Exploring the definition of cocktail attire and how to pull it off properly
Let me be truly candid for a moment. I consider myself pretty well-versed in menswear lexicon, but before doing some preliminary research on cocktail attire, I would have been way off in my original assumptions.
The reality of the fact is that not many of us are going to events that require this dress code on the reg. That said, like pretty much any occasion that requires a dress code at all, you don’t want to screw it up when that moment comes.
So let’s start with some of the common misconceptions – the main one being that cocktail attire is an opportunity to peacock, even just a bit. When I first thought about the dress code, I assumed either a creative black tie option, or a sprezzy-casual option with bright suits and punchy ties.
Believe it or not, the true requirements for cocktail attire are surprisingly straightforward, and somewhat reserved. At its simplest, cocktail attire calls for a semi-formal suited outfit in a darker color – either grey or navy – with dress shoes and a tie, as Brian has styled here.
Now, there is a bit of room for deviations from what is otherwise a corporate-friendly, conservative look. Feel free to try some alternative fabric options – cotton if it’s a warmer, maybe outdoors event, or flannel for a cold-weather party.
Likewise, you may opt for a richer cobalt over a standard navy, or another dark color such as burgundy. Even a subtle pattern, like a navy windowpane, is fair game. As long as you’re careful to stick with darker shades, you won’t be breaking the rules – just avoid black, otherwise you’re likely to blend in with the waitstaff and end up taking someone’s drink order.
White shirts are a standard and an easy go-to for cocktail attire – when are they not? But this is again an occasion where you have room to be a bit creative. It’s definitely bit bolder of a move, but a patterned shirt is workable here in a way it isn’t for black tie or even more conservative business attire.
You also have a bit more freedom with your accessories. Patterned pocket squares, floral ties, lapel pins, and the like will stand out in a not-always-good way in the boardroom, but here add some fully acceptable visual interest. Likewise, punch up your footwear by swapping an oxford for a brogue or even a monkstrap.
At the end of the day, your move should be ‘respectable but interesting.’ It’s not a casual event, and you don’t have free reign to dress however you please, but you’ve got room to express yourself. Subtle swerves are welcome, as long as you don’t stray too far from the semi-formal foundations!