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Fancy pants: how men’s cocktail trousers killed the party shirt

December menswear question: how do you make a bit of an effort at informalish parties without pulling the same slightly fancy shirt out of your wardrobe, for a fifth Christmas running? Styled with jeans, the “party shirt” is starting to feel a bit Top Gear end-of-season crew party.

This year the fashion industry has a subtle solution in mind: cocktail trousers for men, a statement guaranteed to provoke all manner of head-spinning, eye-rolling and visions of Strictly contestants flailing about in sequins. But, in my view, it’s actually a golden ticket to looking as if you’ve made an effort without making much of one, as no tuxedo hire or awkward blazer with jeans combos are required.

First, find your trousers. Tuxedo trousers are a good thing to have in your wardrobe at this time of year because as soon as you put those on it says “evening” and “effort”, even if you’re wearing them with a white T-shirt or a simple crew neck sweater. I bought a pair of navy tux trousers in the sale a couple of years back – a really nice shape, not too narrow – and I even found myself wearing them during the day recently to a meeting where I wanted to slightly elevate my trainers-jumper uniform. The simplest aspect of all is the styling – get them out at night in place of your trusty denims but wear them with a jumper or T-shirt as if they are jeans.

Zara Jacquard trousers. Photograph: HANDOUT

Jacquard trousers are another way into this look. Zara has a pair for less than £40 that come with a matching blazer – but I’d ditch that because the beauty of the cocktail trouser is you can wear it with a normal daytime coat or bomber jacket. At the other end of the jacquard price point is Alexander McQueen, whose tailoring has Savile Row heritage. Their black floral jacquard trousers might be expensive but they hang like a dream and require little more than a plain shirt or T-shirt (black here is good) and you’re done.

AMI straight-leg cotton-corduroy trousers. Photograph: MATCHESFASHION.COM

Velvet is having a moment in fashion but velvet trousers can be tricky. Here is a fabric that has the potential to look as if you’re wearing curtains from a boutique hotel. Study Haider Ackermann’s – he is basically the modern-day velvet oracle because a) his velvets come in the most beautiful jewel tones and b) he cuts velvet to look modern. Unfortunately, velvet done on the cheap rarely works unless it’s used minimally as a trim on the pocket of slim wool slacks. However, corduroy, which has an equally pleasing textural finish can, chosen in the right colour and shape, tick the cocktail box. Topman are at their most directional with a pair of navy flared cords (1970s via 1990s trend alert), while AMI – a catwalk brand whose prices, in high-fashion terms, are considered reasonable – has cut an excellent pair of cords this season for £165. Unless Bloomsbury poet is your go-to look, which is no problem for me btw, avoid wearing cords with anything too fussy or blousy. Minimal styling is infinitely cooler.

Cos Melange checked trousers. Photograph: HANDOUT

Meanwhile, if jacquards, velvet or cord don’t float your boat, there is always the subtle melange wool route – COS has a pair of slim tailored blue trousers that feature a subtle check within the surface of the fabric that could pass as the less ritzy cousin of the cocktail slack. These probably need a roll neck – for added oomph – though this could be a thin jersey version layered under a shirt if you’re concerned about overheating. Similarly, a pair of wool trousers in a rich shade of Bordeaux (see Reiss) is also Negroni Sbagliato (the drink of the hour) worthy.

As for shoes, freestyle it depending on the level of smartness required. Currently, you can’t go wrong with Saint Laurent-style Chelsea boots although personally, I love trainers (current obsession: Velcro front Stan Smiths in white) with formal trousers. But either way, let the good-time trousers roll. Or something jolly like that.

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