How To Dress For a Cocktail Party


While the characters of Mad Men may have been at ease with the concept of dressing for anything from a white tie event to a cocktail party, we are not all so lucky to be blessed with this knowledge.

If you’ve had an invite to a cocktail party and are feeling downright anxious about the idea of dressing properly, don’t fear! We’re here to help.

Cocktail dress is a pretty ambiguous term, which is where many people get confused. Your first step when it comes to dressing properly for a cocktail event is to pay close attention to the information you’ve been given.  While the words “cocktail attire” may seem to contain no more pertinent information, take into account the context of the event. For example, weddings ask for different attire than corporate events. Location can play a big role as well. If the event is held at a swanky hotel, you will most likely want something dressier. The hours of the event can clue you in too, evening hours are often reserved for more formal attire.

No matter the time or location, you’ll want to dress appropriately for the season. A snow, white, glittering floor length number might not be as appropriate for a spring affair as a floral dress with strappy sandals. You can find suggestions for the seasons’ most popular styles by perusing websites like JJ’s, which has an impressive selection of dresses for each season and event.

Don’t be afraid to add some glitter to your look with accessories. No matter the season, cocktails parties are bling-friendly zones. Shoulder-sweeping crystal earrings or statement necklaces can all work at these events depending on the look you pair them with. Of course, it’s important not to go overboard. If you have a boldly printed frock, adding piles of jewels may look overdone. Instead, choose one piece you want people to focus on—whether it’s your shoes, your dress, or your jewelry—and then streamline the rest of the look so there’s no doesn’t battle for attention.

When you’re in doubt of your choices, it’s always better to simplify. Minimalist slip dresses or classic pumps will never run the risk of looking underdressed or too formal. You can dress it up with your accessories, which you can always remove if you feel overdone when you arrive.

One thing you may want to avoid at cocktail parties is extreme hemlines. Deep slits, ultra-minis or scandalous cutouts may not be the most appropriate for a cocktail party. These events (as confusing as they may be) lean more towards formal. Sexiness should be channeled through swishy fabric and delicate cuts, not expanses of bared skin.

While the Little Black Dress may seem like a classic choice for a cocktail party—and it is—don’t be afraid to think outside the box and inject some color and texture into your look. Play with color and use the season to inform your decisions, we love a rich, burgundy velvet for winter time.