Deciphering the cocktail attire dress code is one of the biggest challenges in menswear. When you see the dreaded two words on a party invite, you’re essentially being asked to wear a suit. But what sort of suit? What makes it cocktail appropriate? Why can’t you drink cocktails in another suit? And is a vodka and fresh orange juice truly a cocktail? So many questions.
Look, we can’t answer that. But what we can answer is what you wear. For something more relaxed, you might consider separates with a contrasting blazer and trouser combo. Or, for a sharper look, you could go tonal with a navy suit and dark blue shirt. If you’re still confused though, GQ‘s cocktail attire guide covers absolutely everything that you need to know. From what to wear to a wedding, to dos and don’ts with jackets, ties, and even jeans, feel free to thank us later.
What is the cocktail attire dress code?
Generally speaking, cocktail attire means that you need to wear a suit. But remember, this is a dress code that’s usually reserved for occasions like weddings, celebrations, and of course, cocktail parties (duh). “Cocktail attire can no doubt be tricky.” says Jack Stammers, co-founder of London-based atelier Jack Davison Bespoke. “I view it as a mix of a few different dress codes. It’s less formal than black tie, smarter than smart casual, and dressier than a business suit.”
With this in mind, you should be a bit more creative with it. Start with the jacket. It wouldn’t be cocktail dress without some sort 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 completely different fabric to the trousers. If you’ve run out of time and you really have to go with a business suit, try to mix things up by avoiding a tie and replace the shirt for a rollneck or knitted polo instead. “It’s definitely a chance to express yourself a little more with more dramatic shapes and colours, if you so wish.” says Stammers.
It’s worth noting that the specifics of what you wear will, as per most RSVP events, be dependent on how formal the occasion is. For example, what you wear to your end of year work drinks will be drastically different to a wedding reception. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all kinda thing.
What is cocktail attire for men like in summer?
Warmer weather means lighter colours, lighter materials (like linen, a light thread count organic cotton, or a very fancy silk) 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 trainers or loafers without socks, and maybe opting for a premium T-shirt or a short sleeve camp collar shirt instead of a dress shirt.
What is cocktail attire for men like 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,’ feel free to interpret whatever way you want. You could choose to dress up with a shirt and tie, or pare it down slightly with a semi-formal, unstructured suit jacket, and a knitted polo.
What are the dos and don’ts with jeans for cocktail attire?
Anything is totally possible, but even the smartest of black jeans might be a bit of 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.
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 laugh at your face at the idea of not wearing one), they’re just not essential for a contemporary cocktail dress.
If you decide to skip the tie, ensure your 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 another day in the office. Alternatively, you could switch the shirt out entirely for a knitted polo or Merino rollneck, for something a little more relaxed.
What is cocktail attire for women?
It shouldn’t come as too much of a shocker when we say that cocktail attire for women is an entirely 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. As with all cocktail attire, it’s important not to overthink it. If you’re unsure, keep it simple, and you can’t go too far wrong.
Cocktail attire dress code inspiration
There are very few people who can work an orange suit as well as Andrew Garfield, but if you want to give your cocktail attire a splash of colour, it’s definitely a vibe to go for. Because the Zegna two-piece is already so bold, Garfield has gone quite minimal with the accessories, sporting nothing but a ring on one hand, and an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra on the other.
When it comes to pushing the boundaries of fashion, A$AP Rocky is a five-star general. While he’s known for wearing everything from neon green fur hats and quilted blankets sewn by your grandma, he also knows how to tone things down. With this suit he’s done just this, keeping things simple with its double-breasted cut and classic ‘80s-inspired proportions.
If you’re feeling a little bare without a tie, take a leaf out of Brian Cox’s book and try an ascot instead. With a white dress shirt, he’s paired it with a navy jacket and trouser combo. But to keep it from looking too business casual, he’s also added a satin ascot that complements the lapels of his blazer. Blue tinted sunglasses also make the look more relaxed.
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 crisp, contemporary feel.
It’s no secret that Jacob Elordi is a member of menswear royalty. From very small Bottega bags to very big overcoats, the Australian actor also knows how to rock a suit and rock it well. During GQ Men of the Year 2023, he walked the red carpet with a pinstriped combo. He then paired it with a pastel yellow shirt, which seems to be one of his fave colours at the moment.
Not only is Jimin one of the most popular artists in the history of the universe, he’s also one of the best-dressed guys since the beginning of time itself. While the BTS superstar could’ve showed up in a shirt, he’s switched it out for a rollneck jumper instead, making everything a little more cocktail-friendly. Not everyone can pull off those big boots though, but Jimin sure as hell can.
It may not be advisable every time, but T-shirts can definitely work with a cocktail suit. Take this Ryan Gosling ensemble with its pastel yellow suit and leather loafer combination, for example. The simple white tee tones everything down, keeping the suit from entering boardroom territory. It’s certainly simple, for sure, but it works.
If you really want to make a statement, spice things up like Michael B Jordan with a rose red suit. Even though you won’t find many (if any) accessories here, the fiery contrast is enough to steal the show. Finish it off with a pair of solid black dress shoes and add some shades if you want to make it more summery.
If you’re stuck for cocktail suit inspiration, you could do worse than turn to Vincent Cassel. The French actor has a wide array of tailoring in his arsenal, including this stone suit and black polo combination. He’s kept the accessories simple, opting for a white pocket square and his signature sunglasses. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is entirely optional, by the way, so no pressure.