Cocktail dress code for women – What Should I Wear?

Are you curious about What is considered a cocktail dress code, the occassions that call for a cocktail attire and what to wear for these events? Here are some tips on how to dress appropriately and stylishly for a cocktail party or similar occasions.

If you are searching for what to wear to a semi-formal function or any event which mentions a cocktail dress code, you, as a woman, would not have any difficulty as the market today is flooded with suitable dresses, which are called cocktail dresses. But what makes a cocktail attire special and different from all the other types of dresses available, and what makes a cocktail dresscode different from all other dresscodes?

What events are considered for Cocktail dresscode and attire?

The cocktail dresscode is usually asked for occasions that call for a polished and refined appearance. Most of these functions are held in the evenings.

Cocktail parties: These are social gatherings with food and drinks.

Wedding ceremonies or receptions: A lot of wedding celebrations have a cocktail dress code, particularly if they are held in the late afternoon or early evening.

Gala dinners: These include Charity events, fundraising galas, or formal dinners

Art gallery openings: For premier art events, clothing has to match the artistic and sophisticated ambiance.

Business receptions: Networking events, corporate parties, or professional gatherings.

Cruise parties: Evening events on cruises, such as cocktail parties or formal dinners

What is a Cocktail dresscode?

A cocktail dress code demands a dress that is not too formal but, yet, not too casual. It is not as sober as a formal dress code, but not casual for jeans and a t-shirt. So the cocktail dress is just that – a semi-formal dress. A cocktail dress needn’t be limited to a dress, though.

The cocktail attire can include a nice suit set, or dressy and coordinated skirt and top, or a nice, elegant, knee-length dress made in a good quality luxurious fabric.

Dos and Don’ts in a Cocktail dress codes for females

Do choose a sober style for your cocktail attire. A cocktail dress can be in any style and may even be heavily embellished with beadwork, sequins, etc, or be as simple as a Little black dress with no other decoration than accessories. But it is better not to be too frivolous. 

Do choose a dress in a midi length or knee length. Optimally, the length of the cocktail dress should be kept at knee-length or a bit longer. This is an appropriate length for a lot of occasions, so a safe bet. For a more formal occasion, you can go in for a longer style.

Cocktail Attire

Midi length

A cocktail attire for women should be longer than knee length.

Sober colors

It is better for cocktail dresses to be of a sophisticated color like Navy blue or ivory or champaigne.

Need not be a dress

You can wear Dresses or nice colored suits, or well co-ordinated seperates in nice colors.

Choose black if you are in doubt

Black suits a lot of people. It is a classic and versatile color.

Do choose a dark and subtle color like navy, black and maroon or neutral colors like grey. But this is not a hard code. You can make it interesting using a bright color too. 


Maroon, Garnet, Burgundy
Emerald green


Do accessorise with a stylish bag, and jewelry. Wearing a statement piece with a simple dress can make it look classy and elegant enough for a cocktail dress code. Dressy sandals or heels will complete your cocktail attire. 

Do consider the kind of function you are attending before zeroing in on your cocktail attire. The kind of cocktail you can wear for your friend’s wedding or a cruise party or your office’s social dinner can vary slightly. For a formal office party with the cocktail dress code you can go with a long gown. If you are unsure of the level of formality of the event, it is always best to err on the side of caution and choose a more formal dress.

Do consider the silhouette of your dress that suits your bodyshape rather than follow the trend of the moment. It is all about your confidence in a dress that carries you through a function and make you shine, than the dress itself.

dress silhouettes for cocktail attire for females

Don’t wear mini skirts, ripped jeans (or any jeans for that matter), tube dresses, sweatpants (even if it is a designer one), if the dresscode is cocktail attire.

A cocktail event is a little less casual than a formal wear occasion like a black tie one. But if your cocktail event is a little formal than the normal, a good suit jacket over a sleeveless dress can be appropriate

How is a cocktail dress code for wedding different from that of other functions?

Wedding functions usually have a cocktail dress code and this dress code stipulates the attire to be more on the side of formal than semi-formal. One important thing to note is not to choose white or be more dazzling than the dress of the bride. Your aim is not to upstage the bride on the most important day of her life.

If you are a fashion designer, you might be interested in the evolution of cocktail attire and cocktail dresses.

History of Cocktail Dress

The origin of cocktail dresses can be traced back to the early 20th century.

Women started to work; they started attending social events, especially the so-called cocktail parties, organized by the companies to encourage the intermingling of their staff. These after-working-hours parties called for comfortable wear in which she could move around freely and the formal ankle-length evening gowns were not at all suitable. This called for a new style of dress which saw the birth of the cocktail dress.

Another event that triggered the popularity of cocktail dresses was the prohibition in America. There were many private parties and these events were attended by the modern women of the times in their dresses. You can read about how this change and how it affected women’s fashion here.

1920s cocktail dresses were often fashioned after the Little Black Dress designed by Coco Chanel. They were short and simple, most often calf length, and made from luxury fabrics like silk or satin. The French made these popular when they traveled the world to spend their holidays in wealthy resorts. Soon designers across the world started fashioning their own styles of cocktail dresses. They were often worn with matching hats, shoes, and gloves.

The 1930s saw longer cocktail dresses and they were worn with costume jewelry or fashion jewelry which were inexpensive. Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, or brooches were often worn with cocktail dresses.

The 1940s saw the hemline of cocktail dresses rising up to knee length. The social etiquette of the time demanded these dresses to be worn with a hat and a pair of gloves.

It was in the 1940s that Christian Dior came up with the name ‘cocktail dresses’ for his collection of dresses with a cinched waist and full skirt. This terminology attracted the cocktail-loving Americans and the cocktail party attendees.

The 1950s saw the height of cocktail dresses. They had modest necklines and sleeves compared to their predecessors and came in a wide range of styles and colors. Early evening cocktail parties had become a part of the societal culture and women played the roles of housewives, matrons and hostesses in these events. Thus a cocktail dress became an essential part of any woman’s wardrobe.

The 1960s followed suit of 1950s and cocktail hours were celebrated by all irrespective of social strata or income. There were etiquette’s to be followed by the hostess and the guests which kept changing with time and social groups. But one thing that never changed was the requirement of a cocktail dress.

The popularity of cocktail events and dresses saw a decline after the 1960s. Women took to the liberated fashions of palazzo pants and jumpsuits and these liberated clothes replaced the cocktail dresses in social circles. But they still continue to exist even today.

The 21st-century cocktail dresses are an ideal choice when you want to look formal yet casual and elegant yet comfortable. It fits any occasion which wants you to dress up but does not require an elaborate evening gown.

The styles of cocktail dresses have changed and evolved with the times. One moment they may be form-fitting with a raised hemline and in the blink of an eye, the fashion may favor more flared styles with a cinched waist. But whatever the style, a well-made cocktail dress, paired with high heels, and other appropriate accessories is sure to steal the show at any cocktail party.

Related post : History of the Little black dress; Kinds of clothing; Different types of dresses ; What are the different dresscodes

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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