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What is cocktail attire for men?

4 min

So, you are soon to be heading to an event where the hosts have specified ‘cocktail attire’. Great news! This dress code gives you the option to create a look that gives you a timeless and elegant style, and lets you express yourself with creative flourishes.
But let us assume you are here because you are not entirely sure what the rules around cocktail attire for men are, and you want to get it right. Since the men’s cocktail dress code is one that you can be more creative with, you can choose to play it safe or take a brave approach that is reflective of your personal style. You will know the details of the event, and whether you want to impress those there by conforming to tradition, or if you want to show off your unique style. Hopefully, it’s a little bit of both.
So sit back, relax, and let us talk you through everything you need to know about what cocktail attire for men is.

Men’s cocktail attire – the basics

The cocktail dress code was born in the 1920s in the United States, when employers began to host drinks after work so that customers and employees could socialize. The dress code, like others during that period, became quite well defined, and for women – an intricate etiquette grew up around how to dress for the events to differentiate between different roles at these parties – organizer, host and wife.

As cocktail hour became a regular feature in people’s social lives, a certain way of dressing became the norm. For men, cocktail attire involved changing from their business suit into smarter pre-dinner suit. Despite quite different expressions on either side of the Atlantic for women - the Americans preferred one dress that could be accessorized differently throughout the day, while Paris fashion houses pushed innovative designs with separates and palazzo pants – men were expected to keep it simple and keep it smart.

Fortunately, some of the stricter rules for contemporary cocktail dressing have relaxed and cocktail attire now lands somewhere above semi-formal, but below the most formal codes of white tie and black tie. It is the very fact that the dress code has evolved over the decades that can make it quite a tricky one to master.

Here are some basic dos and don’ts to keep you right.

• Wear a dress shirt, a jacket and pants – it’s up to you if they match or not.
• Express yourself in the details – a burst of color with a pocket square or a bold print shirt.
• Think of it as business casual with expressive touches.
• Make sure your shirt fits well – you’ll want to hit the dancefloor in style.

• Overdress – it’s not black tie or white tie, so keep your finest ensembles for the occasions when those dress codes are specified.
• Underdress – go too casual and you risk disrespecting the hosts. Leave your favorite sneakers in the closet.

Start by choosing your jacket and pants. You can’t go wrong with a blue suit with a crisp white shirt worn open. If you feel bold, Richard Andersson, Eton’s in-house expert on all things style suggests that you could ‘dare to wear black.’ To get the look, combine a black linen suit with a crisp shirt and add colorful details, say a pocket square, to create a striking and contemporary aesthetic. If pocket squares are not your thing, change out the plain shirt for a dress shirt in a bolder pattern.
Since we are assuming you will want to take off your jacket and hit the dancefloor at some point in the evening, make sure your shirt fits well. Visit an Eton store and talk to the customer care team about our custom made options if this is something you struggle with.

How to dress in cocktail attire for different occasions

The cocktail dress code turns up on invitations for different kinds of events – weddings, formal professional events and parties.

While the rule of thumb of business casual plus expressive touches is a good one, you will want to adapt your choices according to the event in question. If it’s afternoon drinks by the beach, for example, you might want to choose an unlined suit in a lighter shade, whereas if it’s a winter city event, you can’t go wrong with a beautifully tailored blue or grey suit, dress shoes and a matching tie.

If there’s one man who knows how to dress for any occasion, it would have to be a certain James Bond. Through the ages his style may have evolved to reflect the zeitgeist, but just as we all know his favorite cocktail, we are very aware that he would know exactly what to wear if the invitation specified a cocktail dress code. Since are not all as sartorially confident as 007, nor do we have a small department dedicated to selecting our outfits, we need to make the best of what we have available to us. A great way to do that is to visit an Eton store to talk to the team. After nearly a century dressing men for important events, the team at Eton can guide help you to find your own version of 007’s style. Get personalized advice in-store or browse our socials for some inspiration.

Cocktail Attire Ideas for Weddings

Have you been invited to a wedding where the dress code is cocktail? That’s an easy one for the ladies, but for men it can be hard to strike the balance between smart and not too smart.

It’s important not to overdress, so if you want to wear a tie or bow tie, keep it colorful and steer clear of black or white. If you want to wear a tie in a more neutral shade, a blue tie with a blue suit creates a timeless elegance. If you are attending the event as a couple, you can always reference your partners clothing choice by wearing a pocket square in the same shade as their outfit.

Just as important as no overdressing, or perhaps even more so, is not under-dressing. While casual dressing has becoming more commonplace over recent years, if someone has gone to the effort of selecting the cocktail dress code, it’s only right to err on the side of smart. When it comes to shoes, an Oxford is a safe choice, while sometimes loafers or brogues can work too.

Cocktail attire for men in summer

As the temperature rises, and the amount of crushed ice and fruit on the cocktail menu increases, it is advisable to adapt your outfit to the season. While linen is probably a step to far into the realm of casual for the cocktail dress code, a well-fitting polo shirt or luxury t-shirt can work nicely under a suit.

A playful print on a dress shirt can be a good way to honor the warmest season too, think palm trees, martini glasses or sailboats. If these motifs appear in a microprint, it can be a good conversation starter as you sip a cocktail and enjoy a canapé.

To keep you comfortable, you can skip the socks and bare your ankles, and some stylish accessories like a pair of sunglasses or even a Panama hat will ensure you stay as cool as a frozen daquiri.

For women the cocktail dress code is straightforward: a knee length dress, some heels and she’s all set. Historically, cocktail attire for men would be all about letting the ladies shine, but those days are in the past, and the range of menswear available today means you can have a lot of fun planning your outfit, making sure you exude just the right balance of formality and fun.