The Ultimate Guide to Cocktail Attire: What It Is and How to Wear It

Cocktail attire: two words that often lead to a quick wardrobe scan, followed by a moment of panic. But what does it truly mean, and how can you ensure you’re always on point? Whether you’re attending a chic soirĂ©e or an elegant evening event, our guide will help you understand and master the art of cocktail attire.

History of Cocktail Attire

The term “cocktail attire” originated in the 1920s during the American Prohibition era. As underground bars or “speakeasies” became popular, so did the need for a semi-formal dress code that was more relaxed than evening wear but still sophisticated. Thus, cocktail attire was born, offering a perfect blend of elegance and comfort.

Defining Cocktail Attire for Men and Women

For Men:

  • Suit: Opt for a dark suit, preferably in shades like charcoal, navy, or black.
  • Shirt: A crisp white or light-colored shirt works best.
  • Tie: While not always necessary, a tie can add a touch of formality. Choose a tie that complements your suit.
  • Shoes: Leather shoes, either loafers or lace-ups, are ideal.

For Women:

  • Dress: A knee-length dress is the most common choice. However, slightly shorter or longer variations can also work, depending on the event.
  • Shoes: Heels are the go-to, but ensure they’re comfortable. Flats can also be an option if styled correctly.
  • Accessories: Minimal jewelry and a clutch bag will complete the look.
Best Statement Cocktail Dress: Delfi Collective One-Shoulder Pleated Ombre Dress

Dos and Don’ts of Cocktail Dressing


  • Do consider the event’s location and time. Daytime events might allow for lighter colors and fabrics.
  • Do ensure your clothes are well-fitted.
  • Do opt for classic cuts and styles for a timeless look.


  • Don’t wear jeans or overly casual attire.
  • Don’t over-accessorize. Let your outfit be the star.
  • Don’t wear overly flashy or neon colors.

Accessorizing Your Cocktail Outfit

Accessories can elevate your look, but the key is to keep it balanced. Men can opt for cufflinks, a pocket square, or a classic watch. Women can choose statement earrings or a necklace, but avoid wearing both together. Remember, less is often more.

Modern Twists on Classic Cocktail Attire

Fashion evolves, and so does cocktail attire. For a contemporary touch:

  • Men can experiment with suit colors, patterns, or even ditch the tie for a turtleneck.
  • Women can explore jumpsuits, asymmetrical dresses, or add a bold shoe for a pop of color.

Cocktail attire is all about striking the right balance between elegance and comfort. By understanding its origins and adhering to some basic guidelines, you can confidently navigate any event. Remember, while guidelines are essential, personal style and comfort should always come first.