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Cocktail Attire Dress Code Explained

Cocktail Attire Dress Code Explained

Welcome back to the Gentleman’s Gazette! In today’s video, we’ll be discussing the
history of the dress code, cocktail attire, its traditional specifications, and some alternative
suggestions for meeting the dress code and still looking stylish. Long time fans of our channel will be aware
that we take pride in the fact the we can decomplicate dress codes for men. We got comprehensive PDF guides on the most
formal of dress codes like white tie, black tie, and morning dress available in our shop
here. Also, we have got a video and a full article
that will act as a primer on pretty much any dress code a man could find on an invitation. You can find those, here. Further, we’ve released a recent video on
the black tie optional and holiday attire dress codes and you can check those out by
clicking the links here. Today’s video will cover another dress code
that many men may find to be a bit confusing in nature, that being cocktail attire. The source of this confusion is chiefly that
when most of us hear cocktail attire, we likely think of an informal gathering perhaps after
work or something like a happy hour. And while the sort of outfit one might wear
in that situation is technically encompassed by modern definitions of cocktail attire dress
code, that is not merely what’s meant in its more traditional configurations. As such, we’ll start today by taking a brief
look at the history of the cocktail attire dress code. It first came into its own in the 1920s and
30s when the social elite was flaunting the prohibition laws of the time took to enjoying
pre-dinner drinks and Hors d’oeuvre in the early evening hours. More formal than standard business wear but
at the same time, too early in the evening and a bit too casual for black tie or white
tie, cocktail attire basically emerged out of the need for a dress code that would bridge
the gap between these two levels of formality. Almost a hundred years later, what’s meant
by cocktail attire today then? While it is still a relatively formal and
somewhat strict dress code, there is a little bit more room for creativity and expression
in today’s interpretations of cocktail attire. It can apply to traditional cocktail parties,
of course, but also to other events like weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and so on. And yes, even down to the informal happy hour
gatherings we discussed at the opening of the video although this is where more creative
latitude comes in. What is most important here then is that you
know for certain what the occasion calls for. If you are just meeting up informally with
a few friends for drinks, then you could look at this as being a more smart casual variant
on cocktail attire. For more information on what we mean by smart
casual, you can check out the dress code primer here. If you will be attending a wedding or another
event of similar pedigree, however, you will want to stick to the more traditional interpretation
of cocktail attire. With all that said then, we should answer
the question, what exactly should a man wear to an event that has a dress code of cocktail
attire? The short answer here is as follows: A medium
to a dark suit, a conservative dress shirt, tie, black or similarly dark dress shoes,
dark, muted over the calf socks, and subtle accessories. Given that there are now some cocktail attire
events with slightly less traditional adherence to these rules, however, you could incorporate
slightly more bold elements into your ensemble though this will depend on a few factors. So, let us break down that traditional, conservative
interpretation of the dress code first and discuss some of the variations along the way. The most traditional option for a cocktail
attire suit, which is to say, of course, that being jacket, trousers, and optional waistcoat
are all cut from matching fabric, is in a medium gray color, as I am wearing here today. Of course, going for something even darker
such as charcoal, gray, or navy blue is also perfectly acceptable. Because of its historical associations with
countrywear, brown suits should be reserved only for more informal variations on cocktail
attire. In such situations, you could go for something
bolder as well. Say, for example, a burgundy or olive green. If you choose one of these more Avante-garde
colors, however, note that it should be dark and conservatively styled and most often,
without a pattern. Conversely, a black suit would be much too
somber for cocktail attire and should be avoided. For a video on how we, here at the Gentleman’s
Gazette, believe black to be the most overrated color in menswear, you can click here. No matter what color of suit you choose, solid
colors are safest. You can go with a faint pattern such as a
light windowpane or maybe a Glenn check but keep in mind that that pattern should be conservative
and not overly loud. As far as the styling of your suit is concerned,
you can go for single or double-breasted and two pieces or three, just so long as everything
is cut from the same fabric and you are following the guidelines we have already laid out. It is not entirely unheard of these days for
men to be seen wearing combinations of sport coat or blazer and odd trousers at cocktail
attire events. If the hosts have laid out that combinations
are acceptable, you can certainly wear them. Although, we think it is still best to go
for a traditional suit. To provide contrast with a more medium to
dark suit then, your shirt should typically be lighter in color. White is standard, of course, but you can
also go for off-white or pastel colors like pink, yellow, or blue as I am wearing here
today. A Winchester shirt which is to say a shirt
with a white collar and sometimes white cuffs, paired with a colored and occasionally patterned
body, can also be an acceptable choice for cocktail attire so long as the color that
is incorporated in the body of the shirt is similarly light and subtle. Dark shirts or shirts in jewel tones, take,
for example, burgundies, eggplants, and so on, are too modern and too Avante-Garde for
traditional cocktail attire. Similarly to the suit itself, a subtle pattern
can also be incorporated into the shirt though you should ideally opt for just one of these,
the shirt or the suit, to have a pattern, not both at the same time. Barrel cuffs are a perfectly traditional and
acceptable choice although if you opt for a shirt that has French cuffs to accommodate
cufflinks, the links should also be understated. We will cover accessories in a moment. Regarding ties, solid ties are a safe and
acceptable choice, of course, but traditional patterns like small dots or micropatterns,
as I am wearing here today, are also a smart choice. Just make sure you avoid anything too bold
such as an oversized paisley, for example. Bow ties are a bit less commonly seen for
a cocktail attire but so long as you follow all of the rules we just laid out for long
ties, you can certainly wear a bow tie with your ensemble without complaint. Smooth silk ties will be your safest option
here though you can opt for a bit of texture as well. Take, for example, shantung silk or a wool
grenadine. For a wide variety of ties in different styles
and materials, take a look at our shop here. When it comes to shoes, black oxfords are
your best bet. They should ideally be plain toed but a conservative
cap toe can work equally well. Black derby shoes, if well shined, in a similarly
conservative style are also acceptable. If you have a pair of oxfords in a deep brown
or oxblood and they’ve been polished to a mirror shine, you can feel free to wear those
as well. Just make sure that they are very dark in
color. For more informal gatherings, different types
of shoes like a monk strap could also be accepted, again, they should be conservatively styled
otherwise, and dark in color. Anything in medium brown, tan, or other light
colors would be too informal for a gathering of this nature. As would a style like a loafer, any other
type of slip-on shoe, or a dress boot. Stick with oxfords or very conservative derbies. To be most conservative, your socks should
ideally match the color of your suit’s trousers. You can match them to another element in your
outfit, say for example, your tie if it is conservatively styled but this is a slightly
bolder option. It goes without saying, however, stay away
from anything in bright colors or crazy patterns as that is simply too informal for a cocktail
attire. We have a wide variety of conservatively styled
socks that would be appropriate for cocktail attire in the Fort Belvedere shop and you
can check them out here. As with the somewhat closely related black
tie optional dress code, the area where a man has the greatest amount of latitude in
traditional cocktail attire is with his accessories. Cufflinks can be silver, gold of any shade,
or any other type of solid metal and can incorporate stones or engraving. Stay away from novelty cufflinks featuring
logos or miniatures, however, as they are going to be a little bit too informal. Tie bars, collar clips, and rings can also
be incorporated into your ensemble so long as they are conservatively styled too. An d as always, it is a good idea to match
your metals as much as possible. Pocket squares should ideally echo the shirt. That is to say, white pocket squares for white
shirts and squares incorporating an element of color if you are wearing a colored shirt. You have got some degree of freedom with your
pocket square of choice whether it be as conservative as a white linen square with colored stitching
around the edge or as bold as a patterned silk. But remember that things on the whole should
be somewhat conservative and also that matching your tie and pocket square exactly is never
a good look. Finally regarding boutonnieres, something
light to medium in color and overall understated is a smart choice. Of course, you can find a wide variety of
boutonnieres, pocket squares, and jewelry in the Fort Belvedere shop here. Before we wrap up today, let us look at cocktail
attire through the lens of specific social circulations starting with weddings. Dependng on the typical and or requested level
of formality of the marrying couple, it is a good idea to adjust the specifications we
laid out above so as not to be overdressed at a given wedding. For example, if the marrying couple happen
to beart lovers, let’s say, and their wedding is going to be bright and colorful in nature,
you should incorporate some of the color into your outfit. And for a completely informal wedding, you
could go so far as to wearing a combination of navy blazer and khakis, if you so choose. Remember, the bottom line here is that the
marrying couple should always be the center of attention and you don’t want to overdress
or outshine them. Finally, if you are going to a daytime party
with the cocktail attire dress code, one particularly striking option would be the stroller suit. Traditional daytime semi-formal wear and one
step down from full morning dress. For more information on the stroller suit,
you can take a look at this article here and of course, consider our full morning dress
PDF guide available on the Fort Belvedere shop here. In conclusion, the cocktail attire dress code
was born from a desire to host events that were more formal than typical business wear
but not quite as formal as black tie. As such, remember to keep your outfits comfortably
within this level of formality. Overall, a concervative ensemble consisting
of a medium to dark suit with a few tasteful personalizations will take you far with cocktail
attire. So, is there anything you think that we missed
here based on cocktail attire parties that you have attended in the past? If so, share with us in the comments below. And as always, dont forget to subscribe to
the Gentleman’s Gazette YouTube channel and hit the little bell icon so videos like these
come right to
your inbox.

100 thoughts on “Cocktail Attire Dress Code Explained

  1. One relatively novice question: why are exactly matching tie and pocket-square a faux-pa? It does somewhat go against logic.

  2. Impressive shirt, collar bar, and tie combo with that coat & pocket square! The clean crisp lines are flattering! Thanks for the video!

  3. I have been watching your videos for a while, and it's my opinion that you are as stylish as the ordinary low end circus clown! At least: Get the dust off before filming, and don't use clothes with pilling!

  4. Longtime subscriber here. Preston, I love your presentations and they are improving every episode. I've recently started watching Mad Med and you carry that classic look elegantly. Thanks for all your hard work at GG.

  5. My first cocktail party was a work christmas party, hosted by a doctor and his team. Honestly, getting ready for the event, I had various Gentlemen's Gazette tips on my mind from previous videos and I hadn't even watched one in a couple months! And now this video comes along.

    I know it's rarely stated in the videos and sometimes it comes off as pretentious old timey nostalgia, but a semi fancy work event with professionals is totally the place to "use" the kind of guidance and advice learned on this channel… It felt good to not be totally green, being one of the younger people in attendance. For that I am grateful, thank you Sven.

  6. Please do a much needed "How To Wear Hawaiian Shirts" video and be sure to go into detail the best ways to pair them with sock suspenders, love the channel, keep up the good work and merry X-mas.

  7. I wish this kind of video are more widespread these days. A lot of people have absolutely no idea what any of these dress codes are. At my own wedding I asked for semi formal with jacket as a requirement and people still showed up with short sleeves polo and jeans……..

  8. How to wear a suit jacket with odd trousers. Would you make this video please? It is difficult to determine when a suit jacket can pass for a 'sports jacket' and not just look like half a suit. Especially today many manufactures sell their suits as all separates. Thank you.

  9. How interesting, the history. I always wondered because for women the dresses are usually very nice but I never considered the man and how he should dress. I wonder…should a couple compliment each other in dress when going out to such an affair as this?

  10. Hi Preston, first off I want to say that I love your work at GG but I feel you could hugely benefit by bringing in your pants and perhaps going down a size in the jacket department. Obviously your style is your own but I feel like you would look great in a more slim fit suit!


  11. Great video- very informative on a not very much covered dress code these days. It's good to see these making a comeback, though. You are a great addition to the GG team, and I look forward to more videos. I want to forward a saying that goes with any of these dress codes- "you wear the suit, don't let the suit wear you". Even a not so expensive suit can look like a million bucks when tailored properly.

  12. Today is Mad Friday here in England. Perhaps you could do a guide on what to wear to this most traditional of Christmas events.

  13. Im sorry I just have to ask, does this host have a disability with his legs? Just noticed how awkwardly he moves around.. Keep up the good videos gents.

  14. When disobeying a rule or law, you are flouting it, not flaunting. Given how detail-oriented this channel is, I thought you'd like to know.

  15. Well done. I wonder, what would a Gentleman's Gazette convention look like? Pre-convention, convention and post-convention attire? Would some be critical of their fellows or accepting? Hmmm?

  16. I had an early fall wedding a couple of years ago identifying "cocktail attire" and was so worried (not having this video): My biggest concern was to not wear anything "too loud," drawing attention away from the grooms (like you stated). But they each wore a tux, so I was relieved.

  17. Please consider doing a video on how to love like a gentleman. By the way I love your vidoes you are my favourite thing to watch. Thank you for everything

  18. Thanks
    Recommended video
    I admire your copious vocabulary.
    I surmise that you read books, and if that is right could you please recommend me one? Thank you very much.

  19. You said that cocktail attire was supposed to be more formal than (a) business attire/suit. Thing is that even the less formal conservative version is a business suit with a bit more colour. It sounds like it was meant for strollers. Sven said once that you can very well go with the same suit to an event with cocktail attire but change the tie (and probably the pocket square too).

    Edit: In fact it sounds like it was meant to be for 3 piece suits (strollers included, but not black tie).

    12:32 You look good.

  20. I know they are out of style commonly, but could you cover walking-sticks? Not the practical one for bad legs, but the casual retro fashion item. Its traditionally a very gentleman's thing. Could you still make them work without looking like a grand-pa?

  21. Very informative content and crisp presentation as always!
    I was rather surprised by that glen check tie at 11:06 though. Is That something you would recommend? For me both colour and pattern are a bit too close to the suit.

  22. Preston, I love your style. I hope you don't mind, but you remind me a little bit of Anthony Lemke when he played Marcus Halberstram in American Psycho. It's a good look.

  23. There is probably a lot we don't know about the presenter of this video – but the advice is on point and for that my congratulations!

  24. I could never take style advice from someone who doesn’t follow the advice they give. Your suits are too boxy, they drown you as a slim man. Despite Preston being younger, he does not come across as a confident young man, more as an outdated dork. Sven comes across as much more confident and he seems able to connect with a wider audience unlike Preston. I have nothing against cheap shoes and suits but money spent on a tailor is necessary and it seems Preston has not done it. This will be the last GG video I watch

  25. The prototype boutonniere is gorgeous. I don't usually spend more than $10 on lapel flowers, but that's one that i'd definitely go out of my way to acquire.

  26. There is no need to pretend that "your" vocabulary is realy extensive, becaus some verbs and adverbs are placed in wrong phrases…

  27. Hey Sven. Listen. You gotta get rid of this guy. He has no charisma, and he is awkward. He reminds me of a peevish librarian. I can't listen to him talk.

  28. I can honestly say this channel has genuinely changed my life for the better lol unfortunately now I have an incredibly expensive hobby

  29. I’m surprised that your suit is so poorly fitted. You shouldn’t be able to ‘shrug’ the jacket like that and the trousers are far to loose in the leg. As a slim man you would be better served with a more tailored/tapered cut. This suit, although well styled, still seems ‘sloppy’ and looks inexpensive but only because of the poor fit! So surprising as Sven’s suits are always so well cut for his body type in the other videos! Otherwise great video!

  30. I'm leaning towards "Cocktail Attire" dresscode for my wedding, but I'd like guests to be a little creative. How does one communicate that on an invite? "Creative cocktail attire"? Honestly, that sounds a little try-hard to me. Your thoughts much appreciated!

  31. if you're going to say that a "suit, cut of the same fabric", and a plain darker color are cocktail attire…..don't show the picture you did at the beginning. The men were wearing bold patterns, flamboyant pocket squares and ties. As well, non matching jacket and pants, with bright sweater. All the suits in the video looked like business suits. Oh, and dude, you're creepy.

  32. Mostly in my life I go directly from work to a party or a bar to have a drink then actually go home. Many of these tips are great to know. Thanks for sharing

  33. He keeps saying conservative. My friends and family are more avant-garde and moderate to liberal in their leanings. A cocktail party in a full dressy suit is unusual. A sport coat attire would be very dressed up and polo shirts and chinos or jeans is the norm.

  34. A (well tailored) dark suit, white shirt and a solid tie will get you through 100% of any event requiring cocktail dress code. While of marginal interest, referencing elitist rules of formal dress from the 1920s are essentially meaningless in a modern setting where you would dress stylishly. They're rooted in outdated customs and norms which if they are followed today at all, might find you at the seniors table at a incredibly boring country club.

  35. I have a men’s get together at a private lounge at 1230 on Sunday. Would a navy suite with light pinstripes work as cocktail attire?

  36. The historical print you repeatedly showed is at total variance with the advice you are giving . Furthermore, your grey suit is muck lighter than than medium.. I hadn’t heard of this code before (but then we never had prohibition in the UK) I an still no further forward but I guess the best description is boring.

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