The Only Cocktail Attire Cheat Sheet You’ll Ever Need

June 26, 2018 by Laura Reilly

So, you’ve just received an invitation and you notice those two dreaded little words: Dress. Code. We get it—there’s only so many times you can type the words “what is cocktail attire” into Google and then immediately start sweating over the thought of spending too much on an outfit you’ll likely never wear again. But don’t fret, navigating dress codes can be tricky—but it doesn’t have to be this way. Cocktail attire for women used to be throwing on your favorite little black dress and minimal accessories. And while that’s still an option, why not experiment with your look?

We’ve put together 7 classic, no-fail cocktail party looks that you can rent right now, plus tips on how to style them. That company holiday party coming up? And that wedding rehearsal creeping up on your calendar? This guide has your outfit covered, and it’s guaranteed to make you party ready.

For a Timeless Look: Try a Lace Cocktail Dress

DRESS: DRESS THE POPULATION, NECKLACE: ALEXIS BITTAR, CLUTCH: MARIE TURNOR

For a fun modern twist to the classic lace cocktail dress, look for an unexpected color or cut. The midi length, sheer inserts and bold green color of this dress is definitely appropriate for any cocktail dress code. Since the fabric is quite intricate already, opt for accessories that aren’t too fussy. A delicate necklace and a clutch in a complimentary tone are all you need.

For a Fun Party Look: Try a Sequin Cocktail Dress

JACKET: IRO, DRESS: MARK & JAMES BY BADGLEY MISCHKA, CLUTCH: SONDRA ROBERTS

There’s nothing like an all-over sequined dress to make you feel like Kate Moss in the ‘90s—effortlessly cool, unapologetically over-the-top, and easily the best dressed person in the room. Play up the edginess with a tough girl leather jacket and a studded clutch for a touch of biker chic.

For an Elegant Look: Try a Maxi Dress

DRESS: ASTR, CLUTCH: REBECCA MINKOFF ACCESSORIES, EARRINGS: SLATE & WILLOW ACCESSORIES

The rich burgundy fabric and the ankle length silhouette of this dress is perfect or a wedding or an elegant cocktail reception at work. Burgundy feels right at home paired with accessories in the red color family. Pick something in orange, red, or pink, and stick with warm metals like gold and rose gold.

For a Bold Look: Try a Navy Cocktail Dress

DRESS: NICHOLAS, BAG: ELA HANDBAGS, BRACELET: TORY BURCH ACCESSORIES

The LND—little navy dress—is the new LBD. It acts like a neutral, but it’s so much more eye catching and doesn’t blend in with the background like black so often does. Make it pop with bright accessories. Bold colors love navy, so feel free to get a little wild.

For a Daring Look: Try a Mini Cocktail Dress

DRESS: HALSTON HERITAGE, RING: KENNETH JAY LANE, CLUTCH: REBECCA MINKOFF ACCESSORIES

Feeling a little daring? Experiment with silhouettes. The sleeveless cape detail and shorter hemline is a fresh take on the classic cocktail dress. A good rule of thumb when looking for cocktail party attire is to pick just one area of your body to bare. If you’re going for a mini dress, make sure you’ve got a sleeve of some sort to help bring balance (and some mystery) to your overall look. Go for accessories that won’t be obscured by your sleeves or neckline.

For a Glamorous Look: Try a Gold Cocktail Dress

DRESS: NICOLE MILLER, NECKLACE: ERICKSON BEAMON, CLUTCH: OPENING CEREMONY

If you’re after that classic, old Hollywood look, there’s nothing like shimmying into a gold, knee length cocktail dress to make you feel like a living, breathing Oscar statuette. Add glitz to glam by throwing on a piece of gold statement jewelry and bring it all into the 21st century with a simple yet ultra-modern clutch.

For an Unexpected Look: Try a Cocktail Outfit with Pants

TANK: TIBI, PANTS: NICHOLAS, EARRINGS: EDDIE BORGO

If you want to wear pants to a cocktail event, be prepared to bring the drama. Think sequins, lamé fabric, silk prints, or avant garde silhouettes. In a way, you’re breaking tradition by forgoing the typical cocktail dress, so your pants have a point to prove: I can wear whatever I want, and I’m going to look damn good doing it.

Cocktail attire for women doesn’t have to be boring or trite. Experiment with colors, silhouettes, and even a fun pair of pants for a party-ready look.