The term “cocktail party” can mean more than just one thing in our society, so it may leave men scratching their heads in wonder when deciding how to dress for one. It is said that cocktail parties first started during the 1920s, during Prohibition. Because drinking was banned in restaurants, hotels and bars, it was an activity that was only practiced in the privacy and secrecy of private homes. People began to throw these parties so that adults could drink behind closed doors, and they morphed into increasingly high profile events. By the 1930s, men’s cocktail attire became stylish and fashionable, although not quite as formal as traditional evening wear.
Today, the same basic rules apply. It is not quite as dressy as formal evening apparel, but it is still a look that is polished, semi-formal and refined. If you received an invitation by phone or email, it is likely to be a slightly more casual event. Conversely, if you received a mailed invitation and the cocktail party is related to a wedding rehearsal dinner or a holiday, it is likely to be a little more formal.
Nowadays, many business corporations are holding early evening cocktail parties in order to allow employees to break the ice in a social non-work setting. If you are invited to a work-related event, it is best to wear an outfit that you can simply transition from work to party. For example, a good business casual look for day would be gray wool dress trousers, a white button up shirt, a light green zip-up cardigan sweater, and a light blue or purple tie. For the after-work party, simply switch out the cardigan sweater for a brown or dark gray vest, and trade your light colored tie for one in a rich hue, such as emerald green, cobalt blue, or burgundy. If you typically wear a Small Knot or Four In Hand Knot to work, switch your tie knot to a Windsor Knot. It will be a subtle but interesting change.
A cocktail party that is related to a formal event, such as a wedding, will require you to dress slightly more formally. Opt for a sport jacket rather than a vest. Better yet, go for a two or three-piece suit in a dark color such as navy, gray, or black. Since cocktail parties are fun and social events, you could also wear a less traditional suit, such as a brown one, or one with a pinstripe or windowpane pattern. You also can add creative touches to your outfit, such as interesting cufflinks, a colorful pocket square, or a tie with an eye-catching pattern. Wearing a watch and nicely shined shoes will also help to add subtle sophistication to your ensemble.
If you wish to go without a tie, it is acceptable to do so. However, make sure to add another element of interest to your outfit. For example, try a dress shirt with a wide spread collar underneath a black blazer. Or, you can even wear a fine weave silk or cashmere sweater underneath your blazer. Remember, cocktail attire should be refined and sophisticated, but not without fun and interest. The main goal of a cocktail party is to socialize and meet new people, so focus on assembling a wardrobe that allows you to look polished but also approachable.
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