It’s always exciting to receive an invitation to an event that is significant enough for the host to specify the appropriate attire. But, on such occasions, making sure your attire makes the grade can make one a little apprehensive. 

Cocktail Attire Defined

What to wear when the invitation specifies cocktail attire? This is a term that is not as clearly understood as some other attires, such as a black tie or business casual, for instance. So, what is cocktail attire for men? In general, a cocktail attire dress code for men typically will indicate that guests should wear a suit with a white or light-colored dress shirt, accompanied by dress shoes and either a necktie or a bow tie. In some instances, just a blazer and a pair of dark-colored jeans will be acceptable if the dress code is more casual, but you always need a good jacket.

By specifying cocktail attire, the event’s planners can anticipate some variation in interpretation. 

Typical events calling for cocktail attire may include holiday parties, receptions, retirement and anniversary celebrations, class reunions, art openings, as well as some weddings. 

Cocktail Attire for Women

Women can be expected to show up in a little black dress, often a short one. For men, they are welcome to incorporate an element of playfulness as well. 

Cocktail Attire for Men

Cocktail Attire for Men

It’s always a good idea to consider additional clues to the dress code afforded by both the venue as well as your hosts. It’s suggested that in deference to older hosts and hostess, a tie be worn, as well as a dark suit. Loafers for men would best be replaced by traditional lace-up dress shoes, like black or brown Oxfords. 

For younger hosts and daytime outdoor events, you may opt for a blazer or sports jacket worn with nice trousers.

Do’s and Don’ts of Cocktail Attire

  • Do take your cues about what to wear from the location of the event, the reason for the occasion, and the time of day it will be held. A beach event, like an afternoon wedding, could call for a lighter colored suit.
  • What you don’t want to do when arriving in cocktail attire is appear in clothing that is in poor repair, with any stains whatsoever, or wrinkled.
  • Also, it’s worthwhile to plan your attire in advance, to make sure it fits appropriately for your current weight and is still comfortable.
  • Do add a bit of flair. Cocktail attire came from cocktail parties, after all. An element of surprise like a trendy knit tie, a beautiful pocket square, a classic print shirt, or perhaps colorful socks can help to up your game.
  • Don’t spoil your look by wearing white socks, ankle socks, or athletic socks.
  • Don’t make the mistake of showing up in cocktail attire for a formal event, especially one that specifies either black tie or white tie as the dress code. 

Men’s Cocktail Attire Suggestions

It will give you confidence if you purchase from men’s brands that are tested icons of style. Try shopping from Ralph Lauren, Express, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, and the likes.

Suit / Jacket

Express Extra Slim Black Suit Jacket
This comfortable and classic tailored jacket is a sure bet, especially for evening events. It’s made of a stretch wool-blend, and you can purchase matching black Express pants for a suit ready for many occasions.

Kenneth Cole Reaction Suit
If a black suit might feel too formal or funereal for the event, a mid-gray suit like this may be your go-to attire.

Tommy Hilfiger Modern-Fit Solid Navy Blazer

This dark navy blazer takes you from more relaxed cocktail attire to more dressy occasions and even interviews and looks good on men of any age. It can be paired with lighter colored pants and still look elegant.

Dress Shirt

Express White Oxford Shirt

A wardrobe essential, you can’t miss with this soft wash cotton shirt that dresses up or down in an instant.

Jos. A. Bank Traveler Collection Dress Shirt

This shirt will be a favorite because it’s always appropriate, comes in several colors, and resists wrinkling.


The Tie Bar Constellation Space Navy Bow Tie

This handmade woven silk tie gives a little self-expression, especially for a charcoal-colored suit. If you aren’t accustomed to tying a bow tie, you may wish to shop for a pre-tied bow tie. You may want to avoid a black bow tie that may give the impression that you misunderstood the dress code.

Brooks Brothers Bird’s-Eye Knit Tie

This Italian silk tie is a bit out of the ordinary, and it should stay in style despite fluctuating fashions for tie width.

Classic Accessories for Cocktail Attire

Choose classy accessory pieces, but feel free to add a little self-expression with these. Your belt should be elegant and in good repair and match your shoes. You can be a bit bold with an unusual watch strap or socks, etc.

Eton Silk Paisley Pocket Square

Neiman Marcus carries a variety of silk pocket squares in a variety of colors and prints. Those by Eton have a beautiful contrast border to their paisley pattern that offers a bit of panache to your outfit.


business casual shoes

Florsheim Midtown Cap Toe Oxfords

While shoes need to be dressy for cocktail attire, men shouldn’t sacrifice comfort. These Oxfords are leather and dressy, with features that ensure they won’t ruin your party with painful shoes.

J&M Collection Reece Monk Straps

The style of shoe called a monk strap is an acceptable cocktail attire for men, as long as they are polished. This pair available from Zappos is dressy and made of Italian leather with calfskin linings for comfort.

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A safe rule of thumb within the etiquette circles is that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. Remember, it is an easy thing to ditch a tie in a moment’s notice. And of course, if you are uncertain about what to wear, it’s an excellent occasion to reach out and thank your host for being included, express your happy anticipation of seeing them, along with clarifying how they’d like you to appear.