A cocktail party means more than slipping into that trusty little black dress. While this classic look always does the trick for cocktail dress codes, many other styles and colors work just as well. Stand out among the sea of LBDs at your next cocktail party with smart styling strategies.

Knee-length party dresses — hitting no higher than 2 inches above the knees — are ideal for a cocktail dress code. Or, wear dressy separates, including trousers, cigarette pants and pencil skirts, paired with elegant blouses. Creative cocktail attire, often called for at holiday festivities, allows you to make a bold statement, teaming colorful dresses with sparkly accessories — the more, the better. For other dressy occasions, such as weddings and galas, traditional cocktail attire is best.

Cocktail dress styles vary and include strapless, sleeveless or cap-sleeved dresses featuring straight, full or flared skirts. As a result, you can find a style that flatters every shape.

  • Accentuate the curves in your hourglass or pear shape by choosing a silk A-line cocktail dress that cinches at the waist and features a fuller skirt.  
  • Straight, boyish figures benefit from cocktail dresses with some feminine touches — think a peplum top, a pleated skirt or a ruffled collar.
  • Petite women can elongate their legs by wearing skirts that hit about 2 inches above the knee. Look for dresses with vertical detailing, which will also flatter your small frame. 
  • Busty women look best in dresses with open necklines. A satin V-neck sheath or chiffon scoop-neck dress with a full skirt flatter your curves without making you look too busty up top. 
  • If you want to mask your midsection, opt for a fit-and-flare dress, which creates the illusion of a slimmer waistline. An empire-waist dress with a flowy skirt also camouflages a tummy.

Tips

Textured fabrics, such as lace, brocade and jacquard, add intricate, party-appropriate detailing to your look.

Cocktail party styles come in a range of colors. You might opt for a neutral cocktail dress in hues of pearl, soft pink or gold. Or, opt for a brighter dress shade — rock anything from flirty fuschia to glamorous emerald or ruby.

Tips

Consider the season when choosing a cocktail dress color. Choose soft pastels in the spring, bold tropical colors in the summer and deep jewel tones in fall and winter.

Accessories complete your cocktail party look, adding an elegant touch to your attire.

Wear a dressy satin skirt that hits just above the knees; opt for a classic black or soft pastel pink. Team this skirt with a fitted blouse tucked into the skirt. Work some texture, such as lace, into your top, or add sparkle with a chunky necklace dripping in crystals and gemstones.

Dressy slacks can be cocktail-party appropriate if you pair it with a flirty and feminine top. A silk camisole or patterned blouse — think floral or modern Ikat — work well with a neutral pair of well-tailored slacks or cigarette pants.