Let’s be frank, for better or worse, the truly formal dress codes of black tie and white tie are quite simply not called for as much as they used to be, so prior to writing a piece on dinner dress, we at the Perfect Gentleman wanted to proffer some thoughts on the other equally important dress code that comes into its own during the party season: cocktail dress. Personally, I find that there is a real sartorial pleasure to be gained from attending dressy winter cocktail parties and drinks do’s – they provide an opportunity to experiment and dress a little more individualistically than the more regimented, classical dress codes of black and white tie, but equally still provide an opportunity to dress in sophisticated tailoring.
Obviously, the level of formality of the event will dictate the degree of formality in your dress, but for any kind of formal or even smart-casual event, it’s nice to be able to dress up to an appropriate degree. Getting cocktail dress right is a fine art, and it can be all too easy to shy away from making a sartorial statement, or even to throw on one of your tried and tested conservative business suits and with a well worn business shirt, but to do this is to miss a real opportunity to wear some tailored clothing that has a slightly more glamorous quality to it.
In decades gone by, it was common practice for gentlemen to reserve different suits and tailored separates for specific occasions and tailored garments would be classified accordingly; business suiting and day-suiting would serve the obvious purposes that their names implied, but also extant was the lounge suit, and even the cocktail suit, both of which were appropriate for more dressy formal events and occasionwear. If you can, understanding and playing-upon these distinctions between suits, rather than employing a ‘one suit does all’ approach, is the perfect way to embrace tailoring for truly smart cocktail dress during the party season. Cocktail suits can afford to be a little more flamboyant; the peaked lapel, waistcoat and turn-back cuffs have their origins in party wear, and make more of a statement than the ever-common notched lapelled, two-button box-suit worn to the office. Party dress provides an opportunity to don suits with crisp, modern one-button closure and even to add some seriously sharp waistcoats to your tailored ensembles (note that double or single breasted options are acceptable these days) which really can elevate an otherwise staid suit to new levels of sartorial sharpness.
Thinking about the use of colour and cloth is also worthwhile. At parties, you can choose to project whatever image you choose, rather than having to stick to the understated navy, grey, pale pinks and blues of business attire. Suits can present very rich, bright colours; blues or chocolates (or even deep plum or forest green tones) or alternatively can be cut in some engaging checked or striped cloths that ordinarily might be a little too bold for the office. Cocktail dress really provides an opportunity to have fun and dress expressively, so it’s worth being that little bit braver and opting for some appropriately fun, stylish suiting when the occasion allows.
Tailored separates can also make a lovely statement in the same vein, and are a good option for smart casual dress codes that keeps to the right side of smart. Experiment with luxurious wool blazers and complimenting trousers. For example, one of my go-to smart casual outfits mixes a pair of chocolate wool sharkskin trousers with a taupe checked jacket. I similarly like to wear navy blue blazers with soft grey Prince of Wales checked trousers. Donning separates in this way loses some of the formality of a suit with its matching jackets and trousers, whilst still making an appropriate level of effort. Its also a way of dressing that is seen relatively infrequently these days, thanks to the acceptability of jeans as smart casual attire, and this means that it makes for the perfect way to stand-out, whilst remaining less formal than donning a full-on party suit.
Velvet jackets were made for cocktail dress, and similarly make a great smart casual option with either contrasting trousers or smart jeans. Velvet is a wonderfully luxurious material and with its sophisticated connotations, it’s perfect for cutting a dash at parties. Velvet tailoring is also right on trend at the moment, and there is no shortage of excellent velvet jackets available on the high street. It also of course comes with the added benefit of feeling extremely alluring. If you need any more incentive to experiment with wearing velvet blazers, my girlfriend tells me it’s a sure-fire way to attract female attention. Other cloths can produce a similarly sophisticated effect for cocktail dress. Tailored jackets with mohair woven-in are also great for parties because the mohair brings a lovely natural gloss and smooth finish to the jacket – having the same effect as velvet. Again, mixed with a crisp white shirt and some well-cut trousers, such ensembles can produce a very sophisticated effect, perfect for parties.
I could continue to wax lyrical about the possibilities for enjoying stylish cocktail dress for hours, but I suspect that I’ve given you more than enough to think about for the time being. The main thing is to remember that party dress provides an opportunity to make a statement, and quite simply to ‘dress-up’ – and what could be more enjoyable than that? We at the Perfect Gentleman hope that you’ll agree that this what dressing well is all about – engaging with the pleasures of experimenting with nice clothes, and dressing in a sophisticated and sartorial fashion. All that really remains now is for you to get booking-in this season’s parties!