Yeah Weddings
cocktail attire

What is Cocktail Attire for Men and Women?

When you’re invited to a loved one’s wedding, there may be a ton of questions that cross your mind: planning necessary travel, who to bring as a plus one, and what gift to get are all considerations that any wedding guest needs to plan ahead. 

Another big thing to keep in mind is what you’re going to wear to the big day! For many guests, it’s time to hit the mall, shop the online stores, or even rent a nice outfit.

Whatever you end up going with, though, you want to make sure it’s appropriate for the event’s dress code. There are all different kinds of dress codes that may leave you wondering, what is cocktail attire?

History of Cocktail Dress Code

non traditional wedding dresses

According to, the idea of a cocktail dress code comes from the cocktail dress itself. The cocktail dress is a comfortable day-to-night women’s dress that was inspired by the fun and fancy-free lifestyle of the prohibition-era flapper. 

Though the trend has gone in and out, the cocktail dress, and cocktail attire as an extension, symbolize the respect for a formal event while not being too stuffy. Appropriate for bars, soirees, and even larger parties like weddings, cocktail attire is functional and stylish all at once.


Everything You Need to Know about Cocktail Attire

If you’re not as comfortable with fashion terms or history, you may have no idea what cocktail attire will look like on you and with your closet. If you’re staring at your invitation, totally unsure what to make of such a request, be sure to keep reading.

To begin, cocktail attire is flexible, and will be different for everyone. Unlike more formal styles or more restrictive dress codes, you’re definitely able to integrate your own personal style in a cocktail dress code.

Try to think about what styles you’re drawn to and what sorts of clothes look best on your body– for the fashion hopeless, that’s usually the best place to start.


What Kind of Wedding Will Call for Cocktail Attire?

bride and groom with guests

There are a lot of different kinds of dress codes that a wedding may specify. A cocktail attire wedding will be slightly more casual than a formal attired wedding, which is the fanciest and most extravagant option there is.

However, cocktail is still more formal than semi-formal, which often indicates a daytime wedding or something outdoors.

A cocktail dress coded wedding will likely be in the mid-afternoon going into night and will probably be inside. It also may be slightly larger than a semi-formal wedding. All in all, a couple requiring cocktail dress wants their guests to look classy.


How Much Does a Cocktail Outfit Cost?

shopping on laptop

You may not be sure how much to spend on your wedding outfit. While there’s no set rule on how much to spend, you should still expect to spend a little bit on a nice outfit.

If you’re shopping retail, try to go to a higher-end store than something flimsy and fast-fashion. Look for lush, quality materials, and strong stitching. 

It can be harder to make such judgments online, so be sure to use a reputable website, ideally one that you’ve bought from before, so you have an idea of their sizing. 

If you want to thrift, spend a while hunting the racks for the perfect item– you never know what you’ll find in the vintage realm, and if it’s high quality, it might not be as cheap as you expect.


Cocktail Etiquette

wedding plus one

You may see “cocktail” and “less casual” as correlated, and they are, but don’t make the mistake– cocktail attire doesn’t mean you can appropriately wear anything you want, and there is a proper etiquette when dressing for such a code. It essentially means “classy”.

Another thing to note is the location and venue of the event. If the wedding is in the afternoon, you’re probably able to go more casual than an evening affair.

Further, if the wedding is outside in summer, you have more free reign to be colorful and loose, whereas an upscale indoor venue is probably the cue for something a bit more conservative.


Dos and Don’ts of Cocktail Attire

outdoor wedding attire

Do: Wear something that shows your personality. If you’re a bright, sunny person, find something in a bold color. If you’re more morose, stick to a neutral. Look to the rest of your closet for inspiration!

Don’t: Just ignore the dress code in favor of your personal tastes. If you’re exclusively a jeans and a sweatshirt person, now is the time to expand your horizons– jeans, sneakers, and flip-flops are definitely not appropriate here.

Do: Get creative! For women, this may mean wearing a classy jumpsuit instead of a gown, and for men, it may mean a fun-colored jacket or shirt. 

Don’t: Wear anything revealing. Anything too short, low-cut, or tight should be left on the rack. Be sure to dress appropriately for what looks best on your body.


Cocktail Dress for Women

As stated above, the entire idea of cocktail attire is inspired by the classic women’s cocktail dress. A cocktail dress is an elegant look that is usually knee-length.

A cocktail dress can come in a variety of cuts, patterns and colors, and fabrics. This is a never-go-wrong look– you will always look amazing in a carefully selected cocktail dress.

If that’s not your thing, you can go for a really tasteful jumpsuit or even a very nice pair of trousers and a blouse. These are things that all count as cocktail dress for women! As with anything, it needs to have an elegant vibe and be of nice quality.

For example, this powder blue cocktail dress is stunning, appropriate, and modern, with clean lines and a soft color.

For something in a colder temperature, you may be looking for something with sleeves. This structured LBD is really cool while still being good for an elegant winter look.

If it’s important for you to keep your look a little sexy, you can try something like a silky slip dress. This look is still pretty tame, but is a bit more revealing than some others.

For something a bit more formal, this sparkly look will make you feel like a walking disco ball! Beware, though– the bride might be jealous of how much attention you’re getting!


Cocktail Attire for Men

Men may be reading up until this point thinking, okay, so this is all based on a style of a woman’s dress? Where does that leave menswear? Thankfully, there is appropriate cocktail attire for men. 

Sorry guys– cocktail attire still calls for dress pants and a suit jacket, as opposed to a semi-formal event, where you may get away with no jacket. However, it’s more relaxed than a formal black-tie event, meaning you can incorporate color in many different ways.

You also may be able to take your jacket off during the wedding reception, if it feels appropriate.

For men, look no further than guys like this dapper dude above. Classy but still fun through the bright checks of his blue jacket, he has cocktail attire down pat. 

If you want to remain somewhat neutral, this navy look is dashing yet still effortless. He gets away with no tie and sunglasses!

This summer look leans on the most casual side, but is a good reference for a more relaxed suit that still remains classy and appropriate.

This look is just cool! The pink shirt and khakis go great with the navy. It shows that you don’t have to be monochromatic to be cocktail-appropriate.


Accessorizing for a Cocktail Wedding

outdoor wedding attire

As for accessories, be sure to keep them consistent with your outfit. Women should expect to wear a pair of heels or a very formal pair of sandals.

You’ll likely want to bring a bag, but a clutch is recommended. Definitely avoid very clunky bags. Jewelry is usually recommended unless you’re wearing a very sparkly dress.

Men are normally expected to wear a belt and a pair of nice loafers to match. A tie is definitely expected as well. Further, your suit jacket may leave room for extra accessories like cuff links or a pocket square, so enjoy the expression that comes from those. Sunglasses are a no-no for both genders.


What To Do If You Underdress

semi formal wedding attire women

So, you showed up underdressed, perhaps in a more semi-formal look than a cocktail look. The first thing to do is not to panic! Ultimately, no one will be mad at you, and you might just feel awkward. There are a few things you can do to remedy this issue.

For one, remove some accessories, especially things like sunglasses or large jewelry, like earrings. You could also add something extra, like a shawl, or a pocket square. Women might also want to put their hair in a chignon for a classier look. These are all little things you can do to refine your look.


What To Do If You Overdress

man measuring suit

On the inverse, you may overdress, finding yourself in a more black-tie vibe. As they say, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, as it shows an attempt to put effort into how you appear at the event. Still you may wish to ease the look up.

If you’re overdressed, you may want to create a more casual vibe by working with a looser hairstyle, either by taking it down or removing some gel. For men, maybe you’ll want to remove a tie or a jacket. Women may want to bring a more comfortable pair of heels as well.


More about Wedding Attire

Here at Yeah Weddings, we have everything you need to plan your wedding. From beach wedding attire to ideas for barn wedding outfits, we have everything you need for picking out the best outfit.

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Katie Sheets

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