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Feb, 9 2024

What to Wear to a Business Cocktail Party

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More and more people who prefer slightly formal events are hosting celebrations that require business cocktail attire. You’ve heard about “cocktail attire” and “business attire,” but what is business cocktail attire? It’s essentially standard cocktail apparel with a professional twist, usually with more formal accessories.

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To give you a better idea of appropriate cocktail business attire, let’s dive into the key elements of this clothing style.

Understanding Cocktail Attire

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Before deconstructing business/cocktail attire, it’s crucial that you have a firm grasp of the more important element of the two – cocktail attire. Only after you have the full picture will you be able to fine-tune your outfit for this occasion.

What Is Cocktail Attire?

Cocktail attire is more formal than casual wear but a tad less formal than black-tie events. It borrows a lot of guidelines from semi-formal wear with a more fancy twist. Suitable cocktail wear for men generally includes a full suit, with the tie depending on your preferences, the time of the celebration, and the venue. Ladies normally wear a cocktail dress, high heels, and a bag.

Business Cocktail vs. Regular Cocktail

Keeping the basics of cocktail apparel in mind, let’s now compare this style to cocktail business attire. What are the differences between the two?

In terms of the very clothing, the differences are subtle. For example, a standard cocktail outfit for men doesn’t require a tie or pocket square. In contrast, these two accessories add a touch of elegance that’s often associated with business ceremonies. You also need to make sure your dress shirt is fully tucked in, isn’t sagging, and the collar has no wrinkles.

For ladies, the difference lies in the neckline and length. The traditional cocktail apparel for women typically includes a below-the-knee cocktail dress with a plunging neckline. On the other hand, business cocktail apparel features maxi dresses with elevated necklines. Adding a clutch, bag, jewelry, and other accessories is also welcome.

On another note, the distinction between regular cocktail and business cocktail events takes place at different times of the day. Standard cocktail parties don’t consider the time, whereas business cocktail celebrations usually take place in the evening.

Finally, there’s the context. A traditional cocktail ceremony can be organized for pretty much any reason, such as weddings and birthdays. Conversely, business cocktail events generally have a business context, like end-of-year celebrations and company anniversaries.

Cocktail Attire for Men

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Navigating the business cocktail dress code is tricky, but knowing the specific garments you should wear to the party makes it much easier. Here are some go-to options that will carry you through the day.

The Suit

For gentlemen, everything starts from the suit. It’s been the staple of men’s formalwear for generations, and modern fashion lines have no plans to relinquish it any time soon.

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In David Gandy’s words, “People always ask me what the latest fashion trends are, but I’m not a believer in trends. Individuality is more important to me, to stand out and have the confidence to wear something you’re comfortable in – it just happens. I’m comfortable wearing a suit.”

Therefore, pay special attention to your suit when attending a business cocktail party. The two go-to colors are black and navy blue.

Black Suit

The first image that pops up in your mind when you say the word “suit” is that of a black suit. It’s fitting for practically any occasion, including business cocktail events. It has everything you need from cocktail business apparel, including elegance, professionalism, and class. However, it can be a bit too formal, since black is usually reserved for weddings, galas, and funerals. If you opt for black, dress it down a bit with some funkier accessories.

Navy Blue Suit

If black isn’t up your alley, and you want to slightly brighten things up, you can’t go wrong with a navy suit. Navy blue is a timeless classic that’s often considered more versatile than black. All you have to do is make sure that the rest of the outfit isn’t too dark.

Gray Suit

If neither black nor navy blue is your cup of tea, no worries – there’s another alternative. Gray suits are just as flexible as the previous two colors, meaning they work brilliantly well for different types of events, including business cocktail parties.

After all, A-list celebrities wouldn’t rely on this color for anything. Here’s how Bradley Cooper wore it at the 2019 National Board of Review Award ceremony. Yes, it wasn’t a plain suit, but it was still formal enough to be considered business cocktail attire. He even put on a waistcoat for more formality, but the actor was still out of the black-tie/white-tie sphere, which is too formal for a business cocktail dress code.

If you want to go even more formal without being too formal, a double-breasted gray suit is an ideal option.

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Shirt and Tie

Your shirt game must be on point. This means there can be no fabric sagging from your trousers. Also, while undoing a button or two might be fine on casual events, avoid doing so.

Since the shirt is so important, you need to select the right size:

  • The collar should allow you to put two fingers between the shirt and neck.
  • The shoulder seam shouldn’t twist or tug when you move your arms.
  • The shirt shouldn’t have any billowing when you tuck it in, be it on the belly or on the back.
  • The sleeve should be somewhat wider at your biceps and triceps and narrow down toward the wrist.

When it comes to the color, crisp white is a safe pick. Other colors, such as light blue, light pink, and light yellow, are also acceptable.

You can skip a tie if it’s a somewhat casual event, but business cocktail parties normally require one. Unlike black-tie events, which require a bow tie, a necktie is a given for business parties, but you can wear a snazzy bowtie for a cocktail event. Just make sure not to look like the wait staff.


No cocktail business attire is complete without accessories. Every other male guest will likely wear a suit. And the majority of them will likely wear black or navy blue. You can stand out with a gray garment or some other acceptable color (e.g., burgundy), but accessories can highlight your combination.

The pocket square is the bread and butter of most men’s outfits. When choosing one, make sure it’s not the same color as your tie. Here are a few tie/pocket square combos:

  • Navy-blue tie and yellow pocket square (gray suit and white shirt)
  • Red tie and green pocket square (navy blue suit and white shirt)
  • Black tie and white pocket square (black suit and white shirt)

Another detail you can consider is a wristwatch. It’s a critical accessory for many gentlemen due to its sophistication and the ability to elevate any outfit with a professional touch, which is what cocktail business apparel is all about.

Although pocket squares and wristwatches are different, they have something in common – they shouldn’t be too flashy. The color of both accessories should match your suit. Otherwise, you may risk looking unprofessional at the party.

Cocktail Attire for Women

Suitable business cocktail attire for men has been deconstructed. Now’s the time to delve into the specifics of ladies’ cocktail wear.

The Dress

The first thing that comes to mind when discussing women’s business cocktail apparel is the cocktail dress. Below-the-knee dresses are mandatory, but those that reach all the way to the ankles are even more appropriate.

Ladies who wish to change things up can consider pantsuits and a blazer.


Accessories are crucial for gentlemen, but they’re just as important for ladies’ cocktail business attire. Flashy details aren’t allowed because most of them are unprofessional. Instead, opt for a simple cocktail ring or necklace for a cohesive look.

Footwear and Bags

Even though all eyes will be on women’s cocktail dresses or pants, it’s key to couple the garment with appropriate footwear. Any heels and dress shoes are suitable as long as they match the color of the dress or pants.

Furthermore, women should wear a bag for a finished look. A clutch is the standard option due to its inconspicuous yet classy design.

Additional Tips

A man in a navy suit

By following the above guidelines, you’re pretty much guaranteed to nail the perfect business cocktail attire. Still, there are a few extra considerations you should keep in mind when deciding what to wear.

Seasonal Considerations

Business cocktail parties can be thrown all year long. The clothes you should wear at different times of year are similar, but there are a few nuances to consider that will help you create a gorgeous yet comfortable look.

The material is the main aspect. If you’re attending a summer cocktail party, breathable materials should be your priority. Linen is the best option, both for suits and shirts. You can also replace standard Oxford shoes with loafers.

If it’s a winter gathering, it’s hard to beat the charm and texture of a velvet suit. Wool is another solid pick.

Color-wise, summer parties call for warmer, brighter nuances. While you can wear black and blue navy to these events, light blue or light gray is a better choice.

Darker colors are more appropriate for winter celebrations. In addition to black and navy blue, burgundy, purple, and emerald green are good options, too. Choosing between earth-toned and jewel-toned suits can also be a great idea to match the natural setting of the venue.

When in Doubt, Ask

Your goal is to look stunning while honoring the dress code. The last thing you want is to be frowned upon for wearing something unprofessional. So, don’t be afraid to ask the organizer or host what they consider appropriate business cocktail attire. It’s also in their best interest that every guest follows the requested dress code, which is why they should be more than willing to point you in the right direction.

On a more general note, don’t forget that you’re attending a somewhat formal event. It’s not as formal as black tie or white tie, but the host expects a certain level of sophistication. As a result, it’s always better to be a little overdressed than underdressed at these gatherings.


Four men in gray suits

The term business cocktail attire might be confusing, but this dress code is quite straightforward. Men should keep it classy with a full suit and elegant dress shirt that’s properly tucked in. Ladies can either go for a cocktail dress or pantsuits if they find them more comfortable.

The only question that remains now is, where do you find the right cocktail suit as a sophisticated gentleman? Do you buy a $5K suit that looks great, but you may only wear it once or twice?

Thankfully, you won’t have to break the bank for your garment because reliable suit rental services are readily available. And not just any suit rental place – Generation Tux is the #1 provider.

Explore our collection to discover a wide array of top-quality business cocktail suits that will help you blend in and look your best. Each garment features next-level stitching to keep you comfortable throughout the event. Best of all, you can return the suit if it’s not the right fit and get a new one just in time for the celebration. Just make sure to get your suit in advance.

Generation Tux doesn’t offer garments for cocktail events only. We also have semi-formal attire for male guests, which is slightly less formal than your traditional cocktail wear.

So, whether you need semi-formal or cocktail attire, Generation Tux won’t let you down.

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