Cocktail dress code is not as casual as relaxed day wear or as formal as elegant evening attire. This type of attire is often referred to as semi-formal or after-five wear.
The term "cocktail dress" stems from the 1920s and 1930s, when cocktail parties were the rage. Many households enjoyed hosting after work yet before dinner where adult beverages and dainty appetizers were served. People wanted to dress up a bit from their every day clothing, but did not want to be stiff and formal as would be required for an elegant dinner party. As a result, cocktail wear was born.
For women, a little black dress is ideal for cocktail attire. Fabrics like lace or chiffon dress it up a bit more than simple linen or cotton. A demure hemline, no more than two inches above the knee, is perfect. Add strappy sandals and flashy jewelry to round out the outfit.
Cocktail wear for men consists of dark, tailored suits with a tie. Not quite as fancy as a tuxedo, but a step up from what is normally seen in the boardroom. Add shiny cufflinks or a tie pin for some flash and cap-toe leather Oxford shoes to tie everything together.