My husband and I have an invitation to a wedding and the dress for the reception is “cocktail attire.” What is that? Am I expected to dress like a margarita, complete with salted rim?
That would be an interesting intepretation of the dress code, and Etiquetteer could see you pulling it off with a slinky lime green suit and a thin white feather boa*. The only problem with that - and you could guess this - is that you’d then be guilty of Upstaging the Bride, which is absolutely not Perfectly Proper.
Seriously, though, “cocktail attire” implies two words: “sharp” and “dressy.” For gentlemen, this means dark suits or jackets and ties. Gentlemen should give the impression of being crisp and classic, with perhaps a suggestion of color. Ladies wear cocktail dresses, which can be short and fussy or longer (but not floor-length) and slinky. Another option would be a severely cut two-piece suit, in wool or velvet - the kind that used to be called a dinner suit. Often cocktail dresses are found in the darker palettes, but for a wedding Etiquetteer would encourage ladies to try lighter shades - and always to Consider Navy Blue instead of black.
For Etiquetteer “cocktail attire” also suggests a little shine and glitter. A little! A few sequins and beads, and of course Actual Jewels, would enhance any lady’s appearance at the cocktail hour, not to mention a small hat with a veil - or a fascinator if it can be worn as though it was not part of a costume. Gentlemen might think about cufflinks or a tie with some shine to it, but not shiny lapels! “Cocktail attire” does not mean drifting into the parts of a wardrobe that belong to “black tie” like tuxedos, cummerbunds, white dinner jackets, shirt studs, etc. Of course a gentleman’s shoes should be freshly polished to a deep shine.
Etiquetteer hopes that the quality of the cocktails served at the wedding is equal to the effort put forward by the guests to achieve this dress code.
We’ve all heard about the “little black dress” being standard equpiment for women when they go out, but what does a man wear when his date has on a little black dress?
So often Etiquetteer has seen college-age couples out on the town for what is clearly a Special Occasion - the symphony, for instance, or dinner in a fancy restaurant - and the girl has clearly taken a great deal of trouble to find the right Little Black Dress and accessorize it with the right jewelry and shoes (and, one hopes, hosiery, though fewer and fewer women want to be bothered with it). And what does the boy wear? Dark slacks and shoes with a dress shirt (usually a solid, white or colored, but sometimes striped) open at the neck, and that’s it. At least the shirt is Ostentatiously Well Ironed. Gentlemen, this is really not Making Enough Effort! A Little Black Dress, especially one involving some sequins, demands that a gentleman dress up to it, and that means at a minimum a jacket and tie. Etiquetteer guarantees that it’s not too much trouble to make the effort. You’ll look awfully sharp, and when you go out for that post-concert drink or midnight breakfast, Etiquetteer will allow you to undo your tie for that devil-may-care look.
*Had you chosen a martini that might be even more problematic, martinis being transparent. An olive “takes up so much room in such a little glass,” but it can’t cover a multitude of sins.