How to Dress Like a Man: Cocktail Attire and Black Tie Events

You open your mail and find an invitation.  Maybe the invitation is pretty casual, or maybe it specifies something a little more formal, namely Cocktail Attire or Black Tie, but what the hell does this mean?

Both are an ever-changing standard.  Cocktail attire with friends in your twenties may be completely different than with colleagues in your forties or fifties, same goes with black tie (though not necessarily as much).  But don’t worry, Life, Tailored is here to help you navigate your way through both cocktail attire and black tie situations with ease, confidence and style.


Cocktail Attire Definition


These days you’re more likely to see invites requesting “Cocktail Attire” than you will black tie.  A lot of people find themselves getting nervous and uneasy about what they should wear to such an event.  Don’t, cocktail attire basically means look nice, but stray away from your office wardrobe, without looking like you are ready for your nuptials.

This is your basic goto if you are invited to a wedding that calls for Cocktail Attire.

The Suit

Start with a relatively dark suit, preferably grey or blue and go from there (as always, keep it tailored slim).  Traditionally black shoes have also been associated with cocktail attire, but a medium to dark brown can work just fine in the right crowd, with the right suit.


Start with something like this slim fit grey suit by Gucci or the slim fit navy suit by Dolce and Gabbana (pictured below), both available at Mr. Porter.

We’ve gotten a lot of questions about jeans, and unfortunately jeans are a no-no.

The Shoes

Like we mentioned earlier, cocktail attire traditionally means black shoes.  This doesn’t mean patent leather tuxedo shoes by any means, keep it simple, we suggest something like these cap-toe oxfords from Church’s.  Alternatively, if you want to be a little less formal and you prefer brown shoes (like myself), choose something with a little style and flair to it.  Keep them dark, polished and unlike the rest of the room’s.

We recommend a pair like these monk-straps from John Lobb (pictured below), keep them all strapped up for formal occasions, or undo the top buckle to make them a little more casual, either way they are a great looking pair of shoes. Both styles available at Mr. Porter.


The Shirt

In the days where solid white shirts have become a bit of a bore, trade it in for something with some visual texture.  Look for something with a semi-spread collar (which should typically be the case) and a pattern that is appealing to you and works with your colors.

Stay away from bright colors for cocktail parties, there is no room for your neon orange prints or solid pink shirts under these suits, this is a classy evening event, not a poker game in the Bahamas.
We like this charcoal and white plato check shirt by Thomas Pink, throw it on with a dark navy suit, or look for a similar navy shirt to work with your grey suit.  This button-up will not only look great for a cocktail party, but will work with almost anything in your wardrobe in the future.

The Details

The-Details-Cocktail-Attire-GuideNow that you’re all suited up with some fresh kicks on, it’s time for the finishing touches.  This is cocktail hour, so stay away from the black ties and solid white pocket squares; we’ll get to them in a minute.  For less formal occasions it is often acceptable to skip the tie, but I strongly disagree with that, so it will not be recommended here (though it is probably after 5:00pm, so feel free to loosen it up a little).

This is where the rules are vague and you can really let your personality out.  Stick with slimmer ties (2.5”-3”) and keep them solid, or with a slight pattern, nothing too wild.  Your pocket square and ties don’t need to match perfectly, but they also shouldn’t look like they’ve never met.

If it were me, I’d go with something similar to this navy wool tie from The Tie Bar, slightly different color than the suit, this wool tie has a little added texture to help it stand out along with a subtle stripe pattern without being flashy.  Pair it with this white pocket square with a dark charcoal boarder and you’re good to go.  Looking good and dressing well doesn’t always mean being “out there,” sometimes having a limited number of colors and patterns is not only easy to pull off, but looks like a million bucks, this is one of those occasions.

Summer Cocktail Attire for Men


While grey suits and muted colors will keep you on point for fall and winter, everything needs to be livened up a little bit during the warmer months.  Trade the navy for a more electric blue, and your standard jacket for a new unlined, unconstructed, heat-beating linen gem.

Let’s start with the suit.  If you are going to stay in full uniform, brighten up the entire outfit.  Go for a light blue, light grey, khaki or something vibrant and out there, I’ve seen a few green suits that seem wild on the rack, but right at home paired with some loafers on a rooftop while sipping a cold one.  However, summer is a great time to mix and match and lose the matching ensemble.  Throw on some good chinos with an unlined sport coat and you’re set.

Keep the entire outfit light (in fabrics, not just color) and opt for a linen shirt with a little breathing room.  If you can find a linen and silk mix you’ve hit summertime gold.  Keeping the shirt a little less slim than your traditional shirts, without having them oversized, will allow your body to breathe a little more and cut back on the sweat.


As for the details:  We want to summer up all the extras of the outfit as well.  Change up the oxfords for some classic loafers, tassels, horse bits, or penny are your call.  Cuff the pants a little higher than you would in the fall (your ankles will thank you) and lose the tie if you haven’t already.

Summer of course comes with added jobs to make sure you stay comfortable in your surroundings, happy hours get no free pass.  If you’re going to be in the sun, remember to throw SPF on your face.  Nothing too strong, but you also don’t want to go home red in the face.  Try Kyoku Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15, enough to keep your face from burning, but not so strong that no one will know you made it out of the office.  Of course if you forget the previous advice (like many do) and you need something to recover, check out COOLA Radical Recovery After-Sun Lotion, this won’t save you every time, but it’s some great quick relief if you allowed yourself to char a little too much.

The Alternative Cocktail Attire


Want to stand out a little bit without going overboard?  Life, Tailored fully endorses the dinner jacket.  Leave the matching pants at home and grace the room with your sophisticated presence.


This slim-fit jacket from Burberry London is a perfect choice; pair it with some medium to dark grey chinos for the perfect cocktail look.  Available at Mr. Porter for $795.

Black Tie Cocktail Attire for Men


Black tie events are actually the easiest thing you’ll ever get dressed for, they actually tell you right in the invitation.  When it comes to these occasions we don’t suggest trying to set yourself apart with wild colors or “alternative black tie” options.  Stand out by doing it right and looking the best, period.  Here are the only simple steps you will ever need to pull off a black tie event correctly every time (cummerbund not included).

The Tux

Keep it simple.  A black slim-fit tuxedo is your best friend.  Go for something like this slim-fit Ludlow from J. Crew, solid black with one button it is classic and will never go out of style.  However, if you want to add a little edge and set yourself apart a little bit, go with something like the shawl-collared slim-fit tux from Maison Martin Margiela (pictured below), the collar adds that extra elegance while the blue lining along the edges adds some style.

The Shoes

When it comes to black tie events nothing beats black patent leather shoes.  Elevating the tuxedo to where it should be, the right shoes bring the whole look together.  Do it once, and do it right, the only shoes you will ever need for anything from your wedding to your funeral are these patent leather oxfords from Saint Laurent.
Keep ’em clean…

Use something simple like this patent leather clean and protect spray by Moneysworth.  It’s only $4.95 on Amazon and will work wonders.


The Shirt

White, always white.  Nothing belongs under a tuxedo other than a white shirt, ever, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to have the same.  The Herlot Tuxedo Shirt from Ledbury is our favorite, with a spread collar and some great texture, this is your modern day tuxedo shirt.  It will allow you to blend in with the dress code, while setting yourself apart from the herd (plus, click here and we’ll give you $25 off).

If the Herlot isn’t your style, opt for something a little more formal like this woven tuxedo shirt from Burberry.  This choice is going to leave you with a constructed tonal stripped collar, pleated bib and mother of pearl buttons for that finished, high-class look.

Alos pictured: Pointed collar white tuxedo shirt by Paul Smith and a slim-fit, lightly-textured white cotton tuxedo shirt by Gucci.

Mr Porter Brand Banner 300x250

The Details

Like everything else with black tie events, we want to keep this simple and stylish.  Start with a solid black bow tie, a silk white pocket square and polish it all off with some minimalist cufflinks, it’s that easy.  If you want to keep it clean and classic we suggest the Martini Silk-Satin Bow Tie from Dolce and Gabbana, if you want a little added texture then opt for the Knitted Silk Bow Tie from Burberry London (pictured below).
Cufflinks: Lavin Crystal and Sterling Silver Cufflinks

How to Tie a Bow Tie

A little help…


Want to look extra spiffy in your tuxedo and bow tie, but have no idea how to tie it? Fear not, we’ve got you covered with this infographic. The key to tying a bow tie is to have the bow tie show your style. If you keep your hair high and tight, you should ensure your bow tie is immaculately put together. However, if you tend to keep your hair long and rock some stubble, then have some fun with your bow tie. Your knot doesn’t have to be perfect, you can use the imperfection to reflect your style in general.

Black Tie on a Budget

If you can’t swing the big name tux’s for your event, you can always find great deals on pieces at stores like H&M, Zara or like this tuxedo jacket at Topman for only $220.  Is it going to be the best suit you’ll ever buy?  No, but it will do just fine until your wallet grows.
If you aren’t familiar with The Tie Bar, it’s time you get acquainted.  They have the perfect tie for every occasion without breaking the bank.  Don’t believe me?  Check them out for yourself, and pick up this Lyle Jacquard Black Bow Tie while you’re there.


Cocktail Attire Closing Thoughts

Now that your shoes are polished, your tie is just so and you’ve given yourself a few good point-and-winks in the mirror you’re ready to embark on your adventure of the evening.  Whether it is a cocktail party, a wedding or a gala, the only advice we can send you off with now is don’t be the guy who drinks too much and always keep your jacket on.

As you prepare for your big event, keep it simple. Dark suit, dark shoes, simple clean shirt, and a dark tie or bow tie. If you’re looking to add some flair, go for brown shoes, and some showy cufflinks. (We love these lighter cufflinks).



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