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Dec, 4 2023

A Guide to Casual Cocktail Attire for Men

A man in a navy suit

Figuring out men’s casual cocktail attire isn’t easy. GQ even calls it “one of the biggest challenges in menswear,” many men worldwide would agree. What counts as cocktail attire for men? What separates the casual cocktail dress code from the rest? And should you wear casual cocktail attire for weddings and casual events?

So many questions. But there’s no need to fear, as this guide has the answers. Below, you’ll find a detailed breakdown of what casual cocktail attire for men is. We’ll break down the complete cocktail attire dress code, define the differences between business casual and casual cocktail dress, and more. By the end, you’ll hopefully see that picking out a cocktail outfit isn’t quite as big of a challenge as it initially seems.

The Basics of Cocktail Attire

A man in a navy suit and purple tie

Before digging into the specifics of what to wear for a cocktail dress code event, it’s important to understand the basics of what this dress code is all about. This is the first big challenge of figuring out cocktail attire for men. One of the reasons why so many people have a hard time selecting cocktail clothing is because “men’s casual cocktail attire” is hard to define.

The cocktail attire dress code sits in a gray area between semi-formal and formal. Costume designer Tom Broecker notes in Men’s Health, “Cocktail attire straddles business and formal,” and that’s a perfect way to sum it up. It’s not as formal as the likes of black tie, but it’s certainly not as casual as simple shirts and chinos, either.

To put it bluntly, it’s best not to focus too much on the “cocktail” part of the name. Think of cocktail dress attire as a dress suggestion. Men’s casual cocktail attire should be relatively sophisticated and classy but with much more versatility in color, texture, and style than strict formal codes like black tie and white tie.

When to Wear Casual Cocktail Attire

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As noted in Man Of Many, the roots of cocktail attire go back to the 1920s, when it was traditionally worn by the wealthy and nobility for their pre-dinner drinks. As the decades went by, this type of dress began to appear at various other social gatherings and casual events, including business and cocktail parties.

So, when should you wear it? Well, often, event invites will specify if cocktail attire is desired. A wedding invitation, for instance, might list a casual cocktail code, and you can start looking for men’s suits for wedding guest attire. In other cases, the dress code may not be quite as clear. Still, you can wear cocktail event dress to semi-formal weddings, business get-togethers, happy hours, and other dressy celebrations that don’t have specific formal codes, like black-tie.

The Elements of Casual Cocktail Attire

A man in a navy blazer and beige pants

If standard cocktail attire is a little more relaxed than most formal clothing, casual cocktail attire is even more flexible than that. It’s a very versatile and liberating dress code, and you can play around with different colors, textures, and fabrics. However, if you’re looking for a quick guide to the key pieces that make up an outfit, here’s all you need.


It’s customary for men to wear a blazer or similar kind of jacket at a cocktail event. Sports coats and suit jackets are also accepted, but single-breasted blazers in various colors work best and form the statement piece of your casual cocktail outfit.

Dress Shirt

Your blazer or jacket should be paired with a crisp dress shirt. Classic white is fine, but you can try other shades like light blue or charcoal, too. And make sure it’s crisp and straightened out. As noted in Men’s Health, “Avoid the rookie mistake of not ironing or steaming any wrinkles before you head out!”


For bottoms, you’ve got several options to pick from. Chinos are a perfectly acceptable option for a casual cocktail affair, but classy flat trousers, corduroys, and pleated trousers, along with smart dress pants, are all suitable choices.


For your feet, a typical cocktail outfit can be completed with stylish dress shoes. Classic lace-ups, loafers, oxfords, and derbies are all suitable choices, which shows just how versatile the casual cocktail code is.


You can also finish off your look with a couple of nifty accessories, and, once again, you’ve got options. Colorful bow ties, patterned neckties, belts, suspenders, fancy watches, cufflinks, or a stylish silk pocket square provide fabulous finishing touches.

Business Casual vs. Casual Cocktail

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A lot of events that might ask for casual cocktail attire may also have “business casual” dress codes. So, how do cocktail and business casual differ? Well, there are quite a few similarities, but cocktail attire is just one level up from business casual, with a slightly higher degree of formality and a few more rules to stick to.

Business casual is more relaxed. Men are free not to wear ties at business casual events, as noted by Beckett Simonon, and it’s acceptable to wear jeans at an event like this, which isn’t the case for cocktail dress. Suit and sports jackets will also seem a little too dressy for business casual, though blazers are accepted.

Seasonal Considerations

Two men in gray suits in a driveway

When picking out any kind of special event outfit, from a formal black-tie tuxedo to a casual cocktail ensemble, you have to think about the seasonal conditions of the big day. Weather and temperatures will vary from event to event, and you need to choose appropriate clothing to suit the time of year.


For men’s outfits for summer weddings, lighter fabrics are the order of the day. With warmer temperatures, lots of sunshine, and more time outside, you’ll need clothes that are comfortable and airy. For instance, a summer cocktail outfit could swap out the blazer for a vest or waistcoat.


Regarding what to wear to a winter wedding, it’s the exact opposite of summer. Since the temperatures are likely to be colder, you’ll want to pick out a winter cocktail outfit that can keep you warm. Favor thicker fabrics, like wool, to trap heat, and generally opt for darker shades in winter, as opposed to lighter colors in summer.

Cocktail Attire for Special Occasions

Three men in dark gray suits in front of a house

Just like black-tie and white-tie, cocktail attire might be requested on a very special occasion, like a wedding or other big event. If you receive a special invitation with “cocktail” listed as the dress code, it’s important to dress in a way that both meets the dress code and honors the importance of the occasion.

  • Weddings: Typically, cocktail attire for weddings should be a little fancier and closer to business attire than more casual fare. Pick out your most elegant blazers, shirts, and pants to create a look that will really suit the day, but try to avoid bold, bright colors and patterns that could upstage the groom.
  • Other events: At other big events, it’s always best to read through the invitation and consider the venue, as well as the date, when picking out your outfit. Naturally, for grand venues and evening affairs, darker colors and classier clothes are best. For daytime or outdoor gatherings, you can experiment with a wider range of colors and styles.

Do’s and Don’ts of Casual Cocktail Attire

A man in a  navy suit standing in front of cabins

Even with a thorough understanding of cocktail attire, it’s easy to make mistakes that could ruin your look. Here are a few key do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

  • Don’t overdress. Smart casual cocktail attire should be just that – smart, but also casual, to a degree. A cocktail event is not akin to a black-tie occasion, and there’s no need to dress too fancily. You won’t need a tuxedo, for instance, or a full business suit.
  • Do opt for elegant over casual. You won’t want to overdress, but you also shouldn’t dress too casually. Your outfit should ideally walk the line between formality and casual clothing, with a stylish, semi-formal, and elegant look.
  • Don’t wear ill-fitting clothes. No matter what the dress code happens to be, fit is always important. Knowing how should a suit fit is crucial to ensure that your attire looks just right, without being too tight, too loose, or otherwise ill-fitting.
  • Do use accessories to accentuate your look. Part of the fun of cocktail dress is that it gives you the freedom to experiment. So, once you’ve picked out your jacket, pants, and loafers, don’t be afraid to experiment with accessories, like a fun bow tie or colorful pocket square.

In addition, make sure you always follow the requested dress code of your event. If it states “cocktail attire,” then you can feel free to go with blazers and chinos. But if it’s more formal, like black-tie, you’ll need to elevate your look, and you may want to consider renting a tux from a trusted supplier, like Generation Tux.

Personalizing Your Cocktail Attire

A bowtie, tie, pocket square, and color swatch in dusty blue

Cocktail attire gives you the chance to express your style in ways that stricter dress codes, like black-tie, simply do not. There are several ways to express yourself as you put your outfit together. You could mix and match different fabrics, tones, or textures, for example, with a jacket of a slightly different hue and material to your pants. Accessories are also great for adding a pop of personality to your look without breaking the rules of the code.


A man in a navy suit in front of a brick wall

Ultimately, while cocktail attire for men can seem confusing, it really doesn’t need to be. In fact, the casual cocktail for men dress code is filled with options, with different kinds of jackets, shirts, pants, and accessories to play around with. Keep the tips of this guide in mind when selecting your attire, and have fun finding a cocktail outfit that matches your taste and personality.

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