What to Wear to a Cocktail Party?

What to Wear to a Cocktail Party
Photo by cottonbro

A cocktail dress is one of the most important pieces of clothing that should be present in your closet.

Sometimes, it can be a bit difficult to know what to wear to a cocktail party. I guess that’s why you’re here in the first place, by the way.

In the past, when there were clear rules, women wore knee-length skirts with gloves, for example, and men wore jackets with formal pants or dark jeans.

They also wore formal shoes with clean, polished toes. But modern life is becoming more casual, and the cocktail style has turned over.

This shift from formal to casual opened up the range of acceptable cocktail clothing. In fact, you can wear a wide variety of clothes for this semi-formal party.

So much so that you’ll need an idea of ​​what you want before you start shopping. Without any sense of direction, you might be heading into a frustrating and possibly costly experience.

Read our guide below on what to wear to a cocktail party, plus the dos and don’ts of what to wear to a cocktail party.

What is a Cocktail Party Wear?

Before we dive more into what to wear to a cocktail party, let’s first understand what the party entails. A cocktail party is a sophisticated party that is often held in a private home. This is usually an outdoor event that includes cocktails and appetizers. 

Believe it or not, there are dress “rules” for this occasion. The idea of ​​”cocktail dresses” first appeared in a 1927 issue of Vogue, and the style was defined as “a short dress suitable for formal occasions,” i.e., something sophisticated you can wear.

The lexicon has evolved well over time, and cocktail wear is now a bit more forgiving, with jumpsuits and jackets also suited for the occasion.

Whether you’re attending a wedding or planning to attend a fancy party, birthdays, reunions, engagements, etc., the cocktail dress code comes up pretty often.

Basically, this means that you should dress in clothes that are relatively formal but not too formal. It’s kind of a middle ground, so to speak.

Think sleek, polished mini and midi dresses, slightly more tailored suits, and shoes that look elevated (literally, whether you’re wearing heels, kitten heels, or whatever), although polished flats or strappy sandals also work. It is the perfect combination of elegance and comfort.

For men, cocktail wears usually involves a less formal suit than a tuxedo. However, it is possible to be too formal, so leave the gowns or the tuxedo at home.

And dress up simpler clothes with awesome accessories: sparkling jewelry, a feathered clutch, etc.

A Guide on What to Wear to a Cocktail Party for Women

Cocktail dresses are usually knee-length and come in a variety of colors, the most classic of which range from the classic little black dress (LBD) to A-line, strapless, embellished, lace midi dresses.

Your long-sleeved dresses are a safe bet. As a general rule of thumb, stay away from maxi and mini dresses and opt for something in between.

But you know you don’t have to wear a cocktail dress for a cocktail party. Trouser suits, jumpsuits, blazers, and blouses in fine materials are excellent alternatives.

For fancier cocktail parties, like New Year’s Eve parties, showcase flashier pieces like sequins and beaded items. Complete your look with dress shoes such as high heels or nice flats.

Guide on What to Wear to a Cocktail Party for Men

The cocktail dress code includes casual suits and men’s dress shirts. To adapt cocktail attire to a more formal occasion, such as a wedding, add a tie or bow tie.

For events that call for cocktail attire, you can wear something more modern than a business suit. In winter, stick to dark-colored woolen suits.

For the summer and an outdoor cocktail, you can wear a light suit made of a breathable material such as seersucker or linen.

Oxfords, loafers, and brogues are all acceptable shoe options. Depending on the setting, you may be able to wear leather or suede boots but avoid extravagant-looking sneakers.

10 Must Know Do’s and Don’t on What to Wear to a Cocktail Party for Women

1. Don’t Wear Skimpy Dresses | Do Watch the Hemline

Don’t confuse a cocktail party with a night out with friends because it’s not. Try not to wear anything that’s see-through, dressy, or that draws unnecessary attention to you.

Ask yourself if you would like someone to wear the same dress to your party. Here is your “own” answer. Take care of your neckline, and don’t fall into oblivion. Also, let’s not try to put on a Kardashian in see-through dresses.

A-line dresses, princess cuts, or anything with a loose hem that falls below the arm is what to wear to a cocktail party, and it works well.

The “little black dress” is an eternal choice that will never go out of style. There’s so much you can do, from strapless dresses to sweetheart necklines, from spaghetti straps to long sleeves…

2. Don’t Wear Large Dresses that Trail All Out | Do Wear a Midi-size Dress

Hang on to ballgowns for your “Cinderella” moment. Fashion gurus often suggest staying away from dresses that trail out and about. Since they are the experts, we should continue.

Midi dresses are perfect for cocktail parties if you don’t feel comfortable in shorter ones. Your options here are limitless, so, unfortunately, we have no excuses here either.

3. Don’t Appear in Jeans | Do Wear a Pants

Jeans might be your most comfortable outfit, there’s no doubt about it, but they still don’t give you enough leeway to wear them to a cocktail party. Since they don’t belong to formal wear, don’t even have them in your selection.

Instead, try pantsuits or smart pants with a silk or chiffon blouse. Combine the outfit with a pearl necklace, high heels, and enough makeup. After all, it’s not that difficult. Is it?

4. Don’t Carry Huge Bags | Do a Clutch

So which bags are best for cocktail attire? In combination with a pretty dress, a clutch, or a mini bag, it always looks elegant and refined.

As a woman, I’m aware of the need to carry a comfy mini store for all “just in case” scenarios and, therefore, the need for an oversized bag. But of course, avoid it by all means; it doesn’t go with the cocktail idea.

A clutch is your best bet or a small but stylish body bag. If you feel the need for things that fit in your bag, leave a large bag in the car and carry the essentials in your clutch. It makes a statement in itself.

5. Don’t Wear Flip-flops | Do Heels or Platforms.

Almost all of us live in flip-flops, and the comfort of these flip-flops is undeniable. Not only flip-flops but also boots, gladiator sandals, flat sandals, etc., are not considered cocktail sets, except with an exception, of course. Platform heels, wedges, or pumps are the perfect shoes, and they flatter your silhouette.

6. Don’t go Overboard With Fashion Accessories | Do a Statement Piece

Accessories go a long way to liven up your outfit, and one statement piece around the neck is enough to enhance the look of a simple dress. So consider that piece of your accessory that will not only stand out but also complement your dress.

One statement piece and just that one is all you need to stand out. Too much at once will look sloppy and unattractive, spoiling the whole outfit. You could probably add fancy jewelry like a bracelet, ring, etc., but keep it to a minimum.

7. Don’t Wear Shoddy or Wrinkled Clothes | Do Consider Dry Cleaning or Steam Your clothing

It goes without saying. But if you’re thinking of a pantsuit, dress pants, or jumpsuit, make sure you iron it and don’t end up with wrinkled clothes.

If you’re like me and are not good at ironing your clothes, just steam them in the dry cleaners. Also, you usually have plenty of time to prepare for the event, so lack of time is no excuse.

8. Don’t let Your Undergarment be Showing | Do Strapless or Stick on Bra

Your underwear should be away from the radar, and it’s not discussed or negotiated. They’re called undergarments for a reason, folks! If you think sometimes a protruding bra can make you sexy, a cocktail party is not the place, especially if it’s not yours.

Your dress has a plunging or tricky neckline; strapless or sticker bras are the best option. If you are going to wear shapewear, ensure they fit the shape of your dress and don’t stick out. Not just as etiquette, but otherwise, it’s not a pretty sight.

9. Leave the Graphic Tees at Home

Casual shirts probably won’t fly at a cocktail party. Sure, a tucked-in shirt might look formal enough for the office, but this dress code is a bit stricter in that regard. Instead of a t-shirt, try a fabulous one-shoulder blouse or loose button-up shirt paired with pants or a cute skirt.

10. Don’t Overdo It

Go bold with bright colors and fun cutouts. Just omit elements like sequins and other over-the-top details. Cocktail clothing is, in a word, chic. Therefore, toned-down vibes will be your best bet. Replace sequins with silky fabrics and wild embellishments for bold accessories. You will always look amazing. Trust.

The Must Know Do’s and Don’t on What to Wear to a Cocktail Party for Men

1. If You Must Wear a Blazer, Make Sure it Fits

Despite the specific space, cocktail parties are formal events. Although the degree of formality may vary depending on the occasion, a blazer or suit paired with a neat button-up shirt is generally expected.

However, the key to getting the jacket is the fit. It doesn’t need to be custom, though it doesn’t need to look like you just stepped out of a Bugsy Malone set, either. Treat yourself and your favorite jacket or blazer on a trip to the tailor’s suit. You wouldn’t regret it.

2. Don’t Use it if it Hasn’t Been Dry-cleaned

Cocktails require planning, so they rarely come out of nowhere. As a general rule: after wearing formal clothes, take them to the dry cleaners.

If it’s been a while since your last party and your go-to jacket has settled in the back of your closet, ditch it in the dry cleaners three days before the event.

A sports jacket that even smells musty will ruin your style. Before you think: No, showering with eau de cologne does not make unpleasant odors disappear all at once.

3. Do Play with Patterns and Textures

A jacket doesn’t have to be boring. Get creative with seasonal patterns and fabrics. Try a wool jacket in a subtle plaid cut or a beige linen jacket for more character. Don’t get carried away with the rushed look of your entire outfit, especially if you plan on wearing a few accessories.

4. Do Wear a Button-down Shirt

Your choice of buttons says a lot about you, so let it reflect your personal style. Just make sure it’s tucked in, no buttons are missing, and the sleeves reach your wrists.

Feel free to unbutton the collar once or twice if you don’t plan on wearing a tie. If you have a shirt with French cuffs, adding cufflinks is a great way to add a tasteful touch to your cocktail attire.

5. Invest in an Iron or a Clothes Steamer

You wouldn’t show up to a party with messy hair, and the same goes for your clothes. Well-fitting and well-maintained clothes not only show that you are hygienic but also signal to the party host that you care about the event and want to look your best.

Take some time and steam your clothes first. Even if everything else you’re wearing is fake, you’ll still look more polished than when on wrinkled clothing.

6. Don’t Wear Anything With Holes, Stains, or Rumpled Neckline

It really should go without saying, but a lot of men still keep their favorite college shirts. Even if it’s a small hole or a hint of stain, fix it or wash it, but don’t wear it to the event. In the same way, be very careful with drinks or foods that could stain your clothes.

7. Be Versatile With Your Clothes

There’s more to cocktail attire for men than just jackets and pants. Unless you’ve chosen a jacket, matching jackets and pants are not required for a cocktail party. In terms of materials, opt for wool, cotton, moleskin, or linen (weather permitting).

The color of your pants should complement your jacket, not the other way around. Stick to darker grays, navy blues, and blacks for a more confident look that won’t let you down!

8. Don’t Wear Jeans

Your favorite pair of jeans won’t do you any favors and shouldn’t be part of what to wear to a cocktail party, yes, even if they’re faded denim. Denim is by no means appropriate for a cocktail party.

Tried and true black, blue, or gray pants will serve you well, so invest in two pairs that you like, one pair in a heavier fabric for winter and one in something lighter in weight and color for warmer days.

They can be paired with your sports jacket or blazer for a uniform look or accessorized for a more modern vibe.

9. Do Wear Loafers or Oxfords Just Make Sure They Are Polished

The cocktail shoe etiquette has loosened up over the years. If you don’t like fancy shoes, choose classic loafers or lace-up oxfords in brown or black leather. The beauty of both standards is in the details.

You can opt for more intricate stitches, decorative fringe, or wings. The details will enhance your look without overdoing it. A polished finish will also grab attention, but don’t forget to buff them lightly before it’s too late for the trend.

10. Do Try Trendy Sneakers

Going back to the idea that cocktails allow for a branch out from the norms of typical fashion, there is undoubtedly room for expression when it comes to footwear.

However, check with the host if minimalist shoes are acceptable. The more conservative iterations of men’s cocktail attire don’t deviate much from classic formal footwear. If brogues and loafers aren’t your styles, you can go a bit more casual with some fashionable sneakers.

Leather will be your go-to here, so luxury sneakers like Common Projects or other low-profile shoes are a good option. If the weather permits, you can also wear ankle-length pants, which show part of the ankle and highlight the shoes.

11. Do Wear a Belt and Make it Match Your Shoes and Watch

We’ve all heard this golden rule of menswear, but we still see this mistake too often. It doesn’t matter if your pants fit perfectly, pair the belt with the shoes at any formal event. For a cocktail, this attention to detail is expected and respected.

12. Don’t Forget Socks are an Accessory, Don’t Make them Ankle Socks, White Socks, or Sports Socks

The general rule for formal wear is to combine socks with pants. When your pants ride up after you sit down, no one should be able to see your leg, and white gym socks can turn your dressy outfit into a sloppy one.

13. Do Wear a Watch

It doesn’t have to be a Rolex, but a watch is a nice finishing touch to any outfit. A more formal watch can add a touch of sophistication to your look and can easily be admired while sipping on a rye Manhattan. If you opt for a leather band, try matching it with your belt and shoes.

14. Do/don’t Try to Wear a Tie

Men’s cocktail wear isn’t as formal as it used to be, but it isn’t casual either. The tie is the dealer’s choice. Some men prefer to add a pop of color to their outfits and show their personality with a tie, while others feel overdone and overdressed, So the choice is yours. At a black tie event, a tie is required.


Choosing the right clothes is essential if you want to make a good impression. Now that you have this guide on what to wear to a cocktail party, you should be ready to make an impression with that.

It should also be noted that women should avoid excessive makeup and wear casual clothes for cocktail parties, as this is for relaxation and not for formality.

Remember to dry or steam clean your clothes before wearing them and avoid show-through clothing. Accessorize your dress with a pretty clutch, and you’re done.

If necessary, try wearing them with shoes and accessories the day before the party to see if you feel comfortable.

Plus, going with friends who have similar ideas about what’s appropriate makes a big difference when you’re going to a party where everyone’s dressed differently.

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