What Is Cocktail Attire for Women?

women in cocktail attire

There are many different options for women's cocktail attire. The key is to select an outfit that isn't so elaborate as to be considered formal, but that is dressier than something you would wear to work in a professional office or church.

Cocktail Attire Dresses

A semi-formal dress is a great choice for any event that calls for wearing cocktail apparel.

Cocktail Dress

Rear View Of Woman in Cocktail Dress

Real Simple magazine points out that "cocktail dresses are always in style." According to DrinkFox.com, most cocktail dresses are knee-length, though some are a bit longer, and are designed to wear at a cocktail party.

Cocktail dresses are more elegant - and sometimes more sexy - than dresses designed for more casual occasions and often have special touches like beadwork or rhinestones.

Shorter Dresses

Ketevan Giorgadze wears a red satin mini pleated sleeveless dress with wing collar from Selezza London - Getty Editorial Use

If your legs are one of your best assets, you may want to consider a dress that is a bit shorter than a cocktail dress. StyleCaster recommends "short dresses that are party ready," suggesting that little black dresses are ideal option for occasions that call for cocktail attire, though any color you like will work. Choose styles that have a dressy design details, a bit of embellishment, or accessorize to add some glitz.

If you opt for a shorter dress, make sure that it isn't too short.

  • The Style Guide on Mamiverse suggests dresses that hit just a few inches above the knee are a good choice.
  • Dressy mini-lengths can work, but you should make sure that the hem is at least as long as the bottom of your fingertips when your arms are by your side.

Ladies' Cocktail Suits

Maria Rosaria Rizzo in white cocktail suit - Getty Editorial Use

If you feel more comfortable in a jacket and skirt or pants than in a dress, consider opting for a dressy suit for your next cocktail occasion. Real Simple states that suits are acceptable, though they should be "tailored and dressy rather than businesslike." Skirt suits are always fine, and depending on how formal the event is, a dressy pantsuit may also work.

Suits promoted as mother-of-the-bride outfits can work well as cocktail apparel, as they typically have softer lines and more dressy touches than suits designed for work.

Women's Cocktail Attire Separates

You don't have to wear a dress or suit for occasions that call for cocktail attire. Separates can work just as well, and you may find this the best route to get a perfect fit and to customize your style.


Young elegant woman model in a fashionable lace top

When choosing a top to wear for a cocktail occasion, look for elegant touches that separate the piece from business or casual tops. Real Simple indicates that "tops with special details" paired with appropriate skirts and slacks can be great choices for cocktail occasions.

Look for fitted or tunic styles with details like beading or lace and sexy shoulder cut-outs when shopping for special occasion blouses.


Emilie Joseph wears a mid length pencil checked / tartan / gingham red slit skirt- Getty Editorial Use

As with dresses, skirt lengths can range from a few inches above the knee to just below it. Look for a style that complements the top you select.

  • A straight skirt is a good choice for a longer, tunic-style top, while you can go for something softer with a flowing silhouette if you are pairing it with a shorter blouse.
  • If your top has a lot of embellishments, opt for a skirt that is fairly basic, though made in an elegant fabric like velvet.
  • If your top is relatively plan, you can go for a skirt with glamorous features like sequins, beadwork or lace detailing.


Katie Giorgadze wears faux leather wide leg lavender pants from J’amemme - Getty Editorial Use

You can also opt to pair dressy pants with your selected top, being sure to select a dressy style appropriate for the occasion. Palazzo slacks made from a flowing fabric like chiffon are a great style that pairs well with many dressy tops appropriate for cocktail occasion, though any flowing, wide-leg trousers can work for cocktail events. If you're wearing a long tunic, you could also opt for dressy skinny pants in a coordinating shade.

Shopping Tips

While there are plenty of fashions labeled as cocktail dresses, expand your search beyond this particular label and you'll discover a world of opportunities. Look for all kinds of women's special occasion dresses and as dressy separates in your favorite department stores and upscale shops, including those that cater to wedding parties. You're sure to find numerous options that will work well for your cocktail apparel needs.

What Is Cocktail Attire for Women?