Cocktail Attire For Men: A Complete Guide With Outfit Ideas

'Cocktail attire' can be a mystery for many men but fear not: here we explain what cocktail attire is and what you should wear.

Cocktail Attire For Men: A Complete Guide With Outfit Ideas

Second only to the ‘smart casual’ dress code in terms of its endless ambiguity, ‘cocktail attire’ for men can be a challenging concept to grasp. Fear not, as we explain all with help from our experts.

Let’s talk cocktail dress code: are suits obligatory? Or are jeans and a blazer acceptable today? And, in our sportswear-obsessed, luxury world, do clean white sneakers cut it? Wondering what to wear is a common concern. In short, I would steer away from jeans and sneakers and head for a more relaxed suit or blazer and trousers combo.

We’re here to put your mind and wardrobe, at ease. We’ve debunked the cocktail dress code for men once and for all…

Short For Time? Here’s What You Need To Know?

Two men wearing cocktail attire; one in a grey jacket with brown trousers and another in a charcoal suit.
Tie or no tie is okay with cocktail.
What is considered cocktail attire?
Anything semi-formal that bridges the gap between daywear and evening wear. If you’re unsure, start with a blazer and trousers and go from there.
What is cocktail attire for men when it’s hot?
A blazer and trousers are still your keystone pieces, but lighter colours, lighter materials, and even a T-shirt instead of a shirt will be welcomed in summer settings.
Do men have to wear suits for cocktail attire?
No, not a full suit like you might wear at a funeral or board meeting. However, a blazer and trousers are strongly recommended.
Do men need a tie for cocktail attire?
No, they don’t. However, if you want to add a colourful pop to your outfit, this is fine too.
What is ‘cocktail casual’ for men?
Cocktail casual’ is less formal than ‘cocktail attire’, encouraging brighter colours as well as unusual patterns and combinations.
Can cocktail attire be any colour?
Technically yes, but we recommend building your outfit around a classic-coloured blazer in black, navy, or grey.
What is the difference between ‘cocktail attire’ and ‘semi-formal’ for men?
Semi-formal is all about sombre colours — greys, navy, black. While these aren’t a bad starting point for ‘cocktail attire’ either, you can generally be more colourful with the latter.
Is cocktail attire black tie?
No, it’s a different, less formal dress code that prefers blazers and trousers over a full-fledged tuxedo.
Is cocktail attire the same as business casual?
No, ‘cocktail attire’ is a little dressier than ‘business casual’; a blazer is essential for the former as are smart trousers.

What Is The Cocktail Dress Code For Men?

Two men in smart casual clothing. One wears a grey jacket, black trousers, and white turtleneck jumper. The other wears a brown jacket, white shirt, and white trousers.

A Very Brief History Of Cocktail Attire

Cocktail attire gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s when it became common in wealthier households to enjoy pre-dinner drinks and canapés.

Up until then, social events usually required men to ‘change’ their outfits between daytime and evening activities. Cocktail hour made this impossible and so a new dress code was born: cocktail attire.

What Exactly is Cocktail Attire?

Hit up Suitsupply if you need the full kit.

Essentially, cocktail attire is a semi-formal outfit that will take you from day to night, usually built around a blazer and smart trousers; bridging the gap between casual daywear, which is too relaxed, and formal evening attire, which is too prim and proper.

This dress code is often seen at cocktail parties, weddings, anniversaries, formal birthday celebrations and timeless sporting events such as the summer races. Wherever a little more refinement is required, old chap.

Cocktail Attire Do’s & Dont’s

Two men in cocktail attire. One wearing a tartan jacket with white shirt and navy tie, the other wearing a black silk jacket, patterned grey trousers, and white shirt with no tie.

Cocktail attire is all about letting your personality shine, but knowing the basic guidelines means you’re better equipped to bend the rules a little. Here are some do’s and don’ts to follow:

  • DO: go for something tailored. A tuxedo is too much, but a suit or blazer/trousers combo is required.
  • DO: add personal touches but consider them carefully. You do not want to be remembered as the “neon pink jacket guy” from your friend’s wedding.
  • DON’T: upstage the guest of honour. If you’re attending an occasion in which the spotlight is meant to be on someone specific — a wedding, for example — leave the bright colours and flashy accessories at home.
  • DON’T: be afraid to ask questions. If you’re ever unsure about what constitutes appropriate attire for an event, ask the person hosting it. They are, after all, the most invested in avoiding confusion and uncomfortable situations.

Still in doubt? It’s always safer to over-dress with cocktail attire (but leave that tuxedo at home).

Must-Have Cocktail Attire Garments

The beauty of cocktail dress for men is that, while it’s a relatively formal dress code, there is still room for creativity and personal interpretation.

Here’s what you should be wearing….

Blazers, Suits & Tailoring For Cocktail Attire

Two men wearing cocktail attire; one in a navy suit with tie, another in a grey suit with no tie.

When it comes to your suit, a two-piece, peak or notch lapel number in a slim fit is a safe bet for pretty much every man. Black is suitable but navy or grey usually looks a little more contemporary.

Light grey is fresh for a summer wedding while dark grey is the perfect winter look.

If you know the dress code isn’t super strict, explore colours like burgundy, olive green or khaki. Patterns should be kept minimal, sticking to small windowpane checks and pinstripes.

If you don’t love prints, try textured suit jackets instead: mohair adds a subtle sheen and herringbone or a slub offers a grainy finish.

Finally, it’s not unexpected to see men wearing separates at cocktail attire events. Mix and match jacket and trousers at your leisure, but traditionalists will frown upon denim, even if they’re made-to-measure, trouser-esque jeans. Keep your singlets for daytime drinks with friends.

Jetsetter Black Suit

Jetsetter Black Suit

Perfectly tailored with a hint of stretch for comfort.

Shirts For Cocktail Attire

Two men in cocktail attire, one wearing a white shirt and the other wearing a black shirt.

Keep the shirt in tune with your suit or blazer. A block colour in a neutral tone — blue, white or grey — is your best bet, especially if wearing a checked or striped jacket.

Wearing a plain blazer? Look to low-key checks or stripes or even floral jacquard for a romantic edge. Plain black shirts are always chic, but be sure this complements the tone of your outfit.

The biggest blunder made with shirting is the collar. Avoid floppy, limp shirt collar types and make sure it’s made from cotton and crafted with a formal fabric weave. It should look crisp, sharply pressed on the collar and cuffs.

Speaking of which, avoid French cuffs for daytime events; save them for dapper evening soirees where you really want to impress.

Classic White Shirt

Classic White Shirt

Available in white or black for that special touch.

Choosing the Right Trousers

Choosing the Right Trousers

The trousers are an important part of any cocktail attire as they can make or break your look. For most cocktail events, you’ll achieve the appropriate look by going with a suit that has all its components, including the trousers, cut from the material. 

However, for the less formal cocktail events such as those that take place during the daytime, you may switch things up by wearing a blazer or a sport coat. In this case, you’ll need to give a lot more thought to your choice of trousers. 

The safest option is a pair of trousers that work well with your jacket and shoes. A pair of tailored chinos may work but have to be employed strategically as they are a tad more casual and may not be appropriate for some cocktail events. Importantly, jeans should be avoided for the most part; they are almost unanimously considered too casual for a cocktail event. 

Lastly, it is crucial to keep your jacket-trousers combination tame. Avoid high-contrast combinations and focus more on coordinating your trousers with your jacket, rather than contrasting them.

Dark Grey Slim Leg Tapered Pants

Dark Grey Slim Leg Tapered Pants

All Season Pure 4-Ply Traveller Wool by Rogna, Italy

Ties And Pocket Squares For Cocktail Attire

Two men in cocktail attire suits. One, Daniel Craig, has a black tie and white pocket square. The other wears a red tie with white pocket square.

You can get away with ditching the tie at less formal cocktail events, but at other times it is still a requirement. If you opted for a simple shirt and suit, you can go for a bolder tie.

If your shirt or suit has a pattern, it’s best to choose a simple tie in a complementary colour.

Bow ties are a ‘no’ but pocket squares are a ‘yes’. Like the tie, the square should be neutral in colour in your jacket is patterned. If your jacket is plain the opposite is true: get a patterned pocket square.

Bonobos Premium Necktie

Bonobos Premium Necktie

Pair it with your favorite suit & you’ll have an impeccably sharp, highly handsome ensemble.

Shoes For Cocktail Attire

Two men wearing oxford shoes; one in black, one in brown.

When thinking cocktail, the Oxford shoe is a no-brainer. Black and dark brown are superior colour options for the streamlined shoe, while a brogue punch-hole design will give you a step up in the texture department without offending cocktail purists.

Alternatively, monk strap shoes are welcome and have secured themselves as footwear mainstay. Loafers — from penny to tassel and even horsebit — should be considered only if your event is on the less formal side.

Above all, invest in a new pair if it’s a special event or give tired old leather a fresh polish.

Cocktail Attire Acccessories

Two men in cocktail attire, one man is accessorised with a belt, tie, and picket square.

Saving that embossed, ostrich leather belt for a special occasion? Now’s the time to whip it out.

Suede belts are a nice touch for texture and logo belt buckles are making a comeback too, just keep it classy. Eschewing the belt is totally fine too, especially if you’re wearing a waistcoat that obscures the trouser band.

Finally, finish the cocktail look off with calf-length socks; these are long enough so that if you’re seated your leg skin doesn’t show. Stick to socks that compliment your trousers or another colour in your outfits such as tie, shirt or blazer.

If you’re feeling brave, coloured or patterned socks could be an opportunity to let your personality shine through.

Supersoft Dress Socks

Supersoft Dress Socks

Lightweight. Cushioned. Ventilated.

So there you have it. Whether you’re in Australia, the US or anywhere, this is how you dress cocktail.

Our Favourite Cocktail Attire Outfit Ideas To Inspire Your Next Look