Ah, cocktail dresses – glamorous, sophisticated, and ranging from formal to casual. putting together an outfit for a celebratory formal event can be tricky, especially with the number of cocktail attire for women that’s out there.
With all the different styles available, it can be hard to know what’s expected of you, how long or short your dress can be, and can women wear suits instead of cocktail dresses?
In this list, we’ll answer these questions, so let it serve as a guide to women’s cocktail attire as well as the unspoken rules when it comes to choosing your cocktail apparel.
Don’t Assume Every Outfit Works for Every Occasion – Do Check the Dress Code for The Event
This is the first and most important step: make sure the outfit you’re planning is appropriate for the occasion. An event can be anything from formal to semi-casual, to casual. Not all cocktail dresses or outfits work for every situation, so planning is the key.
Just because the event is formal doesn’t mean you have to pay a fortune. There are plenty of second-hand cocktail dresses out there, and cheap alternatives, so finding affordable evening dresses isn’t hard.
Don’t Wear a Revealing Club Dress – Do Watch Your Hemline & Neckline
It’s pretty simple – don’t wear something you wouldn’t wear to a work outing where your boss will be, or to a family dinner. You’re not doing shots with the girls and dancing the night away in a club; you’re attending a formal event, possibly in broad daylight.
Consider the general decency when you pick your outfit. Remember that long cocktail dresses aren’t always more ‘decent’ as they could have very deep necklines or cut-outs.
A little black cocktail dress is fine for a casual or semi-casual event, just make sure it’s not more akin to a club dress. especially when it comes to the length of the hemline and the depth of the neckline. And please, don’t wear see-through cocktail dresses.
Don’t Wear Huge Gowns – Do Wear Midi Dresses
As a general rule, avoid long cocktail dresses unless it’s a very formal black-tie event. Even then, try to keep them simple. Save the huge Cinderella gowns for those rare occasions, like a masquerade ball or alike.
Long cocktail dresses are often thought to be very expensive, but if you do some research you’ll easily find affordable evening dresses that reach the floor.
Midi-length (or knee-length) is always a safe bet for cocktail dresses, as it’s tasteful and your options are pretty much endless. That’s not to say you can’t go for a mini dress at a casual or semi-casual event but keep the hemline a few inches above your knee at most.
Don’t Wear Jeans – Wear Trousers or Suits
This really should go without saying, but please don’t wear jeans to a cocktail event. I know your favorite jeans are super comfortable and you can dress them up with sparkly shoes and a nice blazer, but it’s simply not appropriate for the occasion.
If regular cocktail attire for women simply isn’t your thing and you can’t stand wearing cocktail dresses, nice pantsuit or trousers paired with a blouse can work just as well. Make sure it’s not too rigid, such as a suit you’d wear to work, but instead with smoother lines and maybe a nicely embellished jacket.
Don’t Bring a Large Handbag – Do Carry a Clutch
I get it – your big handbag is your lifesaver, your constant companion full of every necessity. But the sad truth is that even if they’re useful, large bags look completely out of place with cocktail dresses.
Opt for a classy clutch bag that compliments your outfit instead. Try to find one with a thin shoulder strap that can be hidden away inside the bag, which you can use in case you need your hands free.
Don’t Wear Trainers or Flip-Flops – Do Wear Heels or Wedges
This is another thing that should go without saying, but please don’t wear sneakers or trainers with cocktail dresses. The same goes for flip-flops. Heels or wedges should be worn, even short kitten heels work if you’re not too confident in your balance.
You can wear either closed-toe or open-toed shoes. If wearing flats is unavoidable, you can get away with a nicely decorated pair of ballet flats.
Don’t Wear Tons of Accessories – Do Choose One Statement Piece
It’s tempting to wear all your favorite accessories at once when going to a big event but tries to reel it back a bit like too much sparkle can ruin the finished image of your cocktail apparel. Opt for one big statement piece instead of several smaller ones.
For example, if you put your hair up, you can go for a pair of large earrings, which look great with a plain black cocktail dress. Or, if your outfit has a plunging neckline, try a chunky necklace.
Don’t Dress Like a Christmas Tree – Do Consider the ‘Loudness’ of Your Outfit
This ties in with the previous point but is slightly different – don’t wear ‘loud’ garments all over. This especially applies if you’re opting for a two-piece outfit, as you have more to choose from. Basically, if parts of your outfit are heavily decorated and stand out, go simple on the rest.
If you’re wearing a simple black cocktail dress, your bag, and shoes can be sparkly. If you’ve gone for one of the more colorful or eye-catching cocktail dresses, keep the bag and shoes simple.
Don’t Wear Crumpled or Dirty Attire – Do Dry Clean Your Outfit
It’s simple, you don’t want to show up at the event in dirty or wrinkled cocktail apparel. This is especially relevant if you were scouring charity shops for affordable evening dresses.
A lot of formal clothing isn’t suited for your regular household washing machine and clothes iron, so taking your outfit to dry clean before the occasion is a good idea. Alternatively, if the garment isn’t dirty but simply crumpled, a steamer can get rid of them effectively at home.
Don’t Put Your Underwear on Display – Do Wear Appropriate Undergarments
We all know that bras peek out from under our clothes sometimes – it’s almost unavoidable. However, if there’s one time you should do everything to avoid it, it’s when you’re wearing formal cocktail dresses.
Analyze the lines of your cocktail dress and find underwear that works with it, be it special bras for plunging necklines or even stick-on bras. Fashion tape is also a great way to make sure your clothes stay in place over your undergarments.
Hopefully, this list has helped you navigate the jungle of women’s cocktail attire and helped you decide between myriads of cocktail dresses. Always consider which apparel is appropriate for the occasion; long cocktail dresses? Short or midi cocktail dresses? Suits or trousers? If you’re still unsure, you can always get in touch with the host of the event and ask them for advice.