Style, Wardrobe

How To Dress for a Cocktail Party

Cocktail attire, to me, seems more difficult to interpret than black tie. Black tie is easy for men and women–the default, a dinner jacket and a long gown, are well-known (and if you’re stuck on an outfit, you can refer to my guide here!) But cocktail attire is completely different.

For a reception I recently planned for work, I went back and forth between several options before deciding on my outfit. Here’s what I took into account when making my decision.

What is the occasion?

There are certainly different levels of cocktail attire, and I’d dress differently for, say, an evening at Bemelmans and a friend’s Christmas party. Make sure your choice is appropriate.

What is your role?

As the host, I would dress differently than if I was a guest. Hosting, at least to me, means wearing something more comfortable as I run around getting things in order–as well as something that is less fussy and requires less maintenance.

Where is the event?

The location of the event may also provide guidance on your attire. If a private club, there might be an additional dress code to take into account. If outdoors, consider the weather. Be sure you feel your best in your environment–an outfit that makes you feel uncomfortable will show because being uncomfortable is difficult to hide!

Here are three situations you may find yourself in, and what I’d recommend for them!

An outdoor cocktail party in the summer

I’d recommend:

A linen shift dress

Bermuda bag or wicker clutch

Palm Beach sandals or Castañer espadrilles

Pearl necklace

Larger earrings

Keep it simple and unfussy, and your jewelry to a minimum. A simple hairstyle, especially with humidity, is essential!

A cocktail party at a private club

I’d recommend:

A knee-length dress

Pearl earrings and a pearl necklace

Nice heels on the lower side

A small clutch

Whether or not you’re a member of the club, something understated and elegant to match your surroundings is an excellent idea!

An evening out with your significant other

I’d recommend:

A more “fun” dress, if so inclined

Interesting earrings and necklace

Shoes you love!

You might have regular date nights at more formal places, or it might be a special occasion, but I think that even if date nights at places like Bemelmans are old hat, it’s fun to get dressed up a little more! I tend to favor neutral colors and fabrics for cocktail attire, but for a special date night, I’d wear something a little different.

Some favorite places to shop for cocktail dresses are:

Ann Mashburn

Molly Moorkamp*


Tory Burch*

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2 thoughts on “How To Dress for a Cocktail Party

  1. I love all of these looks! Personally, I always struggle with getting the right look for a date night. The date dress in your photo is lovely 🙂

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