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. According to wedding experts, cocktail attire falls between formal and casual and often translates to midi and knee-length dresses. Yet depending on the venue, season, and even time of day of the wedding, you can get by with different lengths and fabrics.
A midi dress that hits at the knee is a popular choice for cocktail wedding guest attire.
To help you find an outfit you love and feel confident showing up in, we researched the best cocktail dresses available online. We ensured our list covers all wedding destinations, seasons, and themes. We also looked for styles in wide size ranges, various fabrics, and silhouettes. Most importantly, we looked for versatile designs you can — and will want to — wear again.
Lulus Floral Print Off-the-Shoulder Maxi Dress
Size Range: XS-XL | Materials: Polyester | Colors: Black Floral, Blue Floral
This floor-sweeping dress in a rich berry hue is striking for an early fall, evening wedding, complete with a tiered hemline and frilled detailing along the neckline and sleeves. Tonal accessories in red and tan will help maintain an autumnal feel.
Price at time of publish: $79
Best Wrap Dress
Zimmermann Silk-Charmeuse Wrap Mini Dress
Size Range: XS-L | Materials: Silk | Colors: 6
For a late spring or early fall wedding, we love this copper-colored mini dress with a flouncy hemline. The color of the dress is practically made for transition seasons, and you’re guaranteed to make an impression in this on the dance floor. The shorter length and draping details make it a perfect cocktail dress. It's also available in five other colors.
Price at time of publish: $625
Norma Kamali Diana Gown
Size Range: XXS-XL | Materials: Polyester, Spandex | Colors: 8
Despite being form-fitting, this dress is not too revealing thanks to expertly placed ruching. It is also designed to hit below the knee, making it an appropriate length for all kinds of ceremonies. Coming in a range of colors, there's a shade for all weddings year round.
Price at time of publish: $215
ASOS Design Curve Fallen Shoulder Ruched Front Midi Dress
Size Range: 12-26 | Materials: Polyester, Elastane | Colors: Black
Channel your inner Princess Diana in this black, body-hugging dress. Even though it has an off-the-shoulder neckline, you still get the support of two straps. Plus, the ruched skirt creates a flawless silhouette. With its black shade and timeless design, you can certainly wear it more than once.
Price at time of publish: $58
Reformation Kourtney Dress
Size Range: 0-12 | Materials: Viscose | Colors: 5
We love the romantic feel of this floral print. The thin straps and leg-baring slit make this dress feel sweet yet bold for any wedding guest. Plus, its cornflower blue hue is equally appropriate for spring, summer, and fall weddings.
Price at time of publish: $248
Camila Coelho Deep-V Dress
Size Range: XXS-XL | Materials: Polyester, Elastane | Colors: Periwinkle Blue, Yellow
For the daring minimalist, this sleek and sexy dress is a lovely choice for an evening summer wedding. Style the skin-baring design and pastel hue with strappy metallic sandals and minimal jewels to make it an especially great look for a beach or destination wedding.
Price at time of publish: $180
Hutch Bow Tie Dress
Size Range: 00-26, petite | Materials: Cotton, Spandex | Colors: Blue, Rust
For the fashion-forward wedding guest, this two-tone dress is gorgeous for a city wedding. With unique design details, we suggest clean and simple accessories so the dress can remain the focal point. Although it's a maxi, the cotton and spandex blend makes it casual enough for a daytime or evening ceremony.
Price at time of publish: $218
Best for Petites
Bronx & Banco Megan Mini Dress
Size Range: XS-XL | Materials: Polyester | Colors: Rose
The perfect dress for a spring or summer wedding, this ultra-feminine mini style is complete with a pretty floral print, flounced hemline, and tunic silhouette. It's an excellent option for petite sizes, thanks to its plunging neckline and short hemline, which creates the illusion of longer legs. Overall, you can't go wrong with such a whimsical style that hits above the knee for any cocktail event.
Price at time of publish: $396
Staud Dolce Dress
Size Range: XS-XL | Materials: Viscose, Nylon | Colors: Black, Navy, Coral
If comfort is key, look no further than this black and white cutout dress. We love it for an afternoon wedding in the summer as it's casual enough for a daytime affair and has cutouts to help keep you cool. It looks beautiful on any body type, making it a universal winner. Accessorize with bright colors like neons or pastels for added oomph.
Price at time of publish: $275
Lulus Strapless Jumpsuit
Size Range: XXS-XL | Materials: Polyester, Spandex | Colors: 7
For those that really want to get down on the dance floor, a jumpsuit is ideal. Though this style is quite simple, it's the fluttering bodice and plunging neckline that elevate it enough for a wedding. A high fitted waist and wide legs also elongate your legs. From classic black to bold magenta, Lulus has all the shades to suit your mood.
Price at time of publish: $68
BHLDN Cali Satin Cowl-Neck Midi Slip Dress
Size Range: 00-26 | Materials: Polyester | Colors: 14
You can't go wrong with a slip dress, especially when it comes in 14 colors to suit different seasons and locations. Not to mention, the dreamy satin fabric and body-skimming fit are ultra-flattering. Dress up this minimalist slip with a fun pair of shoes or a statement clutch.
Price at time of publish: $168
Best for a Destination Wedding
Farm Rio Full of Flowers Midi Sundress
Size Range: XXS-XL | Materials: Cotton | Colors: Blue
Make a splash at a summer wedding in this vibrant midi dress by Brazilian brand FARM Rio. The print is playful and fresh on its own and made even better with colorful accessories. It also has a casual feel that's perfect day or night. As a bonus, 100 percent cotton helps keep you cool during a sweltering evening spent on the dance floor.
Price at time of publish: $220
Best All-Over Sparkle
Retrofête Gabrielle Sequin Mini Dress
Size Range: XXS-XXL | Materials: Viscose | Colors: 4
This sequin dress is how you do sequins when the dress code calls for cocktail attire. We recommend this look for an evening wedding with minimal accessories. We love how the blouson sleeves and tie-waist balance the shorter hem.
Price at time of publish: $675
For a Winter Wedding
Fame and Partners The Shay
Size Range: Custom | Materials: Matte Satin | Colors: 11
The great thing about Fame and Partners is that you can customize their dresses, from the color to the length. We love this sophisticated look for the draping detail, tulip skirt, and blouson sleeves. The rich jewel tone makes it ideal for a late fall or winter wedding.
Price at time of publish: $268
Best Little Black Dress
LPA Aurora Dress
Size Range: XXS-XL | Materials: Polyester, Elastane | Colors: Black
Take your classic little black dress to the next level with this head-turning feathered number. We recommend this look for an evening wedding with minimal accessories to let the dress do all the talking!
Price at time of publish: $158
LoveShackFancy Tink Maxi Dress
Size Range: 00-14 | Materials: Silk | Colors: Yellow
With ethereal patchwork printed fabric, this maxi dress is nothing short of showstopping. The light billowing ruffles and high-low hemline make it ideal attire for a seaside wedding or a daytime spring ceremony where you'll be walking through sand or grass.
Price at time of publish: $695
Show Me Your Mumu Stella Smocked Dress
Size Range: XS-XXL | Materials: Polyester | Colors: Pink Floral
With a stretchy smocked bodice, this dress is perfect for those expecting. The adjustable straps offer a better fit for all chest sizes. Even those who aren't pregnant can't resist this vibrant floral design.
Price at time of publish: $228
What to Look for in Cocktail Attire
Cocktail attire is usually worn to semi-formal and formal weddings, 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. Not only does Farm Rio Midi Sundress come in a vivid print, but the cotton fabric will keep you cool during a summer wedding. For the fall and winter, you can gravitate towards heavier fabrics and jewel tones, like Fame & Partners Satin Shay Dress.
Next, consider what type of venue it is. For an outdoor wedding, you can easily get away with light, floaty 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. A classic slip dress, like this one from BHLDN, is ideal for these indoor weddings. Beading and sequins in a shorter length, like this sparkly dress from Retrofete, can also work well for a classy cocktail look.
Time of Day
Lastly, think about the time of day the ceremony will be held. In the morning or early afternoon, a slightly more casual dress is entirely appropriate. We can totally see guests wearing this loose maxi design from LoveShackFancy for a garden or beach wedding during the daytime. For an evening ceremony, you can step up your light black dress with feathered accents like in LPA Aurora Dress.
What is a cocktail dress?
Cocktail attire is a delicate balance between formal and casual, as well as elegant and comfortable. For ladies, that typically equates to a midi or mini-length dress and heels.
What is an appropriate dress length for a cocktail dress?
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. While cocktail attire offers more freedom to play with colors, prints, materials, and length, it's still nice to find something classy and elegant for a formal wedding. You can even wear a maxi, but in this case, it’s best to opt for a more casual fabric.
Can I wear a cocktail dress to a black-tie wedding?
A black-tie dress code tends to be more formal than cocktail attire, and therefore typically requires 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.