Holiday Party Guide – The Cocktail Party

Holiday parties are upon us and we have to figure out what to do.  So many events with so little time, festive cheer but confusion abounds.  The lack of definitive dress codes is a problem for modern men because there is so little distinction left in what to wear.  What does “Business Casual” really mean?  If I wear dark denim and a blazer, is that business enough? If I wear a tie, does that take me out of “snappy casual”?  Here at Southern Ash, we’ll look two components to attending a great holiday get-together – what to wear and what to bring. Good manners dictates that you should bring along something to the party, and I’ll focus on a bottle of adult beverage for the host and event. My assumptions for the series are a gather of 8-12 people including at least 3 couples (spouses, significant others, or just evening dates).

This is the most formal of your possible parties! The cocktail party evoke images of witty banter between besuited men and bedazzled women.  A well planned cocktail party enlivens the attendees with a combination of the intimacy of the informal get together with the best behavior of the dinner party.  My thoughts on cocktail parties are that you should always try to dazzle and treat it as the best part of any evening!

What to wear

Option 1 – Velvet Blazer

A velvet blazer.  No, really! Esquire Style beat us to the punch for this recommendation. After you’ve read that come back back and take a read on what we have to say.

Back?  Good.

Black Slacks

I got a new velvet blazer and keep looking for reasons to wear it.  Velvet is certainly a party fabric; you don’t wear this to work.  It is cut, however, like a blazer so when you pair it well with shirt, tie, and accessories, it will make your evening come alive.  Let’s think about this like a tuxedo, shall we?

We will start with plain black slacks.  Our overwhelming plan here

Blazer Plus Shirt is to make the blazer do most of the talking.

Remember that we are trying to make the blazer the focal point here so the rest of the outfit gets to stay a bit muted. We will keep the shirt white with french cuffs so we can get to the cuff links in the accessories.  If you have a tuxedo shirt pressed and ready, I couldn’t tell you that you would be wrong to wear it here.


Blazer outfitted

While we are pretending this is a tuxedo for formal effect, we will soften Diagonal Knot Detailthe overall formality with the accessories.  I chose a black knit neck tie and then used the rather casual diagonal knot to lessen the stiffness of the outfit.  I paired this with an off white pocket square in a puff instead of a tight line.

ANd don’t forget just a hint of whimsy for the festive occasion.

Holiday Lights Socks

Option 2 – The Navy or Charcoal Suit

At the very least, get your suit out for this one! Even a navy suit will bring a certain amount of joy and respect to the evening.  It should fit you well and you should be comfortable in it.

This time, we will go with a darker colored shirt, like purple to match with the suit.

 Suit and Bow Tie

You know that I love bow ties, so we will choose a grey bow tie in wool so that we add texture and a focus against the dark colors here.

What to bring


Ahh! Now we can have fun.  With wines, you want strong and assertive flavors.  When you are working with a cocktail party, the odds are that you will have some snacks but that the wit and drinks will be more of the focus.

Italian reds can be a real stunner for this time of year.  The chilly weather this time of year, the big and bold reds from Italy can take the edge off the temperature and bring a smile to the oenophile’s face. The nebbiolo grape is the basis for Barolo, the dark and soul-warming red from the northwestern Piedmont region of Italy. Another option is to look for a sangiovese based wine like Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany just south of Piedmont on the coast.

Instead of a regular white wine, think about bringing a bottle of sparkling wine!  Sparkling wines are for celebrations and a holiday cocktail party is nothing if not a celebration.  Champagne is the classic sparkling white, but I prefer to get the Spanish cava or Italian prosecco.  THey have a bit more of a fruity flavor than Champagne giving a bit more life to the wine when being sipped with only small bites.


I never seem to have a full bottle around the house

I never seem to have a full bottle around the house

In the realm of liquor, cocktail parties are where we can bring out the big guns. If you are heading into a den of whisk(e)y lovers, look to bottles like Bookers Bourbon ($60/750ml) or Aberlour A’Bunadh Scotch($85/750ml)?  If going for a more budget conscious alternative, consider Bulleit bourbon or rye.  Rocktown Distillery just released an Arkansas rye and it is really good.  The Young Bourbon can be a bit tight, because it is really young, but the Rye shines with only a little bit of astringent sharpness.


Clear liquors?  I always vote for gin.  The local distributor is going to stop carrying Old Raj gin, so now is the time to grab a bottle.  It is a fantastic gin with depth and flavor without an overbearing juniper flavor for about $50/750ml.

Finally, it is always a good idea to grab a spare bag of ice on the way.  No host of a cocktail party will ever scoff at a bit more ice.  While you are at it, grab a few lemons or limes to make garnishes just in case and be assured of your popularity. What are your holiday cocktail plans looking like?  When in doubt, save this same formula for the New Years Eve parties coming up!

Check the previous entry for the Casual Get Together

Check the previous entry for the Dinner Party