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Dec, 1 2023

What to Wear to a Cocktail Attire Wedding, According to Fashion Experts

A man in a black suit

You’ve received your invite, and it says you need to wear cocktail attire. Wedding events with this dress code are somewhat formal, requiring you to wear a suit and a tie. The standard colors are black and navy blue due to their timeless elegance and the ability to match any occasion. For women, cocktail wedding attire usually involves a formal jumpsuit or cocktail dress.

But those are just basics. Let’s dig deeper into cocktail attire for a wedding to help you follow the dress code and look stunning.

What Is Cocktail Attire?

A man in a brown suit and dusty blue bowtie

One of the most significant elements of any wedding is the fashion. It’s no wonder, considering its presence in all aspects of life. As Vivienne Westwood put it, “Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well.”

To ensure everyone looks appropriate and blends in on their special day, the bride and groom typically choose a dress code. In this case, cocktail attire is their pick. This outfit bridges the gap between formality and casual tear. It combines comfort and elegance, giving you a chance to dress up without going fully formal. In other words, you need to follow certain dress norms, but there’s a lot of room to incorporate your style.

Therefore, cocktail attire is neither formal nor casual. Male guests need not wear tuxedos. Females need not wear gowns. Instead, you can go for something more relaxed without breaking the norms with ripped jeans or mini-skirts.

Decoding the Wedding Invite

A wedding invitation surrounded by flowers

Randomness and weddings don’t go hand in hand. After all, Kate Middleton and other celebs didn’t tell their guests to wear whatever comes to mind. There was a strict dress code they had to follow, and it was stated on the wedding invite.

The same goes for the wedding you’re attending. Since it says “cocktail attire,” wedding guests have more freedom than those attending formal events. Cocktail dresses for women and a suit and a tie for men are the safest picks.

Some invitations may also help you by including the preferred garments in parentheses or lowercase letters. As a result, your wedding may look something like this: Cocktail attire (cocktail dresses; suits, and ties).

If you were attending a different type of wedding, here’s what the invitation may say:

  • Casual (pants and blouse, skirts or sundresses; polo shirts or button-down shirts and jeans)
  • Beach party attire (summer dresses; summer suits)
  • Formal (dresses; suits and ties)
  • Black-tie (formal gowns; tuxedos)

Keep in mind that the terms cocktail attire and semi-formal are often used interchangeably. While the two are technically different (cocktail apparel is slightly more formal), inviting to a semi-formal wedding will usually require the same outfit.

So, yes, if someone asks you what is considered semi-formal for a wedding and what is wedding cocktail attire, the two are closely related.

The Cocktail Dress Code Explained

Three men in blue suits toasting outside

We’ve hinted at some garments you should wear to honor the cocktail dress code. Let’s now go into more detail about traditional cocktail apparel, but first, let’s cover what you shouldn’t wear.

Although the cocktail attire dress code isn’t as formal as black-tie, this doesn’t mean you should do just about anything. Sandals, ripped clothes, shorts, and jeans are a no-go. If it’s too revealing or casual, leave it for another event.

Remember – cocktail attire is a middle ground between formal and casual. Your style should reflect this.

On the one hand, men should put on a suit and tie with matching shoes. On the other hand, most women wear cocktail dresses, but formal jumpsuits paired with flats or heels are also acceptable.

What to Wear to a Cocktail Wedding

A suit, shirt, tie, belt, and shoes planned out based on two color swatches

Knowing the brass tacks of what to wear to a cocktail event is great, but at the end of the day, you need some tangible ideas. Whether you’re looking for classy cocktail wedding attire for men or women, a detailed breakdown of every garment would drastically speed up the search for your cocktail outfit.

That’s exactly what the following section will do. Coming up is an in-depth guide on how to dress for a cocktail wedding for both men and women. We’ll cover numerous combinations and colors, so you’re guaranteed to find the right apparel.

Cocktail Attire for Men

Starting our detailed tutorial on cocktail attire for men and women is a discussion of appropriate male cocktail attire. From top to bottom, here’s what you should wear to convey the appearance of a sophisticated yet stylish gentleman, just like Hugh Jackman did at the screening of his recent hit “The Son.”

Suit Jacket

Whether you’re attending a day or night event, the cocktail attire wedding etiquette requires you to wear a suit jacket. A high-quality jacket sets the stage for the rest of your apparel. There’s some leeway here, but before you add a personal touch, you should understand the most common rules that dictate how to wear a cocktail jacket.

In general, you want to choose a single-breasted jacket. Double-breasted garments are too formal for this occasion. Regarding the lapels, shawl or peak lapels are your best option. They work brilliantly well with the single-breasted style.

Now, if you wish to express your creativity, you can do so through striking patterns. Plaid, checks, and herringbone patterns are just a few choices to consider.

As for the color, you don’t want to go too wild here. The standard shades are black and navy blue. Whatever you opt for, it’ll be in line with the theme of the wedding. Avoid eye-catching nuances, like bright red or orange.

Finally, make sure you get the right size:

  • The shoulder pads should sit snugly against the shoulders.
  • The button(s) should be easy to close. However, if there’s too much room between the button and your belly, look for a smaller garment.
  • There should be enough room between the shirt and jacket for you to fit your hand.
  • The jacket should allow your shirt sleeves to pop out by approximately 0.25-0.5 inches.

Dress Shirt

The jacket is the crown jewel of your cocktail attire, but even the most amazing jacket is incomplete without a well-tailored dress shirt. Keep in mind that you need a dress shirt, not a regular shirt. The difference is that dress shirts have stiffer cuffs and collars. Also, most models are made of cotton and are available in light blue, white, and other inconspicuous colors without patterns.

When fitting your dress shirt, be sure that:

  • Between 0.25-0.5 inches of the cuff is visible.
  • The shoulder seams are perfectly aligned with your shoulders.
  • You can see 0.25-0.50 inches of the collar above the jacket.
  • You can raise your arms comfortably, i.e., the shirt doesn’t stretch or slip out of your pants.
  • The fabric follows the shape of your torso and doesn’t wrinkle at the hips or your belly.
  • There’s just enough room between the neck and collar for your finger.

Regarding materials, cotton is the No. 1 pick, whether you need winter or summer wedding cocktail attire. If you prefer this material, check if the garment is 100% cotton. It’s more breathable than lower-quality versions, making you less likely to sweat. Additionally, dress shirts entirely made of cotton are comfortable and low-maintenance.

Other than cotton, you can consider a few more options:

  • Oxford – This dress shirt fabric is a fantastic alternative to cotton. It’s slightly thicker, which is why it’s even less prone to wrinkling. It also has a special weaving style that can make you stand out. Plus, it’s super-durable, but the downside is that it’s too dense for summer cocktail weddings.
  • Poplin – Featuring tight-knit weaving and a ribbed texture, poplin dress shirts are a stylish garment. These shirts weigh pretty much the same as their Oxford counterparts, but they’re more breathable. On the flip side, poplin is notorious for its wrinkling.
  • Broadcloth – Contrary to popular belief, broadcloth and poplin dress shirts aren’t the same. Broadcloth fabrics are denser, making them more durable. Furthermore, broadcloth garments are extremely comfortable and go easy on your skin. But like Oxford shirts, they’re not ideal for summer events.

Pocket Square

Your jacket and dress shirt are the hero of your cocktail wedding guest attire. That said, you want a cohesive look. And the only way to achieve it is if you pair up your jacket and shirt with appropriate accessories.

Pocket squares reign supreme in the realm of cocktail attire accessories for men. Even though they’re minute, their textures and colors can take your outfit to a whole new level.

Black Tie

A black tie is pretty much mandatory if you wear a black suit and a white shirt. By contrast, you can go for a navy blue tie if that’s the color of your suit.

Dress Pants

Unlike ties, dress pants allow for some creativity. You can choose a tapered model if you want to achieve a contemporary look. On the other hand, if you prefer a traditional appearance, a relaxed cut is a safe pick. The color should match your jacket.

Dress Shoes

Cocktail dress shoes come in a variety of styles, but the two most popular solutions are Oxfords and Derbys. Unlike Oxfords, Derby shoes have open lacing that makes them slightly more casual. As for the color, you can’t go wrong with black or brown, regardless of the suit.

Cocktail Attire for Women

With men’s clothing norms explained, now’s the time to help ladies look better than ever by donning suitable cocktail attire for women. The standard attire for women attending a cocktail wedding includes these garments:

Cocktail Dress or Jumpsuit

The cocktail dress is the bread and butter for ladies going to a cocktail wedding. It shouldn’t be transparent or attract unnecessary attention otherwise. In Vera Wang’s words, “I want people to see the dress, but focus on the woman.”

That being the case, mini-skirts are a big no.

Instead, women should stick to a maxi dress or tea-length dress. It’s not quite as formal as a full-blown gown, and it’s not casual, either. It’s a trade-off between the two extremes, which is what cocktail wedding attire is all about.

Those who aren’t very fond of cocktail dresses should consider jumpsuits. They’re perfect for this occasion, especially if the wearer makes them more structured with a sash or belt that accentuates the figure and polishes the overall appearance.

Alternatively, chic trousers or pants paired up with a chiffon or silk blouse can be an excellent choice. That’s especially true if a moderate amount of makeup and jewelry complements it.

Clutch Bag

The most important accessory for any woman is the purse. Without it, even the most confident lady may feel out of place, like her appearance is lacking. Girls should always complement their dresses or jumpsuits with a cute bag.

That said, there are some do’s and don’ts that govern the purse choice when selecting cocktail hour wedding attire:

  • Do go for a tiny clutch bag.
  • Don’t pick oversized purses.
  • Do go for a metallic or black bag.
  • Don’t experiment with gaudy colors that don’t belong at cocktail weddings, such as pink.

Heels or Flats

When picking wedding cocktail attire, heels or flats are just critical. To make the right choice, ladies should prioritize comfort. After all, they’ll spend at least three or four hours in their shoes, so comfort is a must.

Style-wise, many women follow the same rules that apply to purses. Rather than risk stepping on someone’s toes with garish shades, they should stick to black or metallic heels or flats.

Also, those who want to appear taller can add height to their shoes with a stiletto or kitten heels. They extend the legs and look more sophisticated than standard heels.

Time and Place Matter

When preparing for your cocktail wedding, don’t forget about the time of day and wedding venue. Both have a major impact on the right outfit:

  • Daytime cocktail wedding – Softer shades, lighter fabrics, shorter hemlines (above the knee is still inappropriate, be it a winter or summer wedding)
  • Nighttime cocktail wedding – Darker colors and elegant designs
  • Indoor cocktail wedding – Formal wear (no stripes, textures, and shorter dresses)
  • Outdoor cocktail wedding (e.g., garden party or beach wedding) – More relaxed dress code

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

A denim button up shirt, brown shoes, and a hat

If you’re still not sure what to wear to a cocktail wedding, all you need to do to blend in is to avoid the following mistakes:

  • Wearing a tuxedo/gown – Wear a suit and tie/cocktail dress because the wedding is less formal than black-tie.
  • Wearing jeans/mini-skirts – Wear something that’s not revealing because that’s considered appropriate cocktail attire.
  • Wearing too many accessories – Wear a pocket square and tie/necklace and carry a bag only to avoid attracting too much attention.

The Search Feels Like Walking a Fine Line? Help Is on the Way

Three men in blue suits walking away from a large house

Sometimes, even when you know what you need to wear to a cocktail wedding, it feels like walking a tightrope. One wrong move and your cocktail attire may end up looking too formal or too casual.

Generation Tux can walk you through the dress code. As a premier service for tuxedo and suit rentals, we have the experience and taste to be your guide to cocktail attire. After we determine the right style for you, explore our collection and rent a suit that will highlight your best features.

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