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What To Wear To A Cocktail Party: The Hard And Fast Rules

by Lindsay Reed Published on 19 September 2014

Attending a social soirée should be anything but stressful. A cocktail party should be a time to have fun and enjoy a fancy drink or two. Don't let what you are going to wear ruin your night. Instead follow our simple guide about what to wear to a cocktail party and strut your style. Bring on the Cosmos!

It figures that if you are going to a cocktail party that you'll want to wear a cocktail dress, but while that sounds simple, finding the perfect frock isn't always easy. If you want to play it safe, then go ahead and rock an embellished yet understated dress, but if you're daring to stand out, we've got all you need to know.

Cocktail parties are a great way to network, glam up and have some fun. Quite a change from the cocktail parties that were prevalent in the 20's where guests were invited into friend's homes to enjoy a few drinks while enjoying each other's glamorous company.

Cocktail dress code back in the 20's used to be a lot more strict as well. Ladies would have to dress according to the rules of the home they were attending and be sure to have their etiquette A-game on.

Today, many cocktail affairs are at hotels and other venues where we can mingle with new faces and enjoy time with the ones we already know. But what the hell is a proper cocktail dress? How long can your hemline be? And where do you start with accessories? The problem with a cocktail party is that while it's formal, there's definitely an element of fashion fun, so to steer you on the right style path, follow these rules.

Dressing For The Occassion

Before you start brainstorming outfit ideas, it's crucial you understand what type of event you'll be attending. Are you going to be having cocktails with a bunch of girls celebrating a hen do? Or are you just going to be socialising with the women from work at a more formal affair?

​Perhaps you'll be drinking and dining with the social elite of your city, in which case you'll definitely have to put on your best and be sure to button up. There are so many spectacular events we come across in our lifetime, and dressing for each one should be enjoyable. Once you know the kind of company you'll be keeping at the event you can start to pick an outfit that's bang on.

Skirt Story

Cocktail parties aren't just for cocktail dresses. Skirts are an amazing alternative and totally versatile. Mix it up with a printed blouse or create a look that resembles a dress with a matching set. Make sure your hemline is not too short, though. There is a fine line between classy and trashy. A good rule of thumb? Make sure your finger tips can touch your hem when your arms are by your sides.

Dress It Up

Ok, so if you want to wear a dress of course you can, just make sure it is one that wows! Wear a dress that has exciting embellishments, asymmetrical accents or a bold print. At a cocktail party you have the perfect excuse to go glam so don't shy away from the wow factor.

Shimmering fabrics, backless dresses, cowl necklines and sumptuous materials? Bring them on!

Keep It Classy

It can be confusing to know what approach you should take to get ready for your night out. You want to dress up, but don't want to look over dressed. Yet, you certainly don't want to be the girl that is under dressed. If you want to be sure to make a good first impression, your best bet is to channel sophisticated.

​An LBD goes a long way and is often the instinctual thought that comes to most girl's minds when they think of what to wear to a cocktail party. Try taking this infamous aesthetic and translate it into a different concept. Perhaps a little navy dress? A little white dress? A little black jumpsuit? The list can go on and on depending on where you may be going and what time of year it is.

Best In Suit

From runway to reality, we have been seeing women's tuxedo suits appearing everywhere, and who wouldn't want to look this immaculate at all times? Sporting a suit will instantly make people wonder 'who is that girl?' Whether you opt for a satin tuxedo or a menswear inspired jumpsuit, you can truly never go wrong with a refined androgynous look.

Are you brave enough?

Wear Your Best Shoes

You know those shoes you bought 4 months ago because you HAD to have them even though you had no where to wear them to? Well NOW is the time to dig them out of the closet! In fact, if you have a pair that comes to mind, why not create an outfit around them. Your shoes can inspire the rest of your ensemble as accessories often make the outfit, and will often be a great way to initiate conversation.

A Clutch Is A Must

Leave your large leather satchel at home and invest in a go-to statement clutch for your evening out. Clutches are the perfect accessory to add a little shine to your look and the perfect size to store your make up essentials in case you need to retouch.

Be Bejeweled

Statement accessories can instantly renovate any look. Adding a stand out collar necklace to your favourite look can transform a daytime dress for a special affair. Just be sure not to throw on too much bling. No mater how pricey your jewels may be, throwing on too many accessories is always tacky.

Colour Me Happy

Black is always a safe go-to for us girls, but a cocktail party is your chance to stand out and shine in your favourite colour. Wear a bold red or elegant aubergine to your affair, or sport a light blue to bring a peaceful ambiance into the room. Keep in mind that colour directly affects the energies you emit when meeting new people, and also attracts new people to you! A good place to start is with your skin tone and hair colour, wearing complimentary or contrasting colours is always a safe bet.

Accessories Can Make An Outfit

If you can't afford to splash out for a whole new look, simply dress up an old favourite frock with new accessories. If your event is in the fall, add a faux fur muff or glam shawl to spice up your favourite dress.

Refined & Unwrinkled

Showing up in a wrinkled pair of trousers or dress is not the done thing at a cocktail party. You don't want to look like you just rolled out of bed when attending a sophisticated gathering. You want to make the right impression.

Beauty Routine

Definitely do not skip the makeup step when attending a cocktail party. Make sure you are picture-perfect and ready for the camera before you leave your home. That being said, don't load on TOO much makeup. Keep it simple with some luscious lashes, blushed cheeks, and a great lip stain to cover your bases.

A Smile

You are never fully dressed without a smile, and a cocktail party is definitely an affair where you should not forget one. No one wants to talk to someone with a chronic bitchy resting face, so don't be that girl. Make sure you are as approachable as can be at all times. After all, if you look as good as you do you should be smiling anyway!

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This article was written by Lindsay Reed. Tweet her @lindsayreednyc!

Check Out These Celebrities For Some Cocktail-Ready Inspiration:

Diane Kruger © Getty

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