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Dress code is a standard of dress established for a given environment, as in the military,in a school or business, or in a cultural group – says the Dictionary. When you say that a particular place has a dress code, it means that, they have a set of rules as to what kind of clothing can be worn there.
A dress code indicates conformity, a sense of belonging and to a degree a sense of discipline. It creates an atmosphere of uniformity. Above all, It clears confusion for most people as to what is expected of them – no one wants to be that person who is under dressed or worse, over dressed.
When there are set rules it is easy to follow them. But in some circumstances, like in a high end restaurant or a party, many people get confused by some of the terms which accompany a dress code – casual vs business casual; formal vs black tie etc. This post aims to clear the confusion to an extent.
The main dress codes
White tie dress code
This dress code is the most formal of all dress codes ; also called full evening dress or the ultra formal dress code, it is the kind of dressing you see in international award shows, weddings, ball dancing etc. As per this dress code, men should wear tailcoat, white vest, white shirt and white bow tie and women should wear formal long floor length or cocktail length gowns with elaborate hairdressing and ostentatious jewelry.
Black tie Dress code
This is a formal dress code usually seen in evening social functions (after 6 pm) and weddings.This dress code wants men to wear formal clothing like a black /midnight blue tuxedo suit, white shirt, black tie and women to wear formal long floor length or cocktail length gowns, usually in black color.
Creative Black tie dress code
This has an addition of color to the black and white ensemble of black tie dress code. A cummerbund or vest is added in a bright color.
Business Formal dress code
This dress code has men wearing business suits and the works including dress shirt and pants and women wearing formal business suits with dress skirts or a tailored dress. Used for formal business meetings.
Semi-Formal Dress code
This is slightly less formal than the formal dress code- The men should wear a dark suit (in black, navy or dark gray) and women should wear formal long floor length or cocktail length gowns. A dressy casual is a similar dress code but for social gatherings and fine dining in high end restaurants.
Business Casual Dress code
This dress code wants men to wear a semi-formal clothing like casual slacks/khakis/chinos with button down shirts (with button down collars) and no tie and women to wear semi formal comfortable clothing suitable for wearing to office – including dresses, pants and blouses and skirts. No jeans allowed.
Casual dress code
This dress code is a slightly dressier version of your most casual dressing. Jeans with a nice shirt and blazer for men and casual dresses/jeans and tops for women.
California Casual Dress code
This dress code refers to a laid back but smart casual dressing followed by the tech professionals of the software companies based in California, which includes casual shorts, t shirts, slack, jeans and sports jackets.
Jacket / Jacket & Tie (Preferred /required)
This is a dress code indicated in high end restaurants/resorts. As the name suggests a formality is requested with the requirement for jackets and some times a tie. It may be optional in some places or even compulsory. Dresses are preferred for women.
Cocktail dress code
This is a dress code meant for parties and evening social functions.The dress code instructs men to wear business suits and women to wear party dress, not necessarily long.
A different view on Dress Codes
A dress code maybe considered as interfering in the freedom of expression by some people. But there are circumstances where such a self expression may be deemed as inappropriate. The first school dress code law was established in 1969 by the U.S. Supreme Court – the court established that schools have the right to establish a strict dress code and ask for adherence from its students ” to promote a safe, disciplined school environment, prevent interference with schoolwork and discipline, and to encourage uniformity of student dress”. You can read more about this here.
When you receive an invitation nowadays, it may add a dress code such as Cocktail Attire, Black Tie Optional, Semi-Formal Attire or Formal Attire, but what exactly does that mean?
Back in the day, things were simpler: the dress code was either Black Tie for less formal evening occasions or White Tie for more formal ones. Women’s dresses were chosen accordingly. Today, for many men the tuxedo is the most formal garment they will ever wear, and it is often rented. In the following, I want to explain what Cocktail Attire For Men is all about and what options you have for weddings, parties or events when you receive an invitation that asks for it.
Video – Cocktail Attire For Men
Want to look the part at the next cocktail party? Get our cocktail attire pocket guide for men here.
The Basics of the Cocktail Attire Dress Code
How Formal is Cocktail Attire and When Should You Wear It?
On the scale of dress codes, cocktail attire is the middle, a step up from business casual but less formal than black tie. It is considered on par with business attire, so it is easy to use an outfit you would wear to your office or an interview to create a great cocktail attire ensemble. This dress code is most commonly found on invitations for parties, weddings, and professional events, which are formal events.
Even though times have changed and style is becoming ever more casual, if a dress code is called for, you should do your best to stick with it because dressing appropriately is a sign of respect for the host and the event. Cocktail attire is likely to be one of the more frequent dress codes most men encounter because it falls in the middle of casual and formal, but it is also one of the most convenient because it is made up of garments and accessories that most men likely already own.
Cocktail attire is also versatile in that when in a pinch, you can wear a cocktail attire with a dark suit instead of a tuxedo when black tie is called for as the dress code. It’s also appropriate for funerals and other solemn occasions when formality is required. In this case, a solid dark navy or charcoal suit can be worn if you don’t own a black one, and your accessories should be muted, such as a black grenadine tie, black leather oxford dress shoes, and a solid white shirt. Even if you wear smart casual or jeans on a day to day basis, it pays to have at least one cocktail attire outfit ready in your closet for short notice events.
What is Semi Formal and Formal Attire for Men?
If your invitation states a semi-formal or formal attire, these are vague and challenging dress codes to deal with today because they mean different things to different people. In the past, formal attire was a tuxedo, while semi-formal would be like cocktail attire. These days the ambiguity of these dress codes can make them frustrating for guests.
If the Invitation Asks for Cocktail Attire, Men Should Wear:
- A dark to mid-gray suit
- A button-down dress shirt in white or another muted color
- A necktie or bow tie in subtle patterns or plains
- A simple pocket square
- Black dress shoes with a leather sole, such as oxfords
- Over the calf socks that either match your trousers or pick up something in your outfit such as a color in your tie or bow tie
- Of course, make sure you are clean shaven and you have a recent haircut
Cocktail Attire Don’ts:
- DON’T wear your tuxedo or white tie, as that would be too formal for this dress code
- DON’T wear a black suit – these should be reserved only for funerals
- DON’T wear your pinstripe suit, bright colored ties, a bold paisley shirt, or flashy accessories at home to a wedding – the couple should be the center of attention, not you
- DON’T wear casual clothes such as khakis, chinos, jeans, polo shirts, or a sports jacket; if it would work well for business casual, don’t wear it!
- DON’T wear casual shoes such as loafers (or any shoes without laces)
- DON’T go sockless – this may be a trend now but it is inappropriate for cocktail attire
- DON’T forget to wear a tie or a bow tie- it’s too casual without one
Cocktail Attire For Men at a Wedding
Even though the above guidelines for cocktail attire may seem a bit subdued, they will be appropriate for the majority of weddings. The result of the cocktail attire dress code is that you will be elegantly and respectfully attired for the occasion without being flashy or otherwise drawing attention away from the focus of the day – the bride and groom. Unless you have information suggesting otherwise, such as a beach or barn location, you can’t go wrong with traditional cocktail attire at a wedding.
If the bridegroom is a flamboyant artist or someone who wears shorts and t-shirt, no matter what, try to adjust your outfit so you will not be completely out of place: For an artist wedding, go with more colorful accessories and for a completely informal wedding, skip the tie and just wear a combination with a dark jacket and lighter colored slacks – again, it is their day so you should try not to catch much attention with your outfit.
What Should Men Wear to a Cocktail Party?
Interestingly, most women understand the attire required for such an event due to the aptly named cocktail dress (often black), whereas it is not as clear for men what attire they should wear to a cocktail party. Unfortuntanely, the cocktail party and cocktail attire do not go hand in hand, and you will need to make a judgement about the nature of the event before you decide what to wear.
If the event suggests a dress code, then go with it. If not, consider that cocktail parties are supposed to be relaxed occasions, and although not wrong per se, a classic dark suit such as navy or charcoal is probably a tad too formal. During the winter, you can wear flannel, with patterns, and maybe a bow tie. Be more daring than with your business wardrobe and pay attention to accessories such as cuff links, tie bars, pocket squares, boutonnieres… but don’t overdo it and only use two accents at the most.
During the warmer months of the year, you can go with lighter colors, such as the light blue linen sport coat below.
Traditional Cocktail Attire in the 1930s
Fashion illustrations are a window into a bygone era when every man seemed to be dressed to the nines. The following fashion illustration is from 1936, the golden age of men’s classic style, and shows us a nice mix of cocktail attire for men that would still work today. This illustration clearly shows the evolution of women’s dress since the 30’s, since these women are wearing hats and suits that were then considered everyday attire rather than business wear. If the party is during the day or in the afternoon, you can add more color and patterns to your outfit, although the basics mentioned in the list above apply here as well. In the evening, you can wear darker suits, fewer patterns, and more muted colors.
The Stroller With Striped Trousers for Formal Day Event
Let’s start on the very left with the gentleman in the stroller. He leans by the fireplace, talking to the lady in red. Of course, this is an illustration, but note how neatly his coat fits around the collar, shoulders and cuffs. There are neither gaps nor excess shirt cuff fabric to be seen. His stroller jacket is the typical single-breasted, peaked lapel style with two buttons and jetted pockets in a charcoal gray (this jacket is also found in black). Instead of a pocket square, he opted for a red carnation that goes well with his buff waistcoat, white shirt, and light blue tie. His trousers are striped but instead of the more common cashmere stripe, a special stripe for morning wear that does not really have anything to do with cashmere, he chose a wide stripe in black and white. Even though his shoes aren’t visible, they are probably black oxfords to match the colors in his outfit and the formality of this look. This cocktail outfit used to be particularly popular for wear on Sunday afternoons and was often seen at the smartest cocktail bars. Today, the stroller is definitely the most formal of all the cocktail suits yet different than another flannel blazer combination or a navy suit.
Windowpane Overplaid Sharkskin Suit – Great For Most Cocktail Parties
One of the highlights in this illustration is certainly the suit in the middle, featuring a large rust brown subdued windowpane overplaid on a grey sharkskin suit. Worn as a 3-piece suit with an ivory colored shirt and navy-red club tie, the proportions of this suit are very moderate. It has a normal lapel width and gorge, round quarters and a fairly long jacket. In my opinion, windowpane suits are one of the most underrated outfits in menswear and hence, they are an ideal chance for you to differentiate yourself without being overly loud. As a general rule, you should keep in mind that the more patterns and colors (other than navy and grey) you have in your outfit, the less formal it will be. All of the suits shown here would be appropriate attire for 95% of cocktail parties.
Wide Stripe Worsted Flannel Suit – An Option for Evening Events
On the very right, we have a gentleman in a suit with yet another large pattern: the wide-spaced colored stripe. The red stripes inspired the rest of his dress, choosing a red boutonniere and Bordeaux tie. This three-piece flannel suit with stripes benefits from the peaked lapels, which provide a little more formality. If the lady in blue were to step aside, you would see that the trousers of this suit are without cuffs, which raises the formality bar by another notch.
In combination with a white crisp shirt collar, this outfit would be almost bank appropriate, expect for the wide colored stripes.
Nevertheless, I think it is a fantastic stripe and hence I wanted to provide you with a picture of an authentic cloth sample. As you can see, the stripe is more subdued than in the illustration, which makes it even more appropriate for a cocktail suit that is different yet elegant.
When cocktail attire is called for as the dress code at your next event, now you know what you need to wear to look and feel great. At a wedding, try to be properly dressed without being too flashy and always keep the bride and groom in mind. For cocktail parties and receptions, leave your business navies and grays in the closet and add a splash of color. If you have a vest – even a contrasting one – wear it if it pairs well with the suit. I hope I provided you with some food for thought for cocktail attire for your next reception – have fun and enjoy company and drinks!