Cocktail attire for women: What is it?

Murmurs and group texts around the office are alive with rumors of an upcoming company cocktail party, which you are probably beyond stoked about. 

The high energy surrounding the who, what, and when is palpable, and you can’t help but find yourself getting excited from all the buzz. 

Well, why wouldn’t you be? 

Cocktail parties are a great way for you to mingle with professionals like yourself in a more relaxed setting.

If you’re looking to network and really make some great professional connections, a cocktail party is certainly the time to do it.

But as the details about location, time, and drink menu are coming to fruition, you may find yourself wondering what to wear.

You may even think to yourself, what is cocktail attire?

You’ve definitely heard about it before and can even picture the iconic little black dress, but maybe you’re not sure what else there is to it.

Well, there are certain rules and guidelines for a cocktail party, and we’re happy to explain them all to you, so have the tools you’ll need to craft the perfect cocktail attire. 

What It Definitely Isn’t

When getting ready for your cocktail party, there are definitely a couple of things you need to know before you go tearing through your closet trying to find something to wear.

There are guidelines out there for what is considered appropriate cocktail attire and what is definitely not.

Before we review that are staples of the cocktail attire, let’s discuss what cocktail attire definitely is not:

  • Jeans - Jeans are definitely a big no-no for cocktail attire. Although there are different stylish and trendy ways you can dress up jeans, whether you’re on the go or in the office, jeans are definitely best left for those other occasions. Try opting for trousers or slacks instead as they are the classy and more professional option. 
  • Oversized bags - We get it; you love your oversized handbag or tote and feel like you would be lost without it. But when it comes to cocktail attire, your giant bag needs to be left at home. That’s because there are typically a lot of people in a small space in a cocktail party, and you don’t want to be accidentally bumping into them when mingling.
  • Anything floor-length - Although cocktail parties are formal, you don’t want to be overly formal. Definitely save those stunning floor-length ensembles for something more fitting, like a banquet or a company award ceremony.
  • Sneakers - It should go without saying that you should never wear your sneaks to a cocktail party. Even if you have some really great pair of sneakers that you could dress up very nicely, it’s safer to just leave those in the closet this time around.
  • Be mindful of garments - Another noteworthy item when picking out your cocktail attire is to be sure that all of your garments, especially your undergarments, fit appropriately and aren’t exposed. So before you head out the door, make sure you do a quick twirl to make sure everything is in its place and your unmentionables remain hidden.

Now that you know what you will most certainly be leaving behind in your closet and will also be mindful of when you complete your look, let’s get to the fun part and discuss how you’re going to knock this completed cocktail look out of the park. 


Like we mentioned earlier, oversized bags and totes need to be left hanging up at home.

Instead, opt for a lightweight and inconspicuous clutch purse instead.

Having a clutch purse at a cocktail party is great for a myriad of reasons:

  • Easy to mingle - When at a cocktail party, you are mingling and working the room. There are many hands to shake, drinks to hold, and hors d'oeuvres to pop in your mouth. Having your hands freed up slightly with a clutch tucked under your arm allows you to navigate all of these activities more smoothly.
  • Only the Necessities - Since it’s a party, even a work party, you should also be able to enjoy yourself. Going clutch allows you to only bring the big CWC - Cellphone, Wallet, and Car Keys so you aren’t burdened down with all your other daily items and can allow yourself to relax a little.
  • Great for Networking - Clutches are also one of the best things to have when networking at an after-work function. They allow you a small, organized space for the millions of business cards you will undoubtedly be inundated with so you don’t have to dig through them later when looking to make connections for your ever-growing professional network. 

Clutches also can come in a variety of styles and accommodations. 

If you’re looking to just keep things extremely light and only want the absolute bare necessities, wallet clutches would definitely suit your needs. They are typically only big enough for important essentials such as major credit cards, cash, and driver’s licenses, and insurance cards.

However, if you’re more concerned about having enough clutch space for your phone, there are cell-friendly clutches out there as well to make sure your cell phone is not only being protected but that you’re stylish as well.

Whatever your clutch purse needs are, there are plenty of options out there to meet all of your unique needs. 

The Definitive Cocktail Dress

When you think of the definition of a cocktail dress, you probably think of the LBD.

And you are definitely right!

The Little Black Dress is the quintessential cocktail dress and has been since cocktail parties were invented.

The term was coined by fashion icon Coco Chanel in 1926, the little black dress designed to have the following features:

  • A short hemline that would hit right above the calf.
  • Straight and decorated diagonally.
  • Minimalistic in shape.

The intention of the little black dress was to create a simple dress that anyone could wear for any social occasion.

The signature color of the little black dress was mainly due to the historical moment in which it was invented, the Great Depression, when textiles and patterns were scarce. Now, it’s perfectly acceptable to explore different color and print options for the B in LBD.

The little black dress has also been made famous throughout the years due to being worn by celebrities.

Most notable, these famous outfits include Audrey Hepburn’s LBD and pearls combo in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Princess Diana’s “revenge dress” that she wore in June 1991 at a Vanity Fair party, which happened to coincide during her very public and highly speculated separation with Prince Charles.

Even though the little black dress has gone through many unique iterations, it certainly has a very basic formula.

So if you want that perfect cocktail dress to pull your entire cocktail attire together, know that you can always rely on the LBD to get the job done.

Enter the LBD Contender: The Pantsuit

If dresses, especially the little black dress, aren’t in your style wheelhouse, let us introduce you to a newer and definitely more modern emerging cocktail staple; the pantsuit.

Within the last few decades, the powerful statement of the pantsuit has been steadily rising as a fashion go-to and an alternative to the LBD.

If you aren’t familiar with the pantsuit style, it essentially is matching slacks or trousers with a matching jacket such as a blazer or open chested.

Pantsuits are also a very stylish way to transition from office wear to cocktail wear. So if your schedule demands a full workload that day, and you have to shift gears from the office to the work cocktail, wearing a pantsuit will allow you to do that if you're short on time.

Another great facet about the pantsuit is that it allows you to show off a funky, androgynous style, especially in a professional setting.

So don’t feel as if you are beholden to the little black dress. Not all of us love dresses, and we totally understand and support that.

Options like the pantsuit allow you to still work within the cocktail attire guidelines without having to compromise on your own unique and personal style. 

Stellar Heels

You definitely can not complete your cocktail look without adding a killer heel.

Although you could technically get away with a trendy flat, if you’re going to commit to cocktail attire, we want you to do it right. And the best way to do that is with a great heel. 

Per cocktail attire guidelines, it is always recommended to wear some sort of heel to give your completed look some added oomph.

If you’re a ride or die flats fan, let us give you a couple of reasons why you should consider the heel, especially for a cocktail party:

  • They make you seem taller - If you’re on the shorter side and feel somewhat self-conscious about it (which you definitely shouldn’t— we dig you just the way you are!), adding a chunky heel will definitely increase your height and give you more confidence, especially when you’re wheeling and dealing with the company elite during cocktail hour.
  • They don’t have to make you too tall, either - If you’re on the other end of the spectrum with height insecurity (which you shouldn’t either— we definitely dig you just the way you are too!), you can still get away wearing a heel without feeling like it’s increasing your height. Instead, opt for a smaller, thinner heel. It will still give you that same oomph without making you feel uncomfortable about your height.

Don’t skip out on the heel when completing your cocktail look. It really is one of the last things that will bring your entire outfit together.

And speaking of final touches that complete your cocktail attire look…

How to Accessorize

Now that you have the foundation for a rocking cocktail outfit, it’s time that you start to complete the finished look with the right accessories.

The best thing about your cocktail attire is that it is a blank canvas for accessorizing. 

The best pieces that make the biggest statements would be something that draws attention, such as big earrings and stacked bracelets.

If you want to make an even bigger statement, try wearing a chunky necklace or a hairpiece that will stand out.

However, you do want to be mindful of keeping your jewelry as more on the simple side. You don’t want your accessories to be too loud and take away attention from your overall look. 

When selecting your jewelry pieces, consider the following as classic go-to earrings to dress up your look:

  • Pearl stud earrings
  • Diamond stud earrings
  • Gold stud earrings
  • Silver stud earrings

You can also keep the classic look going with the following cocktail attire necklace staples:

  • Gold chain necklace
  • Silver chain necklace
  • Pearl necklace

Finally, round off the look with some of the following bracelets:

  • Chunky 
  • Rhinestone 
  • Bangle
  • Wrap 

Avoid such things as metals that don’t match— if you are wearing gold earrings, it’s wise not to match it with something like a silver buckle and vice versa.

Turn Heads with Your Cocktail Attire

Now that you know the guidelines for cocktail attire, you’ll be sure to blow away everyone at the event.

Even though these are guidelines to help you prepare for your style, feel free to play around with some of the looks that we discussed.

For example, instead of wearing a solid black cocktail dress, try playing with different types of patterns and various colors like earth tones or muted colors.

You can even accessorize the cocktail dress by adding a bold belt or even a chunky scarf. 

The same can be said for the pantsuit, too. Add a pop of contrasting color or pattern to your look with a belt or necklace.

You have the guidelines, now all you need to do is bring in a touch of your own personal style. 



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