Deciphering an event dress code is not always an easy task. Between business formal, business casual, white tie, and black tie, it can be very hard to pinpoint the perfect outfit for a given dress code. Perhaps the trickiest event to dress for is a cocktail party. Such an event often toes the line between casual and formalwear, and finding an outfit that ensures you’re neither overdressed or underdressed is not always simple. While most cocktail parties will offer a bit of leeway when it comes to dress code, it’s always polite to try to match the tone of the party as closely as possible. This guide for how to dress for a cocktail party will help you put together an ensemble that will make you feel confident and classy, while also adhering to the given dress code.
Consider the context of the event
Shoe: Elsa Nude, Photography: Kayla Barker
One of the best tips for how to dress for a cocktail party is to carefully consider the context in which the event is being thrown. The venue, season, and time of day in which the party will take place will greatly affect your outfit for the event. Cocktail parties that are held during the spring or summer, as is the case with many engagement parties, rehearsal dinners, and weddings, are better suited to short cocktail dresses in light colors and fabrics. For winter cocktail parties, on the other hand, it may be more appropriate to opt for a cocktail dress in a darker hue or a slightly heavier material. When considering the context of the event, you will also want to consider the occasion of the event itself. The cocktail party outfit you choose when attending an engagement party will likely be quite different from attending a work-related cocktail party. Understanding the context in which the party will be thrown will give you a better idea of the tone and expectations for the event.
Bring on the bling
Most cocktail parties take place in late afternoon and early evening, with some even continuing long after the sun has gone down. Evening events tend to be a touch more glamorous than daytime affairs. As such, it’s entirely acceptable to incorporate a fair amount of sparkle into your cocktail party ensemble. The best way to do this is through jewelry, though a sequined cocktail dress isn’t entirely out of question so long as it suits the occasion. When selecting jewelry for a cocktail party, try to choose one statement item that can then be accented by smaller, more subtle pieces. A statement necklace accented by small stud earrings will add the perfect amount of glitz and glamour to your entire ensemble. Try not to let your jewelry outshine your whole outfit, and if you find that your ensemble is shining just a bit too brightly, be sure to take off one item of jewelry before departing for the event.
Forgo extreme hemlines
Shoe: Matilda Black, Photography: Kayla Barker
A cocktail party is not the time to experiment with extreme hemlines or plunging necklines. The overarching tone of the party should be class, and your outfit should reflect as much. When selecting a dress for your cocktail event, try to choose one with a hemline that falls slightly above, below, or just at the knee. Extremely short miniskirts have no place at such an event, nor do flowing ball gowns. A full-length dress may be acceptable depending on the venue and occasion, but take care that it does not create too formal an ensemble. Midi dresses and those with a tea-length hem are also a great option for individuals who prefer a slightly longer gown.
Ditch the dress entirely
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If a dress isn’t quite your style, opt for a well-tailored pair of pants or a jumpsuit instead. These items display as much class as a dress when accessorized well. Jumpsuits and pants should still adhere to many of the same guidelines as a dress, however. Steer clear of necklines that plunge too low and waistbands with very low rises and opt for luxury fabrics if possible. Tuxedo jackets paired with well-tailored pants have become an increasingly popular trend for women in recent years, and it’s a trend that would perfectly suit a variety of different cocktail parties. Pair your pants or jumpsuit with some statement jewelry and designer heels to add an enticing appeal to the whole outfit. Pants and jumpsuits are often better suited to an evening affair, though, but with the right adjustments, they can serve well for a variety of different occasions.
Step things up a notch
Shoe: Elsa Black, Photography: Kayla Barker
Cocktail parties are often thrown in celebration of a big event, be it a holiday, an engagement, or a work promotion. As such, it’s important that you take this opportunity to make a statement and pull out all the stops. Accessorizing your ensemble with a classy clutch or an eye-catching headpiece is a great way to catch the crowd’s attention at such a large event. Perhaps the best way to make a statement, however, is through a pair of designer heels. Choose a pair of heels that will complement your outfit while also adding a touch of sparkle and personality to the entire ensemble. Lace, sequin, or otherwise embellished heels will add an entirely new element to your ensemble and will help you stand out from the crowd. At Bella Belle, we offer a wide range of designer dress shoes for women to suit every occasion. Your cocktail party look will never be the same.
When in doubt, go back to basics
Shoe: Kate Black, Photography: Kayla Barker
One of the most versatile items a woman can have in her closet is a little black dress. When all else fails, this item will help you create the perfect ensemble for any cocktail party. Pair this item with a bright pair of heels and a colorful clutch for a spring or summer cocktail party, or opt for tights and high-heeled booties for a winter affair. Your little black dress doesn’t even need to be black. Choosing a dress with classic lines in a solid color will achieve the same look as an LBD while also allowing you to express a bit more of your personal style.