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Cocktail Attire For Men? – The Most Popular Dress Codes Explained.

Posted on 14 August 2013

We’ve all been there. We receive an invitation to attend an event (wedding, parties, inauguration, you name it) everything looks fine and we get excited until we read something like: black-tie, white-tie, semiformal, business, cocktail attire, business casual, etc. What the heck do all these words mean?

Dress codes have been around for a while -- they are a formality that instructs guests what to wear for the occasion. They are hard to be broken so don’t try to improvise with a new creative twist. It’s ok to add a personal touch though, but keep it to a minimum; you don’t want to be remembered as “the neon shirt guy” at your cousins’ wedding. Think of dress codes as a true gesture of gratitude to the people who invited you. Sometimes we may not feel totally comfortable with the dress-code, but if you don’t follow it, the feeling of being absolutely out of place could be even worse. The key here is rather simple: if you get noticed, either you missed the code completely or you nailed it in a memorable way.

What’s important to know is that wearing the proper attire will allow you to blend with the other guests easily resulting in a more enjoyable experience. If you need extra help, please make sure to remember these two things:

1. When in doubt, it’s always fine to directly ask your hosts -- they are the most interested in avoiding confusions.

2. If you are still in doubt, it’s always a safer bet to attend over-dressed. But for god’s sake, don’t wear a tux to a birthday party.


White tie

Just think of Fred Astaire, how elegant is that? The White Tie is the most formal dress-code, you should feel honored if you enjoy such flamboyant social life. Typically it’s only worn for royal events, state dinners and formal balls. The real deal is composed by black tailcoat (with silk facings), white wingtip collar shirt (minimal in decoration), white waistcoat, white bow tie and black formal shoes (patent pumps, velvet slippers and classic oxfords are accepted).

Black tie

The famous tuxedo is the main character here. Despite the name, nowadays it’s also accepted in midnight dark blue. Another variation is with white dinner jacket and black pants but it’s only advisable for warm weather. The traditional attire includes: single breasted tuxedo (with or without silk facings), black cummerbund, black bow tie, white turn-down spread collar shirt (with a pleated front) and black formal shoes such as oxfords.

Black-tie optional

This little cousin of the traditional black tie also accepts a dark suit with a tie or bow tie instead of the tux. So it’s up to you to decide. A new relative is “Creative Black Tie”, so if the invitation says so, then maybe that's your chance to get wild. If you opt for the suit instead of the tux, wear it with a plain white dress shirt, conservative tie, dress socks that match your suit color, and a pair of well-shined shoes such as monk-straps or oxfords.

Cocktail Attire

The most popular of all formal dress-codes. It’s still formal but leaves a little more room to creativity. You can sport a cool pattern in your tie, and in some cases, colored socks. However, suits and ties should always be in dark hues but never black (unless you are a priest). Bold patterns are not easily accepted but a well-fitted windowpane suit can also work really well. Wear them with a pair of well-shined shoes such as brogues, oxfords or monk-straps.

Business Casual

The least formal of all dress-codes allows you to wear or not a tie. Patterns and textures are welcome, so are button-down shirts and dark jeans (no holes, no effects). If you are in doubt of looking too informal, you probably are. So tuck in that shirt mister! Classic wool sport fabrics like tweed and windowpane are always recommended. Make sure to not wear suit jackets as sport jackets, or you will go straight to style-hell. As for shoes, feel free to rock your chukka boots, loafers or brogues.

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  • Matt: April 11, 2015

    Good solid advice. I’d say these days a suit coat with jeans for business casual is the hip thing.

  • Jeremy Greer: January 06, 2015

    Great article. Very informative and the pictures help as well. I wasn’t exactly sure the difference between black tie and cocktail. And when you are a guest at the inaugural gala its better safe than sorry. Thanks again.

  • cara mengobati keputihan coklat : December 05, 2014

    tutorials are simple but very useful. Thank you very much

  • Jay Josephs: April 23, 2014

    Oh my God! Who still lives this way?

  • Susie: November 19, 2013

    We need one of these for women! Great job!!!!

  • Dick Swart: September 08, 2013

    Solid advice in today’s three guide lines. Howmuch easier it was back in the (read ‘my’) day. Casual Friday was a blazer or decent sportcoat with a nexktie. And maybe a blue shirt. A tux was a tux, a white shirt was an expectation (ok for blue stripes, solid blue, and maybe a pink if you were on the east coast. Shorts were bermuda length. Summer suits were seersucker. And shoes ..
    cap toes, wingtips (if sedate) black or brown as appropriate. Loafers were considered rather informal for office wear. Of course there was a difference in dress allowance between IBM and their advertising agancy.

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