Cocktail attire, by definition, is fairly straightforward. But we all know it is never that simple. (In full transparency, this is written by someone who gave her wedding guests two different dress codes to ensure that everyone dressed the same—San Francisco guests were told black tie optional and New York guests were told fancy cocktail—and before you judge me, just know that this worked).
The Approach: This is a by-the-book event that should run from five to eight
p.m., before dinner, with women in dresses at- or slightly-below the knee and men in casual suits. Adjust to accommodate the season and location. If you know the host’s personality that can also give a clue into the general vibe of the party.
Ladies: For an unexpected take on the “little black dress,” Kate Young suggests wearing satin trousers with a nice t-shirt or knit instead.
Gentlemen: A suit and oxfords are always a sure bet, but you can be creative and more casual. “Technically speaking for men, cocktail attire does not require a tie unless the word formal is written alongside it,” Meier says.
The Approach: It might be a classic cocktail, but if the event takes place by the beach or in a garden, adjust accordingly.
Ladies: “I tend to be more casual in the summer—and definitely wear less make-up,” says Young. “Add a colorful, fun piece of costume jewelry.” This is also a great time to bring out a cute straw clutch and strappy sandal.
Gentlemen: A lightweight suit or even a seersucker suit is the way to go. Meier says you could also wear the seersucker suit during the day, so if you are short on time between events, then this is a great solution.
The Approach: A relatively new dress code, but Meier confirms that it is a real thing. It is typically used during the holidays and for weddings. “Fancy cocktail means a bit more formal attire which typically can be identified through the fabrics,” she explains.
Ladies: Meier and Young agree this is the time to “bring out the sparkle, shimmer, and shine.” Young suggests adding a fabulous cocktail ring, sequin top, or eye-catching bag to up the ante.
Gentlemen: If you do like to wear a tie, this would be the occasion, and plan to keep the blazer on. It is also a good opportunity to try a fun sock and pocket square (though make sure you stay on the side of chic, not cheesy).
The Approach: “Formal cocktail usually means more conservative dress,” Meier says. “Think indoor country club wedding reception where the venue itself may have a dress code.”
Ladies: You could opt for a long dress in this case, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the time to get experimental.
Gentlemen: Blazer and tie definitely required (and please, no sneakers—even “fancy” ones!).
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