We all think we know what “cocktail attire” means — it’s what you wear to a wedding that’s not black-tie, right? There are no strict rules about what makes something cocktail-appropriate, but you do want to keep a few things in mind when planning your outfit. Scroll on for our guide to cocktail attire, from dresses and jumpsuits to shoes and bags.
Tip One: Find a Dress in an Elegant Fabric.
Most people automatically default to a dress when they see the words “cocktail attire” on an invitation. Length doesn’t matter: a mini can be just as appropriate as something that skims the floor. The trick is to choose fabrics that look refined, like silk, chiffon, crepe, or velvet. Embellishments like swishy fringe, lace and sequins are great for amping things up. Avoid cotton sundresses unless you can zhuzh them up with really fancy accessories like sparkly earrings or shiny new shoes.
A Sunny Option
John Zack Plus Off Shoulder Ruffle Midi Dress
$27(was $67, now 60% off)
Take advantage of the warm weather and go for a seasonal yellow shade. Extra points if you pair it with equally colorful shoes. Available sizes 14-24.
Shimmery silver velvet is a bit too heavy for summer, but it’ll feel appropriately festive by the time September rolls around. Save this for all of your end-of-year parties. Available sizes xsmall–large.
Tan summer skin deserves a dress to show it off, like this golden yellow number. Wear it to a cocktail party with drop earrings and heels, then recycle it for day with slide sandals. Available sizes 0–10.
While it’s not quite melodramatic purple, this long-sleeved lace dress is a close cousin of the trendy color. Take a cue from the way it’s styled and play up the iciness with silver sandals. Available sizes 12–24.
Just because you only wear black doesn’t mean your dress has to be boring. Try this lacy number with a sweetheart neckline and off-the-shoulder sleeves for a romantic look. Available sizes xsmall–xxlarge.
You don’t have to wear a dress to a cocktail party when pants are equally appropriate, especially in the form of a jumpsuit. Again, the same rules apply: No cotton or anything that skews too athleisure. Look for styles that accentuate the waist, and don’t be afraid of pattern or bold colors.
When You Want to Stand Out
ASOS DESIGN Curve jumpsuit with super wide leg
Want something dramatic? The super-wide legs coupled with the bright orange shade make this perfect for a big entrance. Available sizes 12–24.
Fans of roomy handbags take note: a large slouchy tote is out of place at more formal affairs. You’ll need to downsize and bring the bare minimum. While clutches remain the default accessory of choice, the recent tiny bag trend has spawned a wealth of options. From silk pouches to structured miniature purses to downsized cross-body slings, you can mix it up and wear whatever works best with your dress.
The Fancy Cheap Find
Jubileens Evening Velvet Clutch
This simple black clutch looks more expensive than its $13 price tag, especially when you remove the chain strap.
Tip Four: Your Shoes Should Demand Attention — But Not Too Much
Now that fancy flats and sensible block heels are trendy, you don’t necessarily have to wear stilettos to your next party. But if you do opt for lower styles, look for ones with bold color or embellishment. And if you decide that you can’t be parted from your sky-high heels, the opposite rings true — the simpler, the better.
A Versatile Pair of Sandals
Sam Edelman Ariella Sandals
$50(was $100, now 50% off)
Simple enough to go with everything from denim to floral skirts to your favorite black dress.
Stylists and celebs adore Stuart Weitzman’s signature minimal sandals — they won’t fight for attention when you’re wearing a flashy dress. They’re well-worth the investment whether you go for beige or black.
We’re living in a golden age of danglers, so why would you want to wear any other jewelry? Whether we’re talking about rhinestone shoulder dusters, colorful hoops, or extravagant clip-on baubles, you need little else to finish off your outfit.