what are cocktail dresses

What Are Cocktail Dresses? Here’s the Answer, Plus 11 Cocktail Attire Options

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Cocktail dresses play such a chic role in a woman’s wardrobe. But you might be scratching your head and wondering, “What are cocktail dresses?” To answer your question, cocktail dresses are semi-formal dresses that are suitable for many special occasions.

Cocktail dresses first came into the fashion scene during the American Lexicon in 1803 when women were allowed to drink at parties – thanks to the women’s liberation movement.

Cocktail dresses became a perfect choice for a cocktail event, however, at the time they were called “party dresses” or “the late afternoon frock”. The dresses differed from floor-length gowns and evening dresses to ones with a shorter length (just below the knee), making them easier and more practical for parties. Not only were they different in length but in material as well.

Cocktail dresses were made from lightweight materials like cotton and linen, as well as wool, while tulle and satin were used for evening gowns. The dresses were still elegant enough for partying but less formal than traditional ball gowns.

They gained prominence during the 1920s and 1930s and were synonymous with flappers, who preferred to wear them to cocktail parties. The dresses were worn with matching hats, shoes, and gloves. The name “party dress” was later dubbed “cocktail dress” by Christian Dior in the 1940s.

As said earlier, cocktail dresses can be worn for many special occasions. Yes, not just a cocktail party! For example, this party wear would be an ideal choice for work events, gatherings, and with wedding season upon us, weddings. Here are some amazing cocktail dress ideas to wear as a wedding guest.

1. Rory Midi Dress

Once you put on this black cocktail dress, it will instantly make you feel confident and look chic. The slim straps and fitted silhouette make the dress so classy and expensive-looking. Panels of fringe on the side of the dress provide an eye-catching, flapper-inspired touch. When you’re on the dance floor, the fringe will create a beautiful movement. Complete it with statement earrings and strappy heels you’re ready for your social event.

2. Bailey Off-the-Shoulder Dress

If you’re looking for classy yet alluring cocktail dresses, strapless dresses are always a good idea. The sweetheart neckline adds a certain appeal, but the long hemline balances it out perfectly. Pair it with a cute clutch and dressy flats to complete your look.

3. Beyond Classy Satin Halter Midi Dress

A great way to look great as a wedding guest is by picking a cocktail dress in a silky fabric, like this one! The soft material makes the entire dress look so fancy and the blush pink hue is very feminine and timeless. The dress features a slit to give it a flirty touch. Pair pieces in neutral hues like silver, nude, or gold heels.

4. Juniper Halter Ruffle Hem Crepe Dress

Got a formal wedding party invite in the mail? Black dresses are your best bet for achieving a knockout look. For example, this halter neck number would be an excellent choice. The long dress has a body-skimming effect, but what makes this dress extra special is the pouf of taffeta ruffles on the hem for a statement look.

5. Satin Lavallière-Neck Mini Dress

For an extra elegant look, go for one in classic satin caramel. This one features a large bow tie on the neck, a gathered fitted waist, and long sleeves with buttoned cuffs. Polish off your dress with black sheer tights and dressy flats for an elegant finish.

6. Appelona Anglaise Long Sleeve Eyelet Minidress

Lace cocktail dresses exude effortless elegance, which is why you need this dress in your closet. The dress is adorned with airy broderie anglaise charms. It also boasts fluted arms and cute frills. Be like the model and pair your dress with white low heel sandals.

Related: 21 Cute and Affordable Amazon Spring Wedding Outfits for Guests (2023)

7. Floral Puff Sleeve Minidress

Floral prints look so sweet for summer weddings. After all, it is a style that celebrates the optimistic energy of the sunny season. Get your floral dress in a puff sleeve style for a charming flair. Since it’s a summer wedding, you can team up your dress with a straw bag. Round off your look with white sandals.

8. Love, Nickie Lew Satin Side Ruffle Dress

Since wearing white to a wedding is not something to do, you can get away with wearing silver! As long as it doesn’t resemble white, of course. The ruffles on this glossy dress add a dash of elegance and charm. Go the extra mile and match your silver satin dress with silver strappy heels to create a perfect monochromatic look. Metallic silver is having a moment this year and a formal event is a perfect time to try it out for yourself.

9. Petite Ruffled Ruched Chiffon Dress

Lilac is a cute and romantic color to wear to a wedding, especially during warmer weather like spring and summer. It looks even more pretty when it shimmers with shiny dots and is decorated with frilly ruffles. The ruffled cap sleeves also add a gentle and innocent element to the petite dress. Complete your cocktail dress with fine jewelry like dainty earrings.

10. Laura Stretch Velvet Halter Bodycon Mini Dress

A classic little black dress is a great option to wear to a black-tie wedding. The crystals on the halterneck give the dress some glitz and glamour. You will also love that the dress is stretchy, meaning that it can work well for most body shapes. Pair your cocktail outfit with low heel sandals and a chic black clutch.

11. Petite Marina V-Neck Self-Tie Waist Belted Wrap Dress

Wrap dresses are a must-have item to have in your wedding guest dress collection. They are so stylish and will never go out of style! The self-tie waist helps to accentuate the waist, and the peach color makes it a great dress to wear in the summer.

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If you were wondering what cocktail attire is, this mini-lesson has helped you gain some fashion knowledge on such an iconic dress.

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What are cocktail dresses?


Hi! My name is Temwa and I have an obsession with all things lifestyle. Whether it's home decor, classy fashion, beauty products, or gift ideas -- you will find me writing about those topics. When I'm not sitting at my laptop, you will find me making press-on nails over the weekend!