fb-pixelWhat is cocktail attire and what do you wear to a wedding Skip to main content

Clothes call: What’s appropriate wedding attire?

Explaining cocktail attire and breaking down dress code dos and don’ts. Plus, advice on ending an “acquaintanceship.”

I’ve been away from the social scene for many years (as a widower for 20 years). I’ve been invited to the wedding of one of my grandnieces and have no idea, regarding the dress code, what “cocktail attire” means. Can you advise me?

J.D. / Woburn

Good news: No one else knows what it means, either! And anyone who thinks they do only knows what it means in their own particular social set. Just for fun, do an image search for “cocktail attire” and see if you can tell any difference between the outfits presented and any other sort of wedding attire.


Wear whatever you’d normally wear for a wedding that time of day — pants and a sports jacket, or a suit if that’s more in your comfort zone. More than anything, “cocktail attire” means “dress festively but comfortably.”

Of course, if you wanted to pin a festive little paper umbrella on your lapel as a boutonniere and pretend that’s what you thought “cocktail attire” meant, Miss Conduct would by no means discourage you . . . and it is just the kind of icebreaker that might jump-start that social life of yours.

A casual acquaintance of mine believes we are closer friends and frequently invites me to social events, meals, and their home. I’ve accepted a few times but no longer wish to, and I’ve been making excuses for months, but the invitations persist. This person hasn’t done anything explicitly wrong, but they are self-focused and draining, and our mutual friends have drifted apart. How can I end this acquaintanceship without being confrontational, unkind, or resorting to ghosting?

Anonymous / Boston

You’ve already employed the most tactful method, which is to refuse invitations repeatedly without offering an alternative, and your own personal energy vampire — we’ll call them “Colin” — refuses to hear this message. The time for tact is over. If you don’t want to have to decline invitations in perpetuity, you need to either ghost Colin or reply to their next overture with something like “I don’t think this will work out, now or in the future. Be well!” and radio silence thereafter.


This is a polite and appropriate response to Colin’s misreading of your acquaintanceship, and in no way unkind. But you can’t control other people’s perceptions. Colin is almost certain to take your behavior as a dreadfully unkind betrayal or out-of-the-blue platonic breakup, because Colin has been on the wrong page all along. But you’re not responsible for their misunderstanding, if it even is one. It’s also very possible that Colin knows perfectly well that you aren’t interested in their company and has been badgering you in hopes of wearing you down.

I find myself curious about your drifting mutuals. I bet they’ve got a perspective on Colin that would be worth seeking out, given that they’ve managed to extract themselves from the vortex. Consider reaching out — one of them might make you feel better than I can about what you need to do.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.