Cocktail attire dress code, explained

Deciphering the cocktail attire dress code is one of the biggest challenges in menswear. When you see the dreaded two words on a party invite, you’re essentially being asked to wear a suit. But what sort of suit? What makes it cocktail appropriate? Why can’t you drink cocktails in another suit? And is a vodka and fresh orange juice truly a cocktail? So many questions.

Look, we can’t answer that. But what we can answer is what you wear. For something more relaxed, you might consider separates with a contrasting blazer and trouser combo. Or, for a sharper look, you could go tonal with a navy suit and dark blue shirt. If you’re still confused though, GQ‘s cocktail attire guide covers absolutely everything that you need to know. From what to wear to a wedding, to dos and don’ts with jackets, ties, and even jeans, feel free to thank us later.

Saman Amel Linen Suit Jacket

What is the cocktail attire dress code?

Generally speaking, cocktail attire means that you need to wear a suit. But remember, this is a dress code that’s usually reserved for occasions like weddings, celebrations, and of course, cocktail parties (duh). “Cocktail attire can no doubt be tricky.” says Jack Stammers, co-founder of London-based atelier Jack Davison Bespoke. “I view it as a mix of a few different dress codes. It’s less formal than black tie, smarter than smart casual, and dressier than a business suit.”

With this in mind, you should be a bit more creative with it. Start with the jacket. It wouldn’t be cocktail dress without some sort of blazer. This could be part of a suit, with trousers in a matching fabric, or it could be a jacket on its own, cut in a completely different fabric to the trousers. If you’ve run out of time and you really have to go with a business suit, try to mix things up by avoiding a tie and replace the shirt for a rollneck or knitted polo instead. “It’s definitely a chance to express yourself a little more with more dramatic shapes and colours, if you so wish.” says Stammers.

It’s worth noting that the specifics of what you wear will, as per most RSVP events, be dependent on how formal the occasion is. For example, what you wear to your end of year work drinks will be drastically different to a wedding reception. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all kinda thing.

What is cocktail attire for men like in summer?

Warmer weather means lighter colours, lighter materials (like linen, a light thread count organic cotton, or a very fancy silk) and more minimal looks. The sun tends to loosen up people’s formality expectations, so summer cocktail party attire might mean switching to some white trainers or loafers without socks, and maybe opting for a premium T-shirt or a short sleeve camp collar shirt instead of a dress shirt.

Brunello Cucinelli Twill Blazer

What is cocktail attire for men like at a wedding?

In short, it means largely the same as it does for any other social event. If the wedding invite simply says ‘cocktail dress,’ feel free to interpret whatever way you want. You could choose to dress up with a shirt and tie, or pare it down slightly with a semi-formal, unstructured suit jacket, and a knitted polo.


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