What Is Cocktail Attire for Women: Best Shoes to Wear

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So you’ve been invited to a party. You’re excited to have a good time, but you notice that there’s a dress code for the event – and it is cocktail attire. All you know about cocktail outfits are short dresses, often with flashy colors and designs.

But what exactly are cocktail dresses? What kind of cocktail dress should you be wearing? What type of shoes would go well with the cocktail dresses?

Don’t worry, because we’ve got the answers to these questions and more.

What is cocktail attire?

The term “cocktail attire” refers to any kind of attire that’s used in semi-formal and formal parties. For men, cocktail attire can be as simple as a suit and tie, while women have a variety of dresses that suit the occasion, each with their own personal charms.

AnnaLynne McCord, Rachel McCord, and Cara Santana flaunt their legs in cocktail dressesAnnaLynne McCord, Rachel McCord, and Cara Santana flaunt their legs in cocktail dresses

In general, however, cocktail dresses usually extend to the knee’s length at most, making them somewhat easy to identify.

What kinds of dresses are suitable for cocktail events?

There’s a simple trick to know whether or not the dress you’re planning to wear is suitable for a cocktail event or not. Ask yourself – would I want my business co-workers and bosses to see me in it?

Cocktail parties are meant to be enjoyed, but they’re semi-formal at the very least, meaning that you’ll need to cut down on the more revealing attire in your wardrobe for now.

Below are three cocktail dresses that you can buy on Zappos.

Cocktail dresses from Adrianna Papell, Badgley Mischka, and Maggy LondonCocktail dresses from Adrianna Papell, Badgley Mischka, and Maggy London

That doesn’t mean you should be wearing a full gown to the event either, though. Remember that cocktail dresses extend only to your knees at most. You can also make a bold statement by wearing strapless dresses, too. Just be sure to keep the amount of skin at a moderate level for the event, as cocktails are used for events such as weddings, too.

Finally, you’ll want to get a dress that’s ornate or captivating. If you want to look as gorgeous as possible, go for striking colors that stand out from crowds, or elaborate designs lining the dress itself. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to follow the dress code, though, so if they have any color themes as well, be sure to pick accordingly.

Are there other types of cocktail attire for women?

Yes, there are! You don’t have to wear a dress to a cocktail event if that’s not your thing, or you don’t have a dress available. You can opt to wear a pair of sleek trousers or a jumpsuit instead, as long as they look formal.

Below are three flattering jumpsuits that you can buy on Nordstrom.

Cocktail jumpsuits from Eliza J, Julia Jordan, and Vince CamutoCocktail jumpsuits from Eliza J, Julia Jordan, and Vince Camuto

That means no denim, no khakis, etc. You won’t look as captivating with a pair of trousers as you would with a dress, though, unless you’ve got a top that’s bold enough to match.

Alternatively, you can go for a mini-skirt with a matching top instead. This is perfect for more outdoor cocktail events, such as those held in resorts and beaches during the summer. They’re also easier to mix and match designs with, making them more versatile when picking a look before the event. How about these three alternatives from Farfetch?

Cocktail skirts with matching tops from Martha Medeiros, Acler, and MacGrawCocktail skirts with matching tops from Martha Medeiros, Acler, and MacGraw

And in the unfortunate cases where you can’t find plus size cocktail dresses at your local department store, they serve as a fashionable alternative look. You really can’t go wrong with them.

What types of accessories go well with cocktail outfits?

Remember that your dress is the centerpiece of your entire outfit, so keep the accessories minimal and simple, while maintaining a sense of refinement and elegance.

For example, you’re better off using either a mini bag or a clutch to carry your items in, instead of a handbag or shoulder bag. And of course, try using accessories that match your dress for maximum effect. Below are a couple of suggestions from Matches Fashion.

Valentino's Rockstud leather pouch and a white The Attico wristlet pouch that is created with hundreds of wispy ostrich feathers and beadingValentino’s Rockstud leather pouch and a white The Attico wristlet pouch that is created with hundreds of wispy ostrich feathers and beading

And don’t overdo it. You can wear accessories if you want, but if you really want your dress to stand out you need to make sure nothing else grabs the spotlight. You don’t have to wear various jewelry at a cocktail event.

What types of shoes go well with cocktail outfits?

The cocktail outfit that you’ll be wearing isn’t the only thing you should be thinking about. Your shoes can make or break the entire look, so you’ll need to find a pair that perfectly matches what you’re going for. And since this is a cocktail event, you’ll also need to follow some extra guidelines.

Named for Kate Moss, Christian Louboutin's classic So Kate pumps are perfect for formal eventsNamed for Kate Moss, Christian Louboutin’s classic So Kate pumps are perfect for formal events

Keeping with the idea of the dress being the centerpiece of your entire look, you’ll want to go for shoes with simple designs. As cocktail events are semi-formal or formal, you’ll also want to look professional.

That’s why we recommend getting high heels that are simple and easy on the eye while complementing your attire. Ideally, you want the focus of your look to be your dress, so keep the heels as basic as possible, and you’re good.

That doesn’t mean you can’t rock some fancy heels or thigh-high boots either, though. But to be able to do that, you’ll need to be dressing appropriately. We mentioned so far that cocktail outfits have your dress (or mini-skirt or trousers) as the centerpiece of your look, but that doesn’t have to be the case all the time.

You can also go for a simpler dress, but you’ll need something else to garner attention with. That’s where the shoes come in. Below are a couple of alternatives that you can find on Amazon.

Cocktail heels from Jessica Simpson and Stuart WeitzmanCocktail heels from Jessica Simpson and Stuart Weitzman

For simple dresses that aren’t that eye-popping, go for party heels that are adorned with glamor and made with premium material such as velvet. You’ll find that your heels will immediately become the star of the show, as your dress isn’t as stylish as your footwear.

In the end, though, it’s all up to personal preference. If you want to stand out using both your dress AND your shoes, you’re free to do so. Just remember that it’s good to strike a balance on how glamorous your look can be and that you’ll need a centerpiece for your look, whether it be your dress or your shoes.

Conclusion

Rocking cocktail dresses are one of the best ways to stand out in a formal event, as they provide a harmonic mix of formality and beauty. By following the guidelines we’ve talked about here, you’ll be turning heads at the event in no time at all.

Credit: Adriana M. Barraza / WENN / DJDM / Judy Eddy

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