There is no official, fixed dress code when it comes to cocktail parties, and that makes this kind of occasion fairly difficult to prepare for. There’s nothing worse that arriving at a function feeling dramatically under or over dressed – imagine pitching up in a sequined ball gown only to find your friends wearing jeans and shirts! To help you to avoid this kind of situation, and to decode the specifics of your party invitation, I’ve put together a list of 7 steps to dress for a cocktail do.
1. Determine the Formality
While in theory, all cocktail parties are relatively formal functions, there is a great deal of variation between different events. Some might require you do don your silks and sequins, while others are smart/casual affairs. The dress code should be stipulated on the invitation but, frustratingly, it often isn’t; if you’re in the least confused about what you are expected to wear, call the organisers and ask them to clarify.
2. Dress up
Conventionally, women wear dresses to cocktail parties, and specifically those which sit at mid-thigh to knee length. Your archetypal cocktail frock is short and a little flirty, and while the traditional variation is usually made from formal fabrics like satin or silk, you can make a simpler smart/casual dress work for more relaxed events as well.
3. Mix and Match Combo
Often, the problem with shopping for a cocktail frock is the terrible sense that you’ll wear it once or twice, and then, after a couple of years, it’ll go to the back of your wardrobe and you’ll never look at it again. If this really bothers you, you might want to opt for a mix-and-match outfit; combine a waisted skirt in a solid, versatile colour with an embellished top, for example. Separate pieces like these are invariably more affordable than an evening dress, and if you choose wisely you will be able to wear both again more frequently.
4. Suit up
If you are heading to an after-hours work function and you’re going straight from the office, the unofficial rule that suggests you need to wear a dress can be broken. Wear a great, tailored suit to work in the morning and before you head out to the party, nip into the ladies and swap your shirt for something a little more glam – a sequined tank top, for example.
Often, it is better to wear a simpler frock and pair this with wisely chosen jewellery and killer shoes. A short shift in a dark colour and versatile fabric is ideal. You’ll be able to dress it up or down depending on how you pick out your accessories, and this means you’ll definitely wear it more than just once.
6. Be Seasonal
If you’re heading for a cocktail party in the middle of winter, you don’t want to pitch up in a skimpy, floaty little frock with bare legs and arms and no coat. Apart from sticking out like a sore thumb, you will almost certainly freeze. Choose items in fabrics that suit the season: in the cold weather, for example, opt for finely knitted dresses in wool or silk. Wear tights and beautiful little ankle boots, and don’t forget to cover up with an appropriate overcoat.
7. Downsize Your Handbag
Ditch your enormous shopper or your oversized tote: when it comes to cocktail parties, smaller is better. Opt for a cute clutch purse in a colour that complements your dress, or get yourself an embellished, dressy micro-bag.
Cocktail parties have no official, consistent dress code: some are very formal and others are more relaxed. Regardless of whether you’re required to dress up or not, try to keep your outfit in keeping with the spirit of the event: go for fun, flirty pieces, and remember to take things like the weather and the time of day into account. That concludes my list of 7 steps to dress for a cocktail part: do you have anything more to add?