A cocktail dress code indicates that you’re probably going to have a good time. Lacking the formality — and occasional stuffiness — of white and black tie affairs, cocktail-themed events allow you to interject your personality into your look. First, understand the basics about the cocktail dress code. Then, choose an appropriate outfit that allows you to accessorize, add some flair and showcase your personal style.
Investigate the Invitation
Search the event invitation for clues into how you should dress:
Time of year — Choose seasonal colors for your cocktail party attire. A fall or winter event may call for a dress in jewel-toned hues of amethyst purple or emerald green. A pastel tie is proper for a spring affair. Bright colors celebrate the summer season and are suitable for cocktail events at resorts.
Time of day — Afternoon events are typically more informal than their evening counterparts. As a result, on the cocktail party spectrum of formality, an afternoon affair would call for more casual fabrics, such as cotton or linen, than an evening event, which may feature satin, silk and chiffon.
Cocktail Couture for Women
Classic cocktail attire for women includes an at- or above-the-knee dress. Naturally, cocktail dresses are the go-to look for women, but this category encompasses a range of looks.
The classic little black dress works well for cocktail dress codes. Choose a dress with some embellishment, such as a jewel-encrusted neckline, for added sparkle for the festive occasion.
Resort cocktail attire includes flowing chiffon dresses that feature feminine, floral prints.
Jewelry can also dress up a basic shift dress and make it cocktail appropriate. A pearl necklace, sparkly chandelier earrings or a crystal bracelet adds an elegant touch to your look.
Choose embellished dresses with intricate details, from a lace hemline to a waistline featuring a sequin-encrusted belt.
Safe Suits for Guys
Suits are a must for a cocktail dress code. Lighter suits, such as navy, are appropriate for afternoon events and resort events. Evening affairs call for gray or black.
Get creative with your shirt and tie combination. Cocktail attire isn’t so rigidly formal that you have to stick with white shirts and conservative ties. You may choose a colored shirt, a bold patterned tie or both.
Complete the outfit with a pair of leather shoes that coordinate with your suit. Oxford shoes are a timeless look.
Creative Cocktail Attire
Occasionally, a cocktail dress code will give you even more freedom to showcase your style. Creative cocktail attire, often a part of holiday-themed events, is a festive twist on this dress code.
Women can enhance their classic cocktail party style with pattern mixing, a pair of bright pumps or a statement piece of jewelry. A colorful or patterned clutch enhances your outfit.
Men may ditch their traditional suit coat for a velvet or patterned blazer or may choose a pair of brightly colored socks for a surprise pop of color.
References and ResourcesEsquire: Men's Holiday Attire
Emily Post: Proper Party Attire
Real Simple: The Occasion: A Cocktail Party
CBS News: Wedding Guest Etiquette: What in the World Do I Wear?
Real Simple: Demystifying the Party Dress Code for Women and Men