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The Ultimate Guide to Cocktail Dress Attire for Women

How to Wear, Style and Accessorize a Cocktail Dress
Cocktail attire
Cocktail outfit for ladies


So you’ve nailed the ‘smart casual’ and ‘black tie’ dress codes. What about cocktail? This is definitely trickier, largely because it can vary more than other dress codes, depending on the time of the event, the location or venue, and the season.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COCKTAIL ATTIRE?


Traditionally, a cocktail dress code bridged the gap between day and night. Where evening events warranted a full-length gown and daytime events called for shorter dresses, the problem these days is that the gap between day and night is pretty big, and the rules have been all but thrown out.


That said, a safe way to approach cocktail attire is to think of it as dressy, but not overdressed. A floor-sweeping gown isn’t necessary, but you should also think twice before wearing anything too ‘daytime’, like a dress you’d wear to the office. The goal is to look elegant, sophisticated, and put together.

HOW TO WEAR AND STYLE A COCKTAIL DRESS


Choosing a cocktail outfit depends on the time of the event you’ve been invited to, as well as the location or venue and the season. For daytime events or less formal venues, neutral colors and a tea- or knee-length dress are good options, while for evening and more swanky locations, darker hues and pieces embellished with sequins, feathers or finished with embroidery are excellent cocktail styles.

How to Accessorize a Cocktail Dress


When it comes to accessorizing a cocktail dress, again, it depends on the cocktail style you’ve chosen. If it is rich with detail—beads, feathers, embroidery or even bold colors—it’s a good idea to pare it down by keeping your accessories simple. Pumps or sandals in black or a metallic shade are a mainstay in any cocktail attire wardrobe, as is a sleek, streamlined clutch in similar hues.

What Do You Wear Over a Cocktail Dress


Depending on the time of day and the time of year, you might need to layer something over your cocktail dress. Besides being a practical consideration, it’s also an important stylistic one—after all, there’s nothing worse or more annoying than ruining a great cocktail outfit with a big blanket or jacket that just doesn’t match.


Options for pieces to layer over a cocktail dress include a faux fur bolero or satin stole, a silk or cashmere shawl or scarf, or even an oversized blazer (keep your arms out of the sleeves and wear it thrown just over your shoulders for a look that’s more nonchalant-cool than office appropriate). Whatever you choose, be sure it has the same overall vibe and level of formality as your cocktail dress.

OUR FAVORITE DRESSES FOR COCKTAIL ATTIRE

 

Cocktail attire halter dress
Shop our halter cocktail dresses!

Hand-Beaded Halter Swing Dress in Ivory Gold


Look no further for a cocktail dress that’s equal parts refined, fun and fabulous—this halter dress is all of the above. Ideally worn to an evening event, thanks to hand-beaded details that lend a sense of glamour, it’s perfect any time of year.

Cocktail attire empire waist dress
Shop our printed dresses!

Long Sleeve Printed Empire Waist Dress with Tie Neck in Burgundy Multi


For winter or evening events, this printed dress is an excellent cocktail attire option. Made from lightweight matte satin, it features a split neckline, long sleeves, subtle ruffles and an empire waist that falls into a flattering, flared mid-length skirt.

Cocktail attire plus size knit dress
Shop our knit dresses!

Plus Size Metallic Knit Dress in True Red


The sheath dress gets an upgrade for winter in softly shimmering metallic knit. This is perfect for both daytime and evening events—or if you have to transition from day to night with ease. A tie detail at the front is an elegant finishing touch.

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