Cocktail Attire For Women – 10 Dos And Don’ts

Deciding what to wear to a cocktail party can be tricky. You want an outfit that is dressy yet understated, glamorous but not over-the-top. Walking the line between casual and formal is key for cocktail attire. You want to look polished and put-together without going overboard. 

This article will break down 10 dos and don’ts for cocktail dresses to help you nail this versatile dress code. We’ll cover fabrics, silhouettes, lengths, colors, accessories and more so you can feel confident and stylish at your next cocktail event. With so many factors to balance like season, venue, formality and your body type, it’s essential to understand the nuances that set appropriate cocktail wear apart from daywear or evening gowns. Read on for tips to guide your outfit planning and have you looking fabulous for any cocktail occasion!

The Dos

  1. Do opt for a cocktail dress. The cocktail dress is specifically designed for semi-formal occasions. Look for a dress in luxurious fabrics like satin, lace or chiffon that skims the knees or falls to mid-calf. A wrap dress, A-line dress, or sheath dress silhouette works well. 
  2. Do choose dark, rich colors. Deep hues like navy, emerald, ruby and sapphire are perfect for cocktail attire. Black is always elegant. metallics add glamour. Stay away from light colors like white unless specifically directed otherwise.
  3. Do accessorize. The right accessories elevate a cocktail outfit. Adorn yourself with pretty jewelry like dangling earrings, a cocktail ring, and a bangle or two. A clutches matches the elegance. Strappy heels tie the look together. 
  4. Do style your hair up. An updo like a chignon or elegant ponytail helps achieve the refined yet glamorous cocktail look. If wearing your hair down, use hot rollers or a curling iron to create soft, touchable waves.
  5. Do apply makeup for evening. Amp up your makeup for cocktail parties. Define eyes with smoky shadow, eyeliner and mascara. Swipe on a bold lip color – classic red is perfect. Add a highlight, blush and contour for a finished face.
  6. Do finish with sheer hosiery. Sheer pantyhose add polish to a cocktail look. Choose a skin-tone shade that matches your complexion. Check for snags and ensure the hose fit smoothly. Bring extras in case of runs.
  7. Do mind the season. In cooler weather, pair dresses with a fitted blazer or fur stole. In summer, a lighter fabrics like chiffon and shorter hemlines are perfect. Add a pashmina wrap for bare shoulders.
  8. Do mind the venue. Consider the party setting when choosing attire. For outdoor cocktail parties, finish your look with wedges or block heels. A sleek dress is better for an upscale cocktail lounge. 
  9. Do stick to one focal point. A cocktail dress covered in sequins paired with dangly earrings and a sparkly clutch is overkill. Accessorize minimally and keep the dress itself simple.
  10. Do exude confidence. Perfect posture and a gracious, smiling attitude complete any cocktail look. Move and mingle with ease knowing you look fabulous!

The Don’ts

  1. Don’t wear jeans. Even dark skinny jeans have no place at a cocktail event. Stick to tailored trousers, a pencil skirt or cocktail dress. Dark denim doesn’t make the cut.
  2. Don’t wear provocative styles. Revealing cuts, see-through panels, low necklines and super short hemlines cross the line from chic to inappropriate. Keep silhouettes classic and coverage tasteful.
  3. Don’t wear a gown. Floor-length evening dresses are too formal for cocktail attire, as are ball gown skirts. Keep the length knee, midi or calf for a cocktail party.
  4. Don’t wear casual fabrics. Steer clear of jersey, cotton, terrycloth and other relaxed fabrics meant for daytime. Luxe fabrics like satin, silk and brocade fit the cocktail dress code.
  5. Don’t wear loud prints. While some floral prints can work for cocktail parties, overly busy, bright and large prints come off as too playful. Opt for solids, muted patterns and delicate lace.
  6. Don’t wear chunky shoes. Clunky platforms and thick-soled wedges are too casual. Delicate strappy sandals, pointed stilettos and kitten heels complement cocktail frocks.
  7. Don’t wear a short skirt with a long blouse. An ultra mini skirt with an oversized blouse skews too casual and messy. Pair short skirt lengths with fitted, tucked-in tops.
  8. Don’t wear a revealing blouse. Tops that are low cut, completely backless, or sheer to the point of showing undergarments miss the mark for the cocktail dress code. 
  9. Don’t wear casual bags. Everyday totes and messenger bags read daytime. Opt for a sparkly clutch, ornate minaudière, or sleek shoulder bag to complete your cocktail look.
  10. Don’t wear a baseball cap. Caps are far too casual for cocktail attire. Showcase your face with elegant hair and makeup instead.


The cocktail party dress code strikes the ideal balance between dressy and casual. When planning your look, focus on well-fitted cocktail dresses in luxe fabrics, sleek silhouettes and rich colors. Dark hues, beautiful yet understated jewelry, sheer hosiery and elegant shoes and bags up the glamour factor. Keep silhouettes classic, mixing prints sparingly, and showing skin tastefully. 

Remember, less is more when it comes to cocktail party accessorizing. Finish off your look with elegant hair and makeup. Focusing on fit, fabrics, hemlines and accessorizing appropriately will ensure you meet cocktail attire standards. Most importantly, enter the soiree with confidence, move with ease, and have fun while looking fabulous! Use these dos and don’ts as your guide for achieving the perfect cocktail party presentation from head to heels. Cheers!

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