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How Do I Choose the Best Cocktail Attire?

Choosing the best cocktail attire blends personal style with event formality. Opt for a tailored fit, classic lines, and a touch of flair. Consider the venue and time of day—lighter fabrics and colors for daytime, darker, richer tones for evening. Accessories can elevate your look. What's your statement piece that will make your outfit truly unforgettable? Discover more style tips ahead.
Andrea Cross
Andrea Cross

Cocktail parties are semiformal affairs that usually occur in the early evening. As these gatherings are semiformal, there is a generally accepted dress code for both men and women. Although the same style of outfit can be worn year-round, you can change the colors and fabrics of cocktail attire to coordinate with both the season and the formality of the event. When choosing the best cocktail attire, observe what is considered socially appropriate and what is in keeping with the season and event.

For women, appropriate cocktail attire usually includes a cocktail dress. If you feel uncomfortable wearing a dress, substitute a chic pantsuit or skirt suit. When choosing a cocktail dress, select a style that you are comfortable wearing and that suits your body shape. Although a sexier look can be appropriate, it should still be sophisticated and polished. Avoid choosing a dress that displays a lot of cleavage or that is too short, and stick to the adage that either the legs or the chest should be showcased, not both.

A cocktail dress.
A cocktail dress.

The generally accepted length for a cocktail dress is just above the knee. For more formal gatherings, a longer dress may be a good choice. In terms of color and fabric, your choice of cocktail attire should be based on several considerations. For occasions in the fall or winter, darker or more muted colors tend to be better choices, leaving brighter or pastel shades for the spring and summer. The same rule applies for the formality of the event, with darker or muted colors considered more formal.

Cocktail attire may include a suit.
Cocktail attire may include a suit.

Patterns tend to be less formal than solid colors, as are glittery fabrics, although these can be great choices for less formal parties. If you are ever in doubt about the choice of color, the quintessential little black dress, skillfully accessorized, is your best bet. Accessories for your cocktail outfit should be kept tasteful, either consisting of one or two bold statement pieces to accentuate your dress or smaller, more elegant sets. If the event is in autumn or winter, then your cocktail attire should also include appropriate pantyhose.

Pantyhose are essential with cocktail dresses.
Pantyhose are essential with cocktail dresses.

Choose a purse that is small and easily held in your hand — aptly named clutches are perfect for this. Hair and makeup should be clean and understated. Avoid, for example, brightly colored, very obvious eye shadows. Nails should be manicured and may be painted naturally or with a pop of color to coordinate with your outfit, but it is best to avoid overly long, over styled nails.

Smokey eyeliner creates a sexy look for semiformal evening affairs.
Smokey eyeliner creates a sexy look for semiformal evening affairs.

Men should generally wear either a suit jacket or blazer and a tie. The colors of the jacket and tie should be based both on the season and the formality of the event. As with cocktail dresses, darker or more muted colors are more appropriate for autumn and winter parties and more formal gatherings. Novelty ties and brighter, patterned shirts, however, are good choices for more fun, casual events.

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Discussion Comments


@bluedolphin-- As you said, fashion is always changing. The trending styles and colors vary from year to year and it's very difficult to keep up with. But you can never go wrong with a black cocktail dress, and matching black heels and purse. The purse and shoes can have silver or gold in them if you don't want to be full black. But black is one color that will never go out of fashion and a black cocktail dress always looks classy and elegant. One cannot go wrong with it.

If you dislike black, shades of brown and cream color will work great in the fall and winter. Summer and spring can handle colors like white and blue.


I'd like to stay fashionable and I do try to follow what's in every year. But it is very difficult. Things change fast and what was fashionable last year is no longer fashionable this year. I can't update my wardrobe all too frequently.

I have a cocktail party to attend next week and I have no idea what to wear. I think I will be spending a lot of time just staring at my wardrobe again.

Does anyone have any ideas or tips for me? What's most fashionable right now in cocktail attire? Are there certain colors that I should prefer considering it's fall?


I personally don't feel that a sexy look is suitable for a cocktail party. These are usually parties thrown by companies for their employees. It can be a special occasion for the company or even something like an annual Christmas cocktail party. But considering that one will be with coworkers and employers, it's important to keep one's appearance dignified and professional. So something like a mini skirt and a smoky eye look isn't probably the best idea. It's best to keep it simple and fairly close to what one would wear to the office.

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    • A cocktail dress.
      By: pelvee
      A cocktail dress.
    • Cocktail attire may include a suit.
      By: strippoli
      Cocktail attire may include a suit.
    • Pantyhose are essential with cocktail dresses.
      By: studiovespa
      Pantyhose are essential with cocktail dresses.
    • Smokey eyeliner creates a sexy look for semiformal evening affairs.
      By: Anton Maltsev
      Smokey eyeliner creates a sexy look for semiformal evening affairs.
    • Cocktail attire is usually described as less formal than formal attire, but not too casual.
      By: Felix Mizioznikov
      Cocktail attire is usually described as less formal than formal attire, but not too casual.