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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. 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.
Read on for the best cocktail dresses for wedding guests, for every style, season, and budget.
Most Show-Stopping: Sachin & Babi Allie Gown
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.
For a Formal Wedding: Marchesa Notte Off-the-Shoulder Duchesse-Satin Midi Dress
This romantic off-the-shoulder 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 Fall Wedding: BHLDN Cali Dress
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.
For a Retro Wedding: Aidan by Aidan Mattox One-Shoulder Puff-Sleeve Dress
Not all LBD’s are created equal. This one-shoulder style makes a glamorous statement with just enough influence from the ‘80s to feel party perfect.
Best for Petites: Anthropologie Antonella Flounced Tunic Dress
The perfect dress for a summer wedding, this mini style is complete with a pretty floral print, flounced hemline, and tunic silhouette. An excellent option for petites, too.
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.
For a Garden Wedding: Needle & Thread Sunset Sequin-Embellished Floral-Print Tulle Gown
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.
Most Fashion-Forward: Aidan by Aidan Mattox Cowl-Back Halter Slip Dress
For the fashion-forward wedding guest, this bright blue 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.
For an Evening Wedding: Bardot Jenny Open Back Sequin Mini Dress
Black may not seem festive for a wedding, that is until you’ve laid eyes on this sequin cutout number. We recommend this look for an evening wedding with minimal accessories.
Attending a wedding soon? We've answered three common questions guests have when shopping for cocktail dresses.
- 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 for floor-length gowns.