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Feb, 12 2024

California Cocktail for Men: Wedding Guest Attire

A man in a suit walking out a record store

From “creative black tie” to “festive casual attire,” dress code variations seem to pop up left and right. And that can cause a lot of confusion for guests. Even if you know the basics of black-tie, white-tie, and semi-formal, you might be a little puzzled if you receive an invite to a “California cocktail attire” event.

What is California cocktail attire? How is it different from standard cocktail clothing? Well, the differences are pretty small, but still important to understand. That’s what this guide is here to help with.

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Below, you’ll find a detailed breakdown of California cocktail attire for male guests. We’ll cover all the elements of the typical California cocktail outfit and tips to help you dress just right.

Understanding California Cocktail Attire

Let’s begin with the basics. If you’re wondering “What is California cocktail attire?” and “What should a man wear to a California cocktail event?” then this section will cover all you need to know.

What Is California Cocktail Attire?

To understand California cocktail attire, we first need to understand plain and simple “cocktail attire.” As noted in Brides, cocktail attire treads the line between semi-formal and formal outfits. It’s one of the most popular dress codes for modern weddings, fusing elements of elegance and grace with comfort and color.

At a typical cocktail event, you’ll see male guests in suits and ties, while women wear various styles of classy cocktail dresses. But there are quite a few twists and variations on the standard cocktail dress code, like casual cocktail, business cocktail, or even semi-cocktail attire. And that’s where California cocktail slots in.

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California cocktail is one of the many subtypes of the cocktail dress code. As the name suggests, it originates in California and blends the so-called California casual style with the formality of cocktail attire. However, you may be invited to a California cocktail wedding in surrounding states or even other areas around the world.

What is it? Well, an easy way to think of the California cocktail dress code is as a slightly more relaxed version of standard cocktail attire. Given the warm and sunny weather of California, coupled with the more laid-back lifestyle, events tend to have a more casual, comfortable vibe. And that’s basically how the California cocktail concept originated.

So, if you attend a California cocktail wedding or party, expect to see a little more color and flair compared to the usual cocktail bashes. That means more floral dresses for the ladies, and for men, it can allow for a wider selection of trousers, jackets, shirts, and accessories.

The Basics of Cocktail Attire for Men

A man fixing his bowtie around more men in suits

Before we dive into the specific elements of a California cocktail outfit for men, it’s important to know the more typical form of men’s cocktail dress. If you haven’t been to any or many cocktail events before, the very idea of cocktail dress could seem a little foreign to you. But there’s nothing to be worried about – the cocktail dress code is generally quite relaxed and liberating.

In Men’s Health, costume designer Tom Broecker explains how cocktail dress “straddles business and formal,” introducing more comfortable and casual elements while still retaining a formal feel. Traditional cocktail wedding wear for guys consists of a suit and tie, a crisp dress shirt, and some nice dress shoes. You can finish off your look with varying accessories, from bow ties to belts and suspenders.

Even though this is a much more relaxed dress code compared to the likes of black tie or white tie, it still has rules and principles to follow. The difference with California cocktail attire is that it’s a little looser – guests at a California-style event can pick from a wider color palette and more casual clothing. But, even at a California cocktail gathering, you still need to look smart and polished.

Elements of California Cocktail Attire for Men

A man in a bright blue suit

Next, let’s look at the key elements to choose from when selecting male California cocktail attire, from blazers to footwear.

The Suit or Blazer

The first element to consider when selecting your California cocktail dress is a suit or blazer. This is the standard choice for any cocktail party. Typically, many male guests will pick out a classy blazer, typically in a dark shade like navy or charcoal. A well-tailored dark suit can also be a simple, reliable, go-to option.

With California cocktail attire being more relaxed, lighter fabrics and less formal cuts are possibilities. You could even switch things up a little with sports jackets or windowpane blazers. And don’t be afraid to use lighter, brighter shades, or even garments with a bit of pattern or texture to them. Just make sure that whatever jacket you pick fits nicely.

The Shirt

At a usual cocktail wedding, a dress shirt is more or less the only option. But the California cocktail dress code opens up more doors. You could wear shirts in various colors, like soft pastel hues, for example. Alternatively, you might like to pick out a patterned shirt with the likes of stripes or intricate detailing.

With California cocktail attire, it’s even possible to dress down a little. That means that you could eschew a standard dress shirt entirely and opt for a classy polo instead. Button-down shirts also work well and can give you a fresher and more summery look compared to the more traditional cocktail fare.

Trousers or Chinos

Of course, no California cocktail outfit can be complete without the right pair of pants. And, once again, the California-inspired dress code gives you a little more freedom than usual. At a standard or formal cocktail party, male guests would be expected to turn up in smart dress pants or trousers, usually in shades like navy, black, or charcoal.

Meanwhile, for California cocktail attire, male guests can pick out a comfortable, cozy pair of chinos instead. Colors like cream, beige, brown, and even burgundy or blue can all work nicely. You might even be able to get away with some jeans, just as long as they’re a dark shade and very well-tailored – avoid any distressed or bright blue jeans, as that might be a little too close to “casual” territory.


Footwear is often overlooked when picking out event outfits, but you need to make sure you dress your feet as neatly as the rest of you. For typical cocktail gatherings, classy dress shoes, such as Oxfords and loafers, tend to be the best bet. However, in a more relaxed California setting, you could pick something a little less formal, like some nice sandals or derbies in a light, sandy shade.

Accessories and Additional Tips

A close up of a black bowtie

Along with all the essential elements, like a smart blazer and some comfortable chinos, a California cocktail outfit can also benefit from accessories. This section will provide some accessory recommendations, along with other handy tips to help you fit in at any California cocktail party.


Almost any outfit can benefit from a couple of finishing touches in the form of accessories. And male California cocktail attire is no different. An accessory or two can add a personal touch to your look. It allows you to express yourself or jazz up your ensemble with color or sparkle.

In terms of which accessories to choose, ties are a good option to start with. Bow ties tend to be quite popular at cocktail parties and weddings. They add a bit of fun and elegance to an outfit. Or you could pick a colorful necktie instead. Pocket squares are also ideal. Or, as GQ recommends, you could consider a snazzy dress watch or signet ring to really wow your fellow guests.

When in Doubt, Ask

Even with research and careful consideration of your outfit, you may still have some doubts. If so, as noted by Vanbruun, there’s absolutely no harm in asking the couple about the dress code. This is particularly relevant when the code is a little vague, or if it’s something you’ve never seen on an invite before. The hosts will usually be happy to answer any questions you might have.

You’ll surely feel a lot more confident and calm having checked with the bride and groom beforehand, rather than turning up on the big day in an outfit you’re not sure about. And remember: it’s always better to be a little overdressed rather than underdressed, particularly when weddings are concerned. Checking with the hosts will help you avoid any risk of appearing underdressed.

You might have planned to wear a simple blazer and chinos, for instance. But the hosts might have something more formal in mind. By reaching out to them, you’ll get the info you need to pick a more suitable outfit. You can then look through your wardrobe for a more elegant suit, or consider suit rental from a trusted brand, like Generation Tux.

Seasonal Considerations

No matter what the dress code says, it’s always important to think about seasons and weather conditions when preparing for any event. Of course, lots of weddings are typically held in the summer, when it’s warm and sunny. But plenty of couples also opt for winter weddings or celebrations at other times of year, when it may be a little cooler and fresher.

You’ll need to take the weather into account when selecting your outfit, and the time of year can impact both your fabric and color choices. For instance, summer cocktail wedding attire tends to be made up of lighter shades, like pastels. Those kinds of colors tend to work best in summery settings. Plus, if you’ll be spending lots of time out in the sunshine, you can pick lighter fabrics or fewer layers.

Meanwhile, if you’re heading to a wedding in winter or fall, you’ll need to choose your attire accordingly. Even in California, famous for its warm weather, many places can get pretty frosty during the winter. Consider layering up with the addition of a vest or waistcoat, for example. And pick darker shades – traditionally, darker hues tend to be more common and fitting for winter weddings.


A man in a British tan suit

If you came into this guide wondering “What is California cocktail attire?” then you’re not alone. Since this dress code is a relatively recent invention, many men (and women) have had questions about what it means and how to dress for such an event. Hopefully, this guide has given you the key bits of info you need to feel confident about the next invite you receive.

Ultimately, the main thing to remember about California cocktail attire is that it’s very similar to regular cocktail dress. The only notable difference is that California-style cocktail clothing is a bit more relaxed and colorful. The California dress code gives you the freedom to pick from even more patterns, textures, fabrics, and shades, so have fun with finding an outfit that perfectly expresses your personality.

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