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The Cocktail Attire Dress Code Explained for Men

The Cocktail Attire Dress Code Explained for Men

18 Feb 2022

The Cocktail Attire Dress Code Explained for Men

By James Shackell

Men’s cocktail attire is a bit like ‘smart casual’ – we’ve all seen it, but very few people know what it actually means.
So what is cocktail wear? Well, it usually pops up around weddings and engagement parties, especially in summer. What makes it difficult is that ‘cocktail attire’ can range from formal brogues and a suit jacket to summer loafers and button-up shirt. It really depends on the season, the location, and how well you know the hosts.
In this article we’re going to run through some on-trend cocktail combinations, but remember, this is just a guide. The golden rule is comfort. You have to wear what feels good to you. With the right styling, and a bit of confidence, you can mix and match basically any closed-toe leather footwear.

What is ‘cocktail attire’?

What ‘cocktail attire’ really means is: put some effort in. It’s asking you to dress up and add some oomph to your outfit. That’s good, because it gives you flexibility, but challenging, because there’s no definitive guide on where to start. Cocktail attire is basically looking elegant, stylish and simple. Keep those three words in mind and you won’t go too far wrong. You can think of it this way: cocktail attire is one step down from a formal dress code for men, but one step up from smart casual.

Cocktail attire shoes

You’ve got some latitude here, depending on the season and the setting. Heading to a summer cocktail garden party? Try some tassel or penny loafers. Need a winter cocktail outfit for the swish cocktail reception in winter? You’ll probably want some good quality leather dress shoes. That’s Oxfords, Derbies or Monk straps. Black Oxfords are a safe place to start, but don’t be afraid to experiment with colours and broguing either. ‘Cocktail attire’ is really a chance to express your personality – it’s way less starchy than ‘formal’ or ‘black tie’ dress codes.

Brogues and chinos

Brogues might be our pick of the bunch when it comes to cocktail shoes. They’re smart, versatile, and packed with personality. Start with a pair of our TOMMASI brogues in Bordeaux leather. That reddish tone will look great with navy dress chinos, or even tailored woollen pants, and you can finish the look with a button-up shirt and suit jacket. For something extra special, try our SAMUEL brogue military boots under a dark navy suit. That combination of heel, height and texture will really draw the eye.

Oxfords and blazers

Oxfords are your best friend when it comes to cocktail attire. They’re never out of place. Still, we’d recommend picking dress shoes with a bit of warmth and personality. Avoid your scuffed, 9–5 office Oxfords, and anything in patent leather. You need to think texture, tone and quality. Something like the GORDON, with its premium leather upper and sharp toe, is perfect for cocktail wear. Try matching these guys with chinos and a knit blazer in salmon or forest green. Remember: Oxfords are pretty conservative, so you want to amp up the colour.

Dress boots and jeans

Dress boots are a criminally overlooked footwear family. Especially for cocktail attire, where they tend to really shine. For more laid back cocktail events, try some BRODY desert boots under tan chinos and a contrast knit blazer. Or start right at the top with our premium OSBOURNE 2.0 oxblood Chelsea boots. These look great under a navy or charcoal suit, and you can finish things off with a crisp white shirt. Lastly, for a bit more edge, swap out the Chelseas for some chunky INGRAM military boots. This is a riskier play, but when it works, it really works. We’ve covered this style in more detail over here.  

Loafers and linen

It’s a hot summer night and you’ve been invited to an al fresco cocktail party. This is the perfect excuse for loafers. Lightweight, elegant, streamlined, and most importantly cool. There are two ways to go here: play it safe with some BENITO penny loafers, or have fun with texture and tassels. Our KEMP leather penny loafers look great under dress chinos, but you can also pair them with a lightweight linen suit. Stick to breezy colours like khaki, bone, sky blue or salmon pink. Finish the look with some vintage sunnies and a dress watch.

Sneakers and suits

We’ve covered sneakers and suits before, and it’s a great option for ‘cocktail attire’. You get the formality of a suit jacket and the edgy playfulness of sneakers. Win/win. We’d generally recommend this look for the more laid-back cocktail events: summer garden parties with friends, not dinner parties with your boss. Try a petrol two-piece suit with some DECO 2.0 sneakers in bright pop of white leather. Charcoal, navy or oxblood suiting are all great options for cocktail parties, and you should probably sharpen the look with a tonal silk tie.

Cocktail attire accessories

You’ll want a good quality leather belt for cocktail events. Maybe two, if you’re getting a lot of invites. One in black and one in brown leather is a good place to start. That way you can match your shoes and other leather accessories. Give some thought to the buckle, too. A high shine silver or gold can really pop – just make sure it matches your tie pin, watch or cufflinks (if you’re wearing any). Don’t forget socks either. Cocktail parties are a great excuse to lash out with some colour and personality in the sock department. Just stay away from anything too casual: that means no ankle socks, sports socks or crew socks.

To tie or not to tie?

Ties are technically optional for ‘cocktail attire’, but it’s generally a good idea to wear one. You can always take it off if the night is looking more casual (better to have one and not need it than need it and not have one). A bowtie can be a fun accessory, too. Very keeping with the whole cocktail party vibe. Try and find a matching pocket square, if you can: something tonal is fine, with a bit of pattern or texture.

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