What is the cocktail attire dress code? It’s easier than you think

The Cocktail attire dress code is a sort of in-between. It’s not black tie yet it’s sharper than smart-casual. But what exactly is it? See the dreaded two words on a party invite and you’re essentially being asked to wear a suit. How you chose to go about this depends on the specifics of the event and where it’s held. For something more relaxed you might consider separates with a contrasting blazer and trouser combination, or, for a sharper look you could go tonal, with a navy suit and dark blue shirt. If in doubt, avoid business tailoring and have a bit of fun with it. 

What is the cocktail attire dress code?

Essentially, cocktail attire means you need to wear a suit. But remember, this is a dress code usually reserved for occasions like weddings, celebrations and of course, cocktail parties. As such, you should be a bit more creative with it. Start with the jacket. It wouldn’t be cocktail dress without some form 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 different fabric to the trousers. 

If you’ve run out of time and have to go with a business casual suit, try to mix it up by avoiding a tie and replacing the shirt for a roll-neck or knitted polo. The specifics of what you will wear will, as per most RSVP events, be dependent on how formal the occasion is. For instance, if it’s a wedding reception you might choose to go smarter than if you were attending an end of year work drinks. 

What is cocktail attire for men like in summer?

Reacting to the warmer weather will mean lighter colours, lighter materials (try linen or light thread count organic cotton) 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 leather trainers or loafers without socks, and maybe opting for a quality T-shirt or a short sleeve Cuban collar shirt instead of a dress shirt.

What does cocktail attire mean 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’, you’re largely free to interpret that as you wish. You could choose to dress up with a shirt and tie if you so wish, or pare it down slightly with a semi-formal, unstructured suit jacket and a knitted polo. With a wedding, it’s important to pay attention to the venue and location. If it’s a beach wedding in the summer you’ll want to dress accordingly, with a lightweight linen suit and suede shoes. Whereas for winter weddings you might want to consider a warmer suit made from heavier wool, and pair that with a roll neck and dress shoes. 

What are the dos and don’ts with jeans for cocktail attire?

Anything is possible, but even the smartest of black jeans might be a stretch here. You might be able to get away with them as part of a dark tonal look, but anything else is risky business. A pair of tailored chinos is a safer bet, and one that better complements single or double-breasted tailoring. Ensure they have a mid to high rise, that they aren’t too slim, and combine them with a blazer, a roll-neck and some leather shoes. 

Do you have to wear a jacket and a tie?

It wouldn’t really be cocktail attire without a jacket and trousers, but a tie isn’t necessary. While it may have been back in the day, and traditionalists may scoff at the idea of not wearing one, they’re simply not essential for a contemporary cocktail dress. You can wear one should you choose to though, and they can be an excellent way of incorporating colour into a look. 

If you do skip the tie, ensure the shirt works on its own. You could go for an Oxford shirt or for one made from a slightly textured fabric like brushed cotton. Basically, you want to avoid looking like you’re dressing for the office. Alternatively, you could switch the shirt out entirely for a knitted polo or Merino roll neck, for something a little more relaxed. 

What is cocktail attire for women?

Cocktail attire for women is a whole different ballgame. But the same rules still apply. It’s an in-between dress code, meaning neither too smart nor too casual. A midi dress in a seasonal colour or pattern would be perfect, especially when worn with slightly smarter shoes or short heels. It’s important not to overthink it. If unsure, keep it simple and you can’t go too far wrong. 

Cocktail dress code inspiration for men

Tim P. Whitby/Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Prime VideoTim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Damson Idris

At the smarter end of cocktail dress, this Damson Idris look shows it’s possible to wear a black suit without looking like you’re attending a funeral. The slight crop of the trousers and fairly short jacket complement his body shape, while the black silk shirt and chunky loafers give it a contemporary feel. 


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