I love dress codes. The more specific my friends are about what I should wear to their events or parties, the better. It saves me from having to make grown-up decisions for myself. You can understand my frustrations, then, when I receive an invitation that ambiguously reads, “cocktail attire required.” While I have a vague sense of what this indicates (a black minidress?), I don’t quite understand how to shop for it. Is it taboo to wear gowns? Are pants appropriate? How fancy do I need to be? Better yet, how casual?
The idea of "cocktail dresses" first originated in a 1927 issue of Vogue and the style was defined as "a short dress that is suitable for formal occasions," i.e. something sophisticated that you can also let loose in. The lexicon has appropriately evolved over time and now cocktail attire is a little more forgiving, with jumpsuits and blazers also qualifying for the occasion.
It is possible, however, to be too formal, so leave the gowns at home. And spruce simpler outfits up with statement accessories: sparkly jewelry, a feathered clutch, etc. As for shoes, you can wear heels (kitten or otherwise), though polished flats or strappy sandals will do too. Still feeling confused? Take the quiz, below, and snag some real-life ensemble inspiration. Then, shop a few of my favorite pieces of cocktail attire. You're ready to party!
Not only did fashion It Girl Alexa Chung follow the short-dress rule, but she defined it with her own style. Instead of wearing a garment that was tight or sultry, she went for a feminine piece with decorative florals and a quaint little bow. The metallic material and cage heels give the outfit its party-ready stamp.
Follow Alexa's lead and slip into this black dress with sequin flowers. The combination of tulle and sparkle is bold while the length is cocktail friendly. This dress will look great with barely-there heels and a great earring.
When I think of cocktail party–appropriate pantsuits, I immediately picture a sleek and clean blazer with matching trousers. Izabel Goulart nailed this look in her tuxedo inspired blazer with a plunging neckline. The look is sexy without exposing t00 much.
(Though, if you're going to a party that is a little more conservative, you might opt to wear a silk camisole underneath your blazer.) Accessorize with a pair of metallic sandals.
The single-button jacket is a classic silhouette. With elements of a classic tuxedo, this jacket features satin lapels and pockets. Dare to be different and rock this sleek suit to your next event or party. Add a statement necklace or earring and wear your favorite pair of sky-high heels.
If you're going to wear a black blazer to a cocktail event, you'll need a pair of black bottoms to match. This pair have the satin side stripe to match the jacket.
Fancy, elaborate gowns like this are best saved for galas and occasions that require a strict and formal dress code. There's no need to be this extra because; at a cocktail party, you simply want to move from the dance floor to the bar easily without having to pick up your dress's train. Or is that just me?
This is the perfect compromise: This fuchsia little number features the dramatic balloon sleeve. The key here is the cut; since it's a mini dress, it will work for cocktail parties and events.
You'll find many women choose neutral or dark colors for cocktail parties since they're easy to wear, but give brighter garments a try. I recommend using Emma Roberts' Vanity Fair party outfit as inspiration. The cap sleeve red minidress is eye-catching and bold. Her shoes match the dress perfectly, and a red lip seals the deal. Roberts' party attire is proof red on red on red is a powerful ensemble.
If you plan on standing out at the cocktail event (e.g. you're the host), then red is the way to go. Everyone's eyes will be drawn to you as you make the rounds.
Zoe Kravitz masters the quintessential cocktail look: the little black dress. The LBD works especially well for company parties or your friend's last-minute birthday celebration. Make your dress stand out with a statement shoe.
You can't go wrong with a little black dress. I believe that every woman should have their go-to LBD in their wardrobe. An LBD always saves the day when it comes to last minute events. It's a foolproof look that's guaranteed to look good.
A cocktail party isn't the place to flash your bralette and abs. Save the NSFW outfits when you're at a bachelorette party or on vacation.
Want something sparkly, like the top that VS model wore? Give this sequin wrap dress a spin. It's shimmery, though not in an in-your-face kind of way thanks to the neutral tones.
Cocktail attire has widened beyond the scope of just dresses. Jumpsuits, like this satin emerald-colored option Blake Lively is wearing, work when the fabric is fancy and the look, rich. We also recommend black one-pieces with cutouts or sequins. Switch it up at your next office party with a jumpsuit.
This crisp white strapless jumpsuit is perfect for summer events. The chic piece would look amazing with a pair of platform sandals or wedges. Pile on the jewelry to dress this look up or keep it simple for a sleek look.