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What Are Cocktail Dresses?
Things To Remember
- Go for high heels. Avoid flat shoes unless completely unavoidable.
- Choose the right dress line. Go for a full length dress for a black tie (formal) event, knee-length or slightly lower for semi-casual event, and knee-length or higher for casual event.
- Wear hosiery. Sheer black or a nude colour will suffice for the occasion.
- Both open and closed-toe shoes are acceptable for a formal or informal event. If the shoes are open-toe then go for seamless hosiery.
- Avoid wearing skirts or suits (unless your invitation states casual or semi-casual).
What’s a good sleeve length for a cocktail dress?
There are no general rules for the appropriate sleeve length, so wear whatever you’re most comfortable in. Click here for help choosing the right sleeve types.
Do I bring a coat or cover up?
For a late finish cocktail party a coat would be prudent but bringing something as simple as a wrap or light formal jacket would be fine too – you’ll enjoy the party more if you’re not shivering from the temperature.
What necklace goes best with my dress’s neckline?
For V-line dresses – wear a longer necklace with a simple drop for a flattering affect that doesn’t take away from the look. For round neck dresses, a 15 inch or less chain with a decorative pendant or charm works well.
- Loose fitting down the arm, but gathered at the wrist, to allow flowing motion, yet control of the sleeve.
- Fitted much of the way down the arm, but opening into a large bell shape at the bottom.
- These are typical sleeves that will just cover the top of the shoulder.
- Full at the top, but gradually tightening in to a perfectly snug fit at the wrist.
- These sleeves are perfectly fitted from top to bottom and do not have any open space.
- These sleeves are full all the way down and are sometimes made to look fuller through the use of a puff at the top.
- Juliet sleeves are mostly fitted down the arm, but have a puff of fabric at the shoulder.
- These come three-quarters of the way down, ending just below the elbow, and are often relatively tight as well.
Which sleeves are right for you?
If you have attractive arms, you may want to show them off and emphasise them through the use of a cap sleeve that shows your skin, or fitted sleeves, that will show the shape of the arm. If your arms are a little lankier than you would like them to be, you can give them more oomph through the use of a Bishop, Dolman or Gibson sleeve.
Have a little extra weight on your arms than you would like? Juliet or Bell sleeves may be your better options. The Juliet sleeves will let the poof at the shoulder pull eyes away from the rest of your arm that you may not want them to see. Likewise the bell at the bottom of the bell sleeves will make the rest of your arm look smaller, in comparison.
Cocktail Dresses for Your Shape
It’s sleek, sophisticated, and sexy. “But how will it look on me?” you ask. Good question. Before purchasing that perfect cocktail dress you’ve always wanted, there are a few things you may wish to consider. So we all can’t have that ‘model perfect’ body that seems to grace the pages of most magazines these days, but is that any reason not to look your best? Of course not! With a few handpicked tips and tricks, you can emphasise the positives, and downplay the negatives.
Identify your body shape
The most important factor is to choose the right cocktail dress for your shape. While most individuals can identify attributes that will fall into more than 1 category, choose the category that best describes you overall;
- Pear attributes
- What is it? Slender/elongated upper body – Smaller bust – Hips and thighs larger than upper body.
What to look for:
- Find an empire waistline dress or an A-line skirt. These help to de-emphasise your lower half, making the body look more proportional.
- Two-toned dresses with light colours on the top and darker on the bottom will accentuate your torso.
- Padded shoulders will balance the top and bottom.
- Straight attributes
- What is it? Petite chest and bottom – Few visible curves – Slender legs
What to look for:
- A dress that incorporates a multitude of layers that gather
- A surplice tops or wrap accentuates the waist with a flowing skirt
- A cocktail suit with a peplum jacket
- Round attributes
- What is it? Waist curved outwards – Thick or thin legs – Wider appearance
What to look for:
- V-shaped necklines
- Empire waistline dresses
- Eye catching accessories
- Inverted Triangle
- What is it? Broad Shoulders – Narrow waistline – Petite hips
What to look for:
- Asymmetrical hemlines
- Flair skirt with a neutrally coloured top
- Wide legged cocktail suit
- Oversized Hour Glass
- What is it? Tiny waist – Large chest and hips – Small bone structure
What to look for:
- Monotone colours
- Looser fitting clothes
- Flashy accessories to divert attention from curves
Remember that beauty comes not only from style but also from self-confidence. When you feel good about the way you look, it shows. Spend a little time planning and shopping to find that perfect cocktail dress and you’ll be well on your way to turning heads in no time at all.
If you’re going to a ‘casual’ cocktail party but you don’t want to appear underdressed or overdressed for the event – how do you know what’s appropriate as well as in style? Here are a few options:
- Cocktail Suits- If it’s not new then try it on beforehand. Nothing is worse than having a distracting conversation due to someone fidgeting with their clothes
- Skirt and Blouse- A knee length seasonal skirt and a wrap top will definitely do the trick
- Dress – A knee length cotton dress is nice and fun
Stay away from
- Skin tight pants – no matter what kind of get together you’re at tight pants gives the impression that you are wearing an everyday outfit.
- Long dresses – long dresses are usually associated with formal events. If this is a casual get together then you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
- Tank tops and t-shirts – why? This is a cocktail party. Even if the invite says “casual”, a tank top or t-shirt is pretty inappropriate to wear.
Plus Sized Dresses
If you need a dress for that special event, but are afraid you aren’t going to find one that compliments your body shape, you aren’t alone. There are a lot of women who experience stress when it comes time to buying a dress, because of a little extra weight they are holding on to. But this kind of shopping doesn’t have to be stressful. Arm yourself with the knowledge you need so you can shop with confidence.
- Firstly, you need to know the look you want. Fashionable clothes are made in all sizes. Just because you are a little larger, don’t think you can’t find pieces that are stylish. Look through current magazines at the fashion trends.
- Do you need shape wear? Some women like to use undergarments that have some support and help to tuck that tummy when you wear it, if you are going to use these items, you need to have them on when you go shopping.
- When you do find items of clothing that you think may work, try them on. A lot of people like to guess that something will fit. There is no way to know for sure other than to put it on your body. Once it is on take some time to really look at yourself in the mirror. Look specifically at the areas on your body that you know are the trouble spots and see if the dress is flattering.
Tip! One of the best dresses you can get is the proverbial ‘little black dress’. Black is a flattering colour for plus sized women and a little black plus sized cocktail dress can be worn to almost anything. Just dress it up with some jewellery and you’re ready to go.
Cocktail Dresses for Weddings
A cocktail dress is a very versatile dress that can be suited to a number of occasions, so unsurprisingly a wedding is pretty high up on that list of occasions. When it comes to attending weddings, there are a few rules to keep in mind when choosing dress. If your dress is white, forget it. Only the bride gets to wear white. This is her day and no one gets to take that colour except her. Black cocktail dresses are also out at weddings. Black is a bit sombre of a colour for a wedding.
Dressing for the Occasion
Now that you know what colours not to wear, you can focus on what you can wear. If the wedding is semi-formal or an informal evening event, a regular cocktail dress will do just fine. If it’s a formal evening event, you can still wear a cocktail dress, but it needs to be very dressy (think beaded or heavily accented with a wrap and stunning jewellery.
Have you ever received an invitation to a special event that calls for semi-formal attire? Are you unsure of what that means? If so, you’re not alone.
Don’t let the wording intimidate you. Semi-formal attire is basically an outfit that is dressier than what you’d wear to an office but not as dressy as a formal evening gown or tuxedo. If the event is held in the evening (after 6:00 p.m.), the semi-formal guidelines lean more toward the formal than if it were during the day.
Semi-formal attire is typically worn to weddings, holiday parties, and to fine restaurants. Some teen and preteen dances are designated semi-formal.
If you receive an invitation that states semi-formal as the required or preferred style of dress, you have a wide range of choices. It fits somewhere between casual and formal, so you might need to clarify specifically what is meant if you aren’t sure. There’s nothing wrong with contacting the host to ask for more specific information.
Semi-Formal for Women
Women have quite a few options with semi-formal attire. This may include a pantsuit in a dressy fabric, such as silk, cashmere, or satin.
A dress or dressy suit with a dressy top, with heels, strappy sandals, or dressy flats may also be worn. Sparkling gemstones, pearls, and dressy fashion jewelry are all appropriate. However, be careful not to overdo it, or you’ll look more like you’re in costume than semi-formal wear.
Semi-Formal for Men
Men should wear a conservative dark suit with a dress shirt to a semi-formal event. A vest that matches the suit is optional. In most cases, a tie should be worn, but in some cases, it isn’t necessary.
If in doubt, wear a tie. You can always take it off later. A belt that matches dress shoes and dark socks are essential. Subtle jewelry is appropriate.
Semi-Formal for Teen and Pre-Teen Girls
The teenage girl’s age and type of event help to determine what is appropriate for semi-formal attire. Some of the events a girl might need to dress in semi-formal attire might include a dance, holiday party, sweet sixteen parties, or prom.
A girl going to a middle school dance may wear a short dress with sequins at the neckline or all-over glitter. If the dress has a lot of sparkles, wear less shiny jewelry so it doesn’t compete. For a dress that isn’t shiny, add sparkling rhinestone jewelry for a more festive look.
A girl in high school might choose a more fitted or off-shoulder dress for her special occasion. Before you go shopping, make sure you know what is allowed at the event. Some schools may have a dress code that prohibits plunging necklines, strapless dresses or tops, and high slits at the hem.
Semi-Formal for Teen Boys
Teen boys should wear something similar to what men would wear to a semi-formal event. Start with a nice pair of dress pants, a button-front shirt, a tie, and a jacket. Or you can wear a dark suit. You may even be able to wear a lighter suit to daytime summer events. Complete the ensemble with a pair of dark dress shoes (dressy loafers, oxfords, or lace-up shoes). Always wear socks to a semi-formal event.
Semi-formal occasions call for good grooming. Make sure you are clean, your hair is combed, and your nails are clean. Tuck in your shirt and make sure your tie hangs at the right level. If you need help, most adults will be happy to give you some assistance with the tie.
Many weddings call for guests to wear semi-formal attire. You want to look your best, but you don’t want to upstage the bride, so avoid white or off-white. A cocktail dress is generally your best bet for most semi-formal weddings. You may also wear a dressy pantsuit with heels and sparkly jewelry. If in doubt, there is nothing wrong with talking to the bride or someone in the bridal party to prevent committing a faux pas.
If the wedding is outdoors, you may wear a maxi-dress with strappy or embellished sandals that are appropriate for walking on the sand. Heels might get stuck in the grass or sand and make walking difficult, so if you aren’t sure, ask someone in the wedding party where the ceremony will take place. Carry a shrug, scarf, or shawl in case a cool breeze blows through