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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.
Best Maxi: Sachin & Babi Ivy Dress
With delicate ruffle accent sleeves and a flowing silhouette, this maxi dress is nothing short of showstopping. The light blue floral makes it ideal for a seaside wedding or spring ceremony.
For a Garden Wedding: Needle & Thread Floral Dress
We can’t think of a more idyllic garden wedding-guest dress than this nature-inspired number by Needle & Thread. Keep accessories neutral so the pretty floral print can shine.
Best All-Over Sparkle: Retrofete Sequin Mini Dress
This sequin dress is how you do sequins for a cocktail dress code. We recommend this look for an evening wedding with minimal accessories.
For a Formal Wedding: Monique Lhuillier Polka-Dot Flocked Tulle Midi Dress
This romantic polka-dot number is the epitome of elegance. If you're looking for the perfect cocktail dress for a formal wedding that feels both playful and feminine, your search stops here.
Most Daring: Camila Coelho Deep-V Dress
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.
Best for Petites: For Love & Lemons Bronx & Banco Megan Mini Dress
The perfect dress for a spring or summer wedding, this mini style is complete with a pretty floral print, flounced hemline, and tunic silhouette. It's an excellent option for petites, too.
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.
What Is a Cocktail Dress?
What Is 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?
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.