How to nail the men’s cocktail dress for the spring 2022 running season

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With major spring racing engagements in Victoria and New South Wales now firmly around the corner, the topic of “cocktail dress” is one that pops up with relentless regularity. Truth be told though, a solid grounding in the subject is something that will serve men well twenty-four-seven, 365: at weddings; birthdays; family milestones; and the odd corporate schmooze-fest.

Unlike “women’s cocktail party” attire — where the word itself can have varying definitions and is underpinned by a few unchanging principles — it’s actually quite easy to make a good outfit series. men’s stylesuitable for social business splashes.

Sure, there are “rules”, rooted in trial and error and history (I’ve always personally argued that these are best thought of as guidelines), but they’re not so punitive that they will never stop you from embracing an element of personal creativity.

In a word: unlike black tiethe men’s cocktail dress has the ability to be fun, eclectic, and more emblematic of the times we live in. But before you wrap yourself in Gucci slides and cheerfully ugly streetwear, let’s recap our aforementioned guidelines — how close you get to them is a matter of personal preference.

The origins of the “cocktail” style

Image credit: Gentleman’s Gazette

As you might expect, the notion of cocktail attire began to gain popularity in the early 20th century. As hotels and cafes across the Atlantic have begun to focus on providing mixed drinks in a stylish early evening setting; a matching uniform began to develop.

By the 1950s, the concept of “after five” clothing was already well established: supposedly because influential men of that era (think the Jet Set and European aristocrats) traded in their daytime attire for something with a more festive look. – a happy medium between professional attire and the formality of a tuxedo.

In 2022, as formal dress codes have largely collapsed, the scope of what we would consider part of that cocktail party uniform has changed accordingly. Now more or less any outfit (or element thereof) that will carry men comfortably from day to night, the focus is on clothes that can be dressed – within reason – up or down. down, simply with the help of an exchange or change of shoes. in accessories.

Essential Item: Pieces worth adding to any cocktail wardrobe

Fix Up, Look Sharp: How to nail cocktail attire at this year's spring races
Image credit: Drakes

From the jump, it’s important to grasp just how much leeway you have when dressing up for a cocktail party (compared to, say, black tie). In fact, the essential quality in the first case has less to do with a single garment, and more with the mood that the wearer evokes, as Christian Kimberdesigner and founder of the eponymous Melbourne-based menswear brand, explains:

“The ‘cocktail dress’ is neither your work look nor the outfit you would wear to Sunday brunch. On the contrary, it bridges the gap between the two.

That “sleek, but make it chill” feel carries over to the color scheme of any cocktail set, which (according to Kimber) needs to be put together using a tonal playbook, plus a only carefully selected shade that works as an accent. “If you want to play with color, make sure you only use one element,” he says. “It can be incorporated into your choice of shirt, tie or even accessories; while the rest of your kit is neutral, playing a complementary role.

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Fix Up, Look Sharp: How to nail cocktail attire at this year's spring races
Image credit: Saman Amel
cocktail dress for men
Image credit: Saman Amel

In the context of a great cocktail style, the sports jacket/suit jacket is undoubtedly the element that comes closest to the essentials. Considered by most classic dress junkies to be ‘mandatory’, first and foremost it’s imperative that the damn thing fits you – a requirement that seems easy enough to meet on paper, worth getting advice on. professionals.

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Unsurprisingly, we would recommend a classic approach to adjustment issues; which means avoiding jackets that are too big or too small, let either one spend a moment in the broader fashion zeitgeist. Alongside this concern is the equally important consideration of ‘house style’: in simple terms, whether your jacket descends from the British or rather Continental tailoring tradition.

In conjunction with more technical fit issues (e.g. shoulder width, coat length, sleeve spacing), the choice of “house style” can have a big impact on how the ensemble of your outfit is perceived. Pistol to the head, to Boss Hunt we favor a moderately proportioned suit jacket, cut and styled with a nominally Italian aesthetic, which puts us in the mindset of Sam Amel Where REMY. Again, strictly speaking, there are no wrong answers.


cocktail dress for men
Image credit: Trunk Tailors

Much less valued than the top clothes, well-cut pants are nonetheless essential to frame the jackets and refine the whole of its silhouette. A wider leg opening and a higher waist are the two trends we’ve seen come back into vogue in the post-pandemic world (perhaps because of the connotations they share with ‘Roaring Twenties’ excess). ), but if you want to play it safe, it’s hard to go wrong with the classic mid-rise trousers, complete with a 2cm turn-up – just make sure, if you go for the suit, that both pieces are in a matching fabric.

Considering the relative technical simplicity, it’s best to throw away your financial weight to get the jacket tailored. Statistically speaking, tweaking pants that fit requires significantly fewer data points; and so, it is entirely plausible for you to buy these off-the-shelf products and have the small details worked out by any half-decent modification tailor. Supply or local favorite MJ Bale are great places to start.


Fix Up, Look Sharp: How to nail cocktail attire at this year's spring races
Image credit: @buzzspoke; instagram

Being esoteric for a moment: if great cocktail attire comes together within the “frame” of a sports jacket/coat, then shirts most certainly provide the canvas. Arguably the most organic piece of clothing to add your own personality to, the shirt is a great platform for exploring patterns, textures and colors.

Even if you’re a traditionalist, the decision to opt for something in neutral shades of cream, taupe or stone doesn’t have to be boring, especially on Derby day. An increased sense of occasion can be achieved simply by choosing a collar that goes beyond the ubiquitous point style, with cutaways or buttonholes, both considered compelling alternatives.

A word on the cuffs, though: our recommendation is that you go for the conventional button down style. Even in 2022, French cuffs remain largely synonymous with the most formal tailoring (i.e. evening wear) and given that the lion’s share of Spring Carnival festivities take place outdoors, in the afternoon, you’ll want the option – if things get a bit soft – to roll up your sleeves.


cocktail dress for men
Image credit: Drakes
Fix Up, Look Sharp: How to nail cocktail attire at this year's spring races
Image credit: Permanent Style

While there is a time and a place to shatter the expectations usually associated with classic menswear, we can say with some degree of confidence that spring shopping season is not that one. To that end, shoe styles that suit the occasion generally carry a classic pedigree, ranging – on a sliding scale of formality – from lace-up shoes like oxfords and brogues to the more forgiving tote category of slip-on shoes.

For a true workhorse option – applicability beyond the soft, soaked turf of Chandon in Flemington – consider Drake’s “Charles” loafers: made in Northampton, with a moccasin-style apron; they’re undoubtedly pricey, but shady enough to wear with denim and other traditional sportswear when smart-casual engagements are on the table.


cocktail dress for men
Image credits (left to right): Drakes;

In today’s fashion ecosystem – defined by shapewear and hiking sneakers – even ties are no longer an outlawed sight at the average cocktail party. Yet Australia’s spring racing carnival presents punters with one of the few legitimate excuses to roll out the old neck silk; and, when diligently chosen, can create a suit and shirt combo with palpable energizing impact.

One of the best kept secrets of ties is how compelling they can be as a showcase for texture. While an entire costume of tussah-silk or wool-lyocell might actually look fancy, in small doses, these fabrics add visual interest to whatever you’re wearing.

Our two cents? Get rid of the hateful king of comedy style prints and instead opt for simple patterns that let the texture of your tie do the talking. For an economical option, the American label Kent Wang is always reliable; or, if you’re interested in splurging, consider the entirely handmade creations of Vanda fine clothing.

Finally, a panama hat is both a practical and aesthetic addition to your race day look. If you’re tempted by an edge, go for a genuine product like The Original Panamanian Societyand be prepared to spend over $300 on a quality Fino hat.

While jewelry may not be to everyone’s taste, a serious watch will bolster kudos from your peers. Luckily, we have an entire article devoted to picking the right watch for cocktail attire. Check it here.

Check out our BossBook hub for spring racing betting and style tips, plus race day previews.

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