. One thing to keep in mind is that you are probably not the most important person at a gathering.

Of course, you can ignore this step if it's your birthday or retirement. But for everybody else, make sure your suit will not attract more gazes than the special guest's outfit. So keep the colors fairly neutral. Don't go for flair that will make you the center of attention. 

This also goes for accessories. Even the ladies should keep their ostentatious jewelry at home. But men should probably refrain from anything beyond tasteful rings and fashionable watches. The art of great cocktail attire for men is it allows them to add to the ambiance without disrupting it.

2. Don't Be Afraid to Make it Yours

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Credit: pxhere

At first glance, this might appear to contradict the previous tip. But just because you don't want to stick out doesn't mean you have to blend in. Bringing in key elements of your style means you can add in accents of yourself in an otherwise standard suit. 

It could be the clothes themselves. Whether there's a favorite color, a specific cut or whatever you prefer, there's probably a way to work it in. Of course, you'll want to keep in within reason. If you're favorite color is a neon variety, for instance, you probably want to go with an alternative.

You can also play up your personal style with tasteful accessories. They might be suspenders, your wire framed glasses, or any number of cool items. Just make sure not to overdo it. We like to pick something that is not always part of your wardrobe. If you have a watch collection, perhaps you'd like to choose one with a colored face. Matching that to cues in your suit could help tie everything together to your benefit.

3. When in Doubt, Stick to the Script

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Credit: Max Pixel

Perhaps the best thing about cocktail attire for men is that it has been around for decades. That means there is already a lot written and recorded about what that means. So if you're still stumped about what to pick out before a cocktail dress event, keep it simple. Here are a few tips that never go out of style if you receive such an invitation.

  • Start with a great suit. Dark colors or black are always safest.
  • Your shirt doesn't have to be white, but it should be conservative.
  • Match it all with a tie that isn't too busy. And don't forget to match your socks, too!
  • Find a great barber to give your look the perfect finishing touch.
  • Whatever you do, don't show up in a tux. If it were a formal affair, the invitation would say so.

4. Remember That Other People Are Learning, Too

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Credit: Pixnio

The main thing to remember is you're planning for what should be an enjoyable event. Don't stress too much about what you wear. We've provided a few simple tips to keep you on the right track. But if you still need some help, don't hesitate to ask someone. 

Of course, there is always a tailor you trust. It's true, these specialists are not as common as they once were. We know there are still a lot of professionals, however, willing and able to steer you toward good fashion.

And if you still need some advice, cordially reach out to the hosts of the party. In the course of a conversation, you can probably gauge an appropriate look. In the end, though, if you are worrying about cocktail attire for men, you're probably overthinking it. For most events, especially in our casual society, a smart suit and a shave will suffice. Beyond that, please see Tip #2 and have some fun with a look that reflects your personal style.


Embracing cocktail attire for men is nothing to fear -- and it could be quite rewarding!

Once you begin to add these timeless pieces to your closet, you'll have easy access to versatile clothes. Whether you only attend a party for the holidays or you are socializing ever weekend, attire is vital. It remains fashionable to this day because it works almost everywhere you need to add some class.

We hope you've learned a little something new about this old dress code. If so, please share it with the stylish (or style-challenged) guys in your life. And leave us a message below with your thoughts.

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