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Cocktail Attire For Men? – The 2020 Guide to the 5 Most Popular Dress Codes

So you've been invited to an event such as a wedding, retirement party, inauguration, etc.

Down at the bottom, you see those words that can make even the most well-dressed man a bit anxious: black-tie, white-tie, semiformal, business, cocktail attire, business casual.

What Is a Dress Code?

Having a specified dress code means having to dress in a particular way, but it is not always obvious what is meant.

Dress codes have been around for a long time and have acted as a guide that instructs guests on what to wear for the occasion. It is generally looked down upon (and can be quite embarrassing) to break them.

We would recommend not trying to improvise with a new creative twist either; it’s ok to add a personal touch, but keep it to a minimum. You don’t want to be remembered as “the neon shirt guy” at your cousin's wedding.

Think of the dress code as a guide that will keep you from being under or overdressed compared to the other guests.

Sometimes you may not feel totally comfortable with what you're being asked to wear. But if it's not followed, the feeling of being out of place could be even worse.

The key here is simple: if you get noticed, either you missed the code, or you nailed it in a memorable way.

The Important Parts of a Dress Code

What’s important to know is that wearing the proper attire will allow you to blend in with the other guests. Which will certainly make for a more enjoyable experience. If all else fails and you are still not completely clear on what is expected, follow these two tips:

  1. When in doubt, it’s always fine to directly ask your hosts. They're the ones most interested in avoiding confusion.
  2. If you're still not sure, it’s always a safer bet to be over-dressed. Just don’t over-do it (don't wear a tux to a birthday party!).

Here are some of the different dress codes you might find printed at the bottom of your invite:

WHITE TIE  |  BLACK TIE  |  BLACK TIE OPTIONAL

COCKTAIL ATTIRE  |  BUSINESS CASUAL

1) White Tie

Just think of Fred Astaire. How elegant was he?

The white tie is the most formal dress-code and, if invited, you should feel honored. It means you have a flamboyant and sophisticated social life.

What to Wear

To get it right, bust out your black tailcoat (with silk facings), white wingtip collar shirt (minimal in decoration), white waistcoat and white bow tie.

Go for black formal shoes (velvet slippers and classic or wholecut Oxfords in black are acceptable.)

It's a pretty conservative dress code so there's not much room for innovation and you'd be wise not to try.

Where to Wear It

Typically, White Tie dress codes are reserved for ultra-formal events such as:

  • Royal Occasions
  • State Dinners
  • Formal Balls

2) Black Tie

What to Wear

The famous tuxedo is the main character here. While the classic tux is as dark as can be, nowadays it is also accepted in midnight blue. Another variation is a white dinner jacket and black pants.; but, this is only advisable in warm weather.

The traditional attire includes the single-breasted tuxedo (with or without silk facings), black cummerbund, black bow tie, white turn-down spread collar shirt (with a pleated front).

For shoes, you can go for black formal ones such as Oxfords.

Where to Wear It

Black Tie events can overlap with White Tie, it just depends on how formal the event is going to be. A few places you may be asked to wear black tie attire include:

  • Formal dinners
  • Balls
  • Evening weddings

3) Black Tie Optional

What to Wear

This is the little cousin of the traditional Black Tie dress code. You can wear your tux, but a dark suit with a tie or bow tie is also acceptable; it’s up to you to decide.

If you opt for the suit instead of the tux, wear it with a plain white dress shirt, conservative tie and dress socks that match your suit color. Use a pair of well-shined shoes such as Monk-Straps or Oxfords.

Where to Wear It

Almost any Black Tie event can then become a Black Tie Optional event if the host so chooses. A few of the events that you may see as Black Tie Optional include:

  • Weddings
  • Religious Events
  • Galas

What is Creative Black Tie?

Note the new relative called Creative Black Tie; which is black tie attire with the option to subtly break the rules. It provides an excellent opportunity to get wild if you're feeling the part. This means a pop of color in the socks, a bow tie, a designed pocket square, or something subtle that suits your fancy.

4) Cocktail Attire

What to Wear

The most popular of all the dress codes is the cocktail attire for men. It is still formal, but leaves a little more room for creativity. You can sport a cool pattern on your tie, and in some cases, colored socks.

However, suits and ties should always be in dark hues but never black (unless you're a priest.) Bold patterns are not always accepted, but a well-fitted windowpane suit can also work well.

Men’s cocktail attire includes a pair of well-shined shoes such as Brogues, Oxfords, or Monk-Straps.

Where to Wear It

There is a festive feel to cocktail attire for men, which is why you may see it called for at the following types of events:

  • Parties
  • Receptions
  • Anniversaries
  • Reunions
  • Retirement Party

5) Business Casual

What to Wear

Business casual is the least formal of all dress codes.

Business casual options include:

  • Wearing or not wearing a tie
  • Patterns & textures are welcome
  • Button-down shirts are allowed
  • Dark jeans (no holes, fading, or effects) are acceptable

If you're afraid of looking too informal, you probably are, so tuck in that shirt, mister!

Classic wool sports fabrics such as tweed and windowpane are always recommended.

Make sure to not wear suit jackets as sports jackets, or you will go straight to style hell. But styling a blazer is perfectly acceptable.

As for shoes, feel free to rock your Chukka Boots, Loafers, or Brogues (just make sure your belt matches!)

Where to Wear It

There are several opportunities to wear the business casual dress code, but to name a few areas we have the following:

  • Some Workplaces
  • Interviews
  • Casual Religious Gatherings

Conclusion

With these 5 dress codes, you should be well on your way to understanding what to wear for each event you’re invited to this year. And just remember, when in doubt, feel free to speak directly with your host! He/she will know exactly what they want you to wear.

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12 comments

  • I didn’t understand for cocktail attire dark hue for suit & tie but never black! And is the shirt only white?

    Gary T. Ono,
  • Great, thanks for sharing it is very useful.
    Star lord Jacket

    Star lord jacket,
  • Hi Rosko,

    For cocktail parties, we wouldn’t risk it with jeans and boots as you might look underdressed. Wouldn’t this be the perfect occasion to buy your first suit and a pair of great dress shoes? You might end up liking it!

    If you want to have fun with it, you can always have a fun pattern on your tie and maybe add a pocket square for a sharp look. Hope this helps and thanks for your message.

    Pilar,
  • So I’m invited to a work related cocktail party where “cocktail attire” is requested. I am a boots & jeans guy. I do not own a suit. Would a solid shirt with a solid necktie, black wranglers or dress jeans & shiny boots be ok?

    Rosko,
  • I was invited to a wedding calling for cocktail attire. Thank you for the clarification!

    Jon,

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