Our Definitive Guide To Cocktail Attire For Men In 2024
Image Credit: Ted Olsson // The Extravagant
— 23 February 2024

Our Definitive Guide To Cocktail Attire For Men In 2024

— 23 February 2024
Co-Author: Randy Lai  | 
James Want
James Want

Quite possibly one of the most vaguely defined and widely misunderstood dress codes of the 21st century, men’s cocktail attire is a modern-day catch-all for events pitched at varying degrees of formality — all the way up until black tie.

Stipulated on invitations for garden parties, corporate mixers, thoroughbred races, and seasonal weddings; more often than not, the person who elected to go full ‘cocktail attire’ mode can barely even explain what this entails.

Ditto when you get a host who fancies themselves exceedingly clever, and starts bandying about concepts like ‘casual cocktail attire’ and ‘modern cocktail attire’.

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What Even Is Cocktail Attire For Men?

Pictured: Andreas Weinas for The Rake

As it turns out, the cause for all of this confusion is simple. Unlike black tie, morning dress or the uniforms associated with many military institutions, the cocktail dress code isn’t one which emerged out of formal consensus during the early 20th century.

Instead, the vague notion we all have about what makes up men’s cocktail attire is an evolution of the ‘lounge suit’ dress code: in essence, suits and ties for men; and smart, oftentimes monochrome dresses for ladies.

In contrast to our better halves — who have a lot more to contend with when it comes to cocktail attire than the theoretically straightforward equation of ‘heels + midi dress’ — men are capable of nailing their sartorial brief much more effortlessly, simply by remembering a few key rules.

Thankfully, as with almost every other dress code that has survived into 2024, modern-day cocktail attire leaves a little room for personal expression; while still providing a helpful road map any time you have burning questions about whether X goes with Y.

What kind of dress shoes should I wear? Should I pack any differently if I’ve been invited to a ‘beach wedding’? Is there ever a cocktail event where I can get away with wearing polo shirts? How does this even differ from business attire?

For answers to all of these queries (and more) read on through our 2024 guide to the cocktail dress code…

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A Brief History Of Cocktail Attire For Men

In its most elementary form, the way we wear cocktail attire today has been influenced by the 40-decade interlude between ‘The Roaring Twenties’ and the 1960s. During that period (broadly speaking) the global supply chain that now provides us with affordable, mass-manufactured clothing was still in its infancy: so casual sportswear staples like t shirts, sweats and denim were not worn with the same frequency as they are today.

Miles Davis Cocktail Dress Code
Pictured: Jazz musician Miles Davis on-stage in West Germany, circa 1959. (Image Credit: Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images)

In their place, ‘dressing up’ was considered the norm, and though statistically speaking, the average man probably owned less clothes than he does in 2024, it would be natural for his daily wardrobe to consist in essentials like two suits (one in charcoal, the other in navy), a few pairs of dark dress shoes, and a couple of accessories – all worn with greater frequency.

Alain Delon
Pictured: Alain Delon, just because.

In the post-war period, men of increasing means and affluence, would also refer to cocktail attire as ‘after five’ clothing – indicating a clear delta between what you’d wear to the office and what would be appropriate for nighttime events.

Thus, even today, cocktail attire occasions call for an outfit that may effectively make the transition between day and night, hopefully with the flick of a pocket square or change in footwear (as the case may be).

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What Pieces To Consider For Men’s Cocktail Attire

As we’ve already mentioned, one of the mixed blessings of ‘cocktail attire’ is in how much stylistic leeway it gives men when you’re putting together your chosen outfit (as opposed to extremely narrow dress codes like black tie). Thankfully, there are still some basic guidelines that you can follow – in order to ensure your cocktail outfit gets off to a good start.

“It’s easier to begin by describing what the cocktail dress code doesn’t consist of,” says menswear designer Christian Kimber. “It’s neither your work look, nor your Sunday kit: but a bridging of the gap between the two.”

“I think if you are going to add colour, just make sure that it’s one consistent element. For example: shirt, tie, and accessories; with the rest in neutral tones to complement.”

The Jacket

At the crux of Cocktail attire is the suit jacket or sports coat that you should adopt for the occasion. More often than not considered mandatory (we deem it so), your jacket, above all, should be tailored and fit to your proportions correctly. 

In saying that, you’re not wearing a dinner suit so there is wiggle room for your creative finesse to shine through; play with colour, pattern and style for the days or warmer months, and tone it back for the winter or more formal occasions.

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The cut and style of your jacket is also an important consideration: do you like the relaxed nature of a Neapolitan cut, or are you more partial to the handsome structure of the Savile Row style?

Cocktail attire for men
Pictured: Check double-breasted suit by B&Tailor

Finally, a double-breasted jacket will add an extra dimension of ‘dressiness’ to your look. It’s a subtle way to stand out from your fellow cocktail party goers – without reaching for a loud bow tie or pocket square.

The Trouser

Trousers worn can be those of a matching suit combination or you could explore the idea of playing with tailored separates – a tailored cuffed cotton trouser in navy, olive, brown or beige/cream can look fantastic with a tailored sports coat and a shirt.

The Dress Shirt

As per the jacket, your shirt allows you to take part in an expression of creativity; it’s the time to (subtly) play with colour, pattern and collar style. Keep the shirt neutral to your suit or blazer but don’t revel in the mundane. If staying in one’s comfort zone is the name of the game, however, opting for a crisp white shirt (think your poplin cutaways or pinpoint oxfords) is never a bad option.

A striped dress shirt with a cutaway collar is a fantastic way to add a point of difference over a white shirt. Avoid French cuffs for daytime events, as these are reserved for more formal occasions of the night.


In today’s fashion ecosystem – defined by shapewear and hiking sneakers – even ties are no longer a proscribed sight at your average cocktail function. Still, a couple of key occasions (like weddings) present a legitimate excuse to deploy the ol’ neck-silk; and, when assiduously chosen, these can pull together a suit-and-shirt combo with palpably energizing impact.

One of neckwear’s best-kept secrets is how compelling it can be as a showcase for texture. Whereas a whole suit in silk tussah or wool-lyocell is in real danger of appearing gimmicky, in small doses these fabrics enrich the visual interest of everything else you choose to wear.

Cocktail attire for men
Pictured: A sans tie take on ‘cocktail attire’, courtesy of Trunk Tailors

Our two cents? Dispense with the obnoxious King of Comedy style prints and opt instead for simple patterns that allow your tie’s texture to do the talking. For a budget-friendly option, American label Kent Wang is always reliable; or, if you’re interested in splurging, consider the fully handmade creations of Vanda Fine Clothing.

Dark green in a grenadine or paisley is always an excellent choice for evening wear, while a cream or repp stripe makes a statement during the day. A bow tie may also prove useful, particularly if you’re in the habit of wearing double-breasted suits.

Finally, a Panama hat is both a practical and aesthetic addition if your function happens to be a sunlit daytime affair (i.e. Spring Races). If you are tempted by a brim, opt for an authentic product from the likes of The Original Panama Company, and be mentally prepared to spend around $300.

Pocket squares can also add a stylish yet subtle touch to all dress codes, regardless of whether you choose to don a tie. If in doubt: a white linen hankie, folded TV-style, never goes amiss.

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The Shoes

The final element of your Cocktail attire, your footwear go-to should, ideally, represent a classic pair of dress shoes, be it in the design of an Oxford, Derby lace, brogue or loafer. We’d reserve the patent Oxfords for a formal occasion, and white sneakers just don’t have a place for Cocktail affairs.

cocktail attire for men
Pictured: Crockett & Jones Cavendish Loafer in Scotch Grain adds some texture to a classic style (Image Credit: Rose & Born)

Loafers are a great alternative to dress shoes, which can be worn any season of the year. A polished pair of black R.M. Williams boots can also suit the occasion (like an afternoon wedding) and are the ideal solution if you must travel for the event, transitioning easily from the airport to evening wear and into the following day.

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Personally, I believe we’ve seen a drastic shift in the way the Cocktail attire has been perceived – and executed – over the last few years. Which can be a good thing. It’s encouraging to see men venture out of their comfort zones and consider different iterations of the standard dress suit, tie, shirt combination. 

Tonal dressing has also really been highlighted of late, as has the exploration of colour, pattern and fit. Cocktail attire will always be a favoured choice thanks to its playfulness; you really never know how people will interpret it which is jovial in itself.

“We’ll see more prints this year. I have seen a lot of tailoring with texture and bolder colours in the menswear shows this season,” adds Kimber.

“This will trickle down slowly, but cocktail attire is a chance to show more of your personal style, so just go for it!”

As we’ve seen on the streets of Pitti to the Hollywood red carpet, more and more are inclined to experiment with how they perceive this dress code. This is fine, as long as it sits within the traditional concepts of its being: we’d always don a sports coat or blazer of some sort, soft tailoring is key, and accessorising is a great way to make a point of difference.

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James Want


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