So you’ve received an invitation to a soiree stating ‘Cocktail Attire’ as the dress code. Cue puzzled expression and head-scratching.
Like many men, you’ve probably begun delving into the seldom seen depths of your wardrobe in a confused state with the hope of finding some magical solution to this rather ambiguous form of dress.
What exactly is ‘Cocktail Wear’ and how do you effectively execute this look?
Firstly, let’s start by examining the occasions at which cocktail dress may be required. These occasions most commonly include (but are not limited to): weddings, anniversaries, christenings, certain sporting events, cocktail parties and formal birthday gatherings. In short, they’re events that require a little more refinement than the usual jeans and t-shirt combination.
Now we’ve cleared up the ‘where’ part, let’s look at ‘why’. What purpose does cocktail wear serve?
As the name suggests, cocktail wear emerged as a style of dress in the 1920s and 1930s for the hours between casual day wear and formal evening wear, when pre-dinner drinks and canapés were commonly served.
For the leisured classes between the wars, where the younger generation took a more relaxed attitude to alcohol consumption, ‘Cocktail Hour’ became a fashionable event. Pre-dinner cocktails were traditionally served from 6 p.m. and were important social occasions in smart London houses and hotels that required guests to be properly attired.
Too formal for day wear, yet too relaxed and too early for full black tie, cocktail attire emerged from the necessity for a semi-formal ‘between the hours’ dress code.
Taking into account today’s ever-increasing pace of life and relaxed sartorial standards, how should the modern man interpret the cocktail wear code?
The Key Components
The first and most vital component of cocktail wear is tailoring. The most common options are a dark tone or grey jacket and trousers. A textured grey wool-cashmere blend suit is always a safe bet, but opting for slightly brighter or unconventional shades (think olive green or burgundy) will give your outfit a contemporary edge.
For those of a more adventurous disposition, a subtle patterned suit can also work well. Try a dark windowpane check or a muted black watch plaid as a stylish alternative to solid tones.
It has also become acceptable to mix and match your jacket and trousers, but denim (even smart denim) is still frowned upon by purists and should be confined to casual weekend wear.
Always stick with a lean cut for your suit – it should follow the natural contours of your body comfortably.
- Asos Skinny Fit Suit Jacket In Navy Fleck
- Topman Premium Grey Herringbone Suit
- Asos Skinny Fit Suit In Grey Herringbone
- Reiss Calvert Three Piece Suit With Peak Lapel Grey
- Valentino Slim-fit Plaid Wool Suit
- Ted Baker Rolanew – Cotton Check Blazer
- Ps By Paul Smith Red Slim-fit Cotton Suit Jacket
- Topman Pale Green Skinny Suit
- Burton 3 Piece Brown Herringbone Slim Fit Suit
A crisp cotton dress shirt is an essential element to your cocktail hour look, and ensuring your shirt is freshly laundered and well-pressed will make all the difference.
Solid tone options are the most traditional, but if you’re less of a conformist, a light pinstripe or low-key check are also agreeable – just make sure your suit isn’t patterned if you choose to tread this path.
Double cuffs can look vulgar in daylight hours, but if your event is likely to straddle both day and evening, they can be a great transitional statement. Keep it simple and go for a pair of clean-cut silver cuff links.
- Ted Baker Parting – Classic Formal Shirt
- Reiss Driver Formal Shirt With Small Collar Blue
- Light Yellow Wide Herringbone Non Iron Classic Fit Shirt
- Reiss Driver Formal Shirt With Small Collar White
- Stretch Cotton Formal Shirt
- Reiss Ivy Shirt With Covered Buttons Navy
- Spencer Hart Printed Round Collar Cotton Shirt
- Berry Two Colour Puppytooth Extra Slim Fit Shirt
- He By Mango Slim-fit Striped Shirt
Leather Oxfords either in black or dark tan are the standard choice for cocktail ensembles and will make a considered statement when paired with your tailoring.
A great alternative are monk strap shoes, which have been enjoying a sartorial revival in recent seasons. With their quirky buckle detailing, monk straps will lend a slightly nattier feel to your look.
Sleek tassel loafers are also an astute footwear choice for cocktail wear. Whatever footwear you choose, just remember to give your shoes a good polish and a once-over with a leather protector spray to ensure they look their best.
- Topman Hudson Brown Oxford Lace Up Shoes
- Reiss Bologne Toe Cap Oxford Shoes With Leather Soles Light Tan
- He By Mango Leather Oxford Shoes
- Allsaints Conduct Shoe
- Reiss Samson Single Buckle Monk Shoes Black
- Paul Smith Consul Monk Shoes
- Mens Magnanni Leather Tassel Loafers
- Dune Tassel Loafers
- Grenson Ray Loafers
- Kiwi Shoe Boot Leather Polish
- Shoe Brush Small
- Instant Protector 0.2l
It’s now acceptable at less formal cocktail events to go tie-less, but the sartorial Old Guard will of course choose not to forgo this traditional badge of masculinity.
Your choice of neck wear is an opportunity to push boundaries. If you’re opting for a block-colour shirt and suit, a natty wool or silk number with an eye-catching pattern and colour scheme will add interest to your look.
With a patterned suit or shirt, it’s best to keep things sharp and simple with a minimal design that will complement the rest of your colour scheme. Avoid bow ties, unless you’re attending a 1920s recreation of the Kentucky Derby.
- Reiss Frankie Polka Dot Wool Tie Wine Berry
- Reiss Cutler Knitted Silk Tie Navy
- Reiss Exmouth Plain Linen Tie Navy
- Mp Di Massimo Piombo Plaid Wool Tie
- Turnbull & Asser Zig-zag Woven-silk Tie
- He By Mango Textured Knit Tie
5. Sharp Accessories
The final components that can make or break your look are the accessories.
With your pocket square, bear in mind the same rules when choosing your tie: if the rest of your look is patterned, opt for a clean-cut style, but go for a nattier design if your shirt and suit are solid tones.
Try to avoid ties and pocket squares made from the same fabric – the ‘matchy-matchy’ look is a common mistake many gents continue to make.
- River Island Blue Hawaiian Print Handkerchief
- Reiss Naught Multiple Oval Print Pocket Square Yellow
- Red Christelle Print Silk Pocket Square
Remember that the basis of every solid outfit begins with good underwear, so opt for calf length socks and quality cotton undergarments. It will ensure that everything else on top looks great.
- Bresciani Star-patterned Knee-length Cotton-blend Socks
- Sunspel Cotton Boxer Shorts
- Sunspel Cotton Boxer Shorts
Don’t underestimate the importance of a quality belt – a reversible premium leather or suede design is a versatile investment that will last you years.
- He By Mango Leather Suit Belt
- Reiss Dart 2 Reversible Formal Belt Black And Brown
- Blue Suede And Brown Leather Reversible Belt
If you’ve opted for double cuffs, choose sleek, elegant cuff links that will stand the test of time – you don’t want a pair that you’ll hardly ever use.
- Mens 1930s Brass Cufflink
- Alfred Dunhill Swivel Steering Wheel Cufflinks
- Lanvin Sterling Silver And Pearl Cufflinks
Lastly, if you’re going to be outdoors at any point, don’t neglect your eyewear – there’s nothing worse than a spot of glaring sunlight turning your face into a squint-riddled mess in the midst of snap-happy cameramen.
You can’t go wrong with a pair of classic round-framed tortoiseshell sunglasses, or timeless Wayfarers.
- Bottega Veneta Round-frame Polarised Sunglasses
- Cutler And Gross D-frame Acetate Sunglasses
- Ray-ban Wayfarer Sunglasses
Cocktail Wear Outfit Inspiration
Your Choice Of Drink
Now we’ve covered the basics, the sound of clinking ice and the scent of a good single malt should be on the horizon.
Here are FashionBeans‘ top three drink recommendations to accompany your cocktail wear ensemble:
1. Gin Martini
Apologies Mr Bond, it should be gin over vodka every time, for a more fragrant experience.
Our favourite dapper spy was right about one thing – make sure it’s shaken and not stirred. Shaking gets the mixture as cold as possible and improves the flavour.
Great for: smooth conversation (after one or two only).
2 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1 green olive or lemon twist for garnish
Orange or Angostura bitters (optional)
Another classic that is great for those who like their drinks with a masculine punch. Make sure it’s served with large chunks of ice so they don’t melt too quickly and dilute the drink.
Great for: after dinner digestion.
2 shot Dewar’s White Label Scotch
1 shot Disaronno Originale
3. Elderflower & Cucumber Collins
Have it made with Hendrick’s gin if possible, which is infused with cucumber. Despite the organic, almost perfumed flavour, it’s not as girly as you’d think.
Great for: late summer soirees.
2 shot London Dry Gin
1/2 shot elderflower liqueur
1 shot freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 sticks fresh cucumber
1/8 shot Monin Pure Cane sugar syrup (65°brix, 2:1 sugar/water)
Top up with soda (club soda)
For more inspired cocktail recipes, visit diffordsguide.com.
It’s quite apparent from what we’ve seen that cocktail wear doesn’t need to be a perplexing wardrobe dilemma. Just bear in mind it’s semi-formal, so you’re aiming to be polished without being too starchy.
Also, remember it’s okay to bend the rules (a little) in order to express your individuality. After all, dress should be about expression, not conformity.
Hopefully we’ve made things a little easier for the next time you receive a rather elegant-looking embossed invitation through your letterbox.