17 Stunning Cocktail Dresses for Wedding Guests

Gorgeous silhouettes and pretty prints for any season.

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Brides / Chloe Jeong

If you’ve had a wedding save-the-date (or several) prominently placed on your refrigerator, the chances are good that said nuptials have been postponed or rescheduled. As a wedding guest, that can be a good thing: It means you have a lot more time to search for the perfect outfit.

What Is Cocktail Attire?

Cocktail attire is usually worn to semi-formal and formal weddings. Typically, if a wedding dress code calls for cocktail attire, women will wear a knee-length party dress and men will a suit and tie.

If cocktail attire was the requested dress code for an upcoming wedding, that could leave a lot of room for interpretation as a wedding guest. So, you’ll want to consider a few things. First, what season is the wedding? If it’s in the spring or summer, bright colors, playful prints, and pastel shades are idyllic while deep jewel tones and metallic fabrics are gorgeous in the fall and winter.

Then, what type of venue is it? For an outdoor wedding, you can easily get away with lighter and floatier fabrics like cotton, eyelet lace, jersey, or chiffon. If the wedding is in a banquet hall or a historic building, elegant fabrics like satin, velvet, and taffeta are perfectly polished. Beading and sequins can totally work for a cocktail look, too, in a shorter length.

Another consideration is the time of day. If the ceremony is in the morning or early afternoon, a dress that skews more casual is entirely appropriate, while late afternoon and evening weddings call for more formal elegant styles.

Read on for the best cocktail dresses for wedding guests, for every style, season, and budget.

Most Daring: Camila Coelho Deep-V Dress

cocktail dress

Courtesy of Revolve

For the daring minimalist, this sleek and sexy dress is a lovely choice for an evening summer wedding. We like it with strappy metallic sandals and minimal jewels. 

For a Fall Wedding: BHLDN Cali Dress

cocktail dress

Courtesy of Anthropologie

Rust is an utterly chic color choice for a fall or winter wedding. Dress up this minimalist slip with a fun pair of shoes or a statement clutch.

Most Flattering: Michael Costello X Revolve Midi Dress

cocktail dress

 Courtesy of Revolve

Not only is periwinkle a universally flattering color, but the expertly placed ruching on this strapless gown makes for a flattering fit for almost every body type.

Best Floral Pattern: Reformation Kourtney Dress

yellow dress

Courtesy of Reformation

We love the light feel of this floral print. To wit, the thin straps and show of leg make this dress feel sweet yet statement-making as a wedding guest. 

For a Winter Wedding: Fame and Partners The Shay

green dress

Courtesy of Fame and Partners

The great thing about the Fame and Partners brand is that you can customize the dresses—from the color down to the length. We love this sophisticated look for the draping detail, tulip skirt, and blouson sleeves.

Most Feminine: Sister Jane Point Jacqaurd Tiered Midi Dress

pink dress

Courtesy of Shopbop

A tiered midi dress is so romantic for a wedding, especially in a pretty pink hue. The square neckline and scalloped hem are beyond eye-catching.

Most Comfortable: Staud Dolce Dress

cocktail dress

 Courtesy of Staud

If comfort is key, look no further than this black and white cutout dress. We love it for an afternoon wedding in the summer. 

For a Garden Wedding: Needle & Thread Sunset Sequin-Embellished Floral-Print Tulle Gown

cocktail dress

Courtesy of Net-a-Porter

We can’t think of a more idyllic garden wedding-guest dress than this peach sunset number by Needle & Thread. Keep accessories neutral so the whimsical floral print can shine. 

Best Budget: Boohoo Boutique Floral Split Sleeve Wrap Dress

cocktail dress

Courtesy of Bohoo

If you’re looking for a romantic and affordable floral-print midi dress, look no further than this flowing number from Boohoo. It’s incredibly versatile for spring and summer weddings both in the day and night. 

For a Formal Wedding: Monique Lhuillier Cobalt Dress

blue dress

Courtesy of Net-a-Porter

This romantic polka-dot number is the epitome of elegance. If you're looking for the perfect cocktail dress for a formal wedding that isn't black, your search stops here.

For a Summer Wedding: Self-Portrait Guipure Lace Mini Dress

lace dress

Courtesy of Matchesfashion

For a summer wedding, opt for a lace dress with cutouts. Not only will cutouts give your look some sexy edge, but you'll also appreciate the ventilation on a hot summer night.

Best All-Over Sparkle: Retrofete Sequin Mini Dress

sequin dress

Courtesy of Revolve

This sequin dress is how you do sequins for a cocktail dress code. We recommend this look for an evening wedding with minimal accessories. 

Most Colorful: Roopa Pemmaraju Floral Midi Dress

colorful dress

Courtesy of Anthropologie

Make a splash at a summer wedding in this vibrant midi dress. The print is playful and fresh on its own, and even better with colorful accessories.  

For a Retro Wedding: Givenchy Bow-Embellished Mini Dress

mini dress

Courtesy of Matchesfashion

Not all LBD’s are created equal. This plissé-satin style makes a glamorous statement with just enough influence from the ‘80s to feel party perfect.  

Best Florals for Fall: Love The Label Smocked Maxi Dress

floral dress

Courtesy of Anthropologie

Florals may feel decidedly spring, but this mixed-print dress is a gorgeous interpretation for a fall or evening wedding.

Most Unique Neckline: Lulus Floral Print Off-the-Shoulder Maxi Dress

floral dress

Courtesy of Lulus

This floor-sweeping dress is striking for an early fall wedding, complete with a tiered hemline and frilled detailing along the neckline and sleeves. Tonal accessories in red and tan help maintain an Autumnal feel.  

Best Embroidered: BHLDN Organza Midi Dress

mint dress

Courtesy of BHLDN

With flutter sleeves and an asymmetrical hemline, this silk dress is nothing short of showstopping. The light green hue makes it ideal for a seaside wedding or spring ceremony. 

What to look for in cocktail attire

Cocktail attire is all about party-ready silhouettes, fun details, and shorter hemlines. To help you nail down the perfect cocktail attire for any upcoming wedding, it's always helpful to take the season and wedding venue into consideration. For summer weddings, we love breezy lace dresses in soft pastels and bright hues, while jewel tones and sequined fabrics feel especially appropriate for fall and winter nuptials. Finally, while cocktail dresses are generally a midi length or higher, you can still wear a maxi, but in this case, it’s best to opt for a more casual fabric.

FAQ
  • What is a cocktail dress?

    Cocktail attire is a delicate balance between formal and casual and elegant and comfortable. For ladies, that typically equates to a dress and heels.

  • What's an appropriate dress length?

    Knee-length is great, though it can vary. As a general rule, try to avoid wearing anything that's too short, tight, or low cut.

  • Can I wear a cocktail dress to a black-tie wedding?

    A black-tie dress code tends to be more formal than cocktail and the attire usually consists of floor-length gowns.

Why Trust Brides

Contributing writer Laura Lajiness covers fashion, accessories, and fine jewelry. Her work can be seen across various outlets, including ELLE, InStyle, Glamour, Refinery 29, The Zoe Report, Popsugar, Well+Good, and Barneys New York, among other titles and brands. She was the senior fashion editor at The Zoe Report and Popsugar with additional experience as a copywriter and fashion publicist.

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