What are cocktail dresses?
A cocktail dress is a dress for formal parties and special events, but is a little less formal than a black tie dress. They are usually a little shorter than ball gowns, mostly between knee and calf length, although they can also be shorter. Historically, they tended to be longer, but modern cocktail dresses can be whatever length you prefer. Obviously, this is a pretty broad category, so there is a huge range of dresses that could be considered to be cocktail dresses, from the plain and simple to the super fancy. There is also a style of dress to fit absolutely every body type, so keep reading to find your ideal cocktail dress!
Sexy Cocktail Dresses
Cocktail dresses are the perfect choice for when you want to look sexy but still keep it classy. A sexy cocktail dress is the perfect choice for a semi-formal party or a big night out. Look for fitted styles or cuts that show off your favorite features, whether you fancy a short skirt to show your legs, or a low neckline to highlight your gorgeous cleavage. To avoid veering out of cocktail dress territory into club wear, keep things a little more understated by only showing off one body part at a time. Bear in mind that subtle can be very sexy! You can also draw attention to certain body parts by looking for dresses with sequins or other embellishments, which also help to make the dress more fancy and appropriate for special events.
Maternity Cocktail Dress
Dressing while pregnant can be a little problematic, but there are plenty of cocktail dresses designed to fit a baby bump! This is not a specific style of dress as such, but obviously these dresses are a little different from sexy cocktail dresses, or vintage cocktail dresses. You can look for a shape that entirely skims over your body, or choose an empire waist for a more fitted style. Cocktail dresses are quite often made of slightly more expensive fabrics than everyday clothes, so this is a great opportunity to find a fabric which drapes nicely. Grecian-style cocktail dresses are one popular style which translate very well into maternity wear. There’s no reason for pregnancy to stop you from looking gorgeous at your next formal event!
Bear in mind that your body may well be changing very fast, so try and buy a dress as close as possible to the event, just to avoid any last minute fitting disasters. Look for dresses in comfortable fabrics that aren’t too restrictive, and if possible, wear it for a little while before the event, just to make sure that it will be comfortable. There’s nothing worse than being stuck at a party in a dress that pinches in all the wrong places!
Vintage Cocktail Dresses
While a vintage cocktail dress is technically any cocktail dress from a previous era (usually at least 20 years old, but the definition varies), the term is often used to describe a specific type of cocktail dress, based on 1950s styles. Dresses from other periods may also be described as cocktail dresses, but even modern cocktail dresses are often called ‘vintage style’ if they have a late 1940s or 1950s- style silhouette, with a fitted waist and full skirt. The term ‘cocktail dress’ was actually first used in the 1940s, by Christian Dior, so these reflect the first cocktail dresses!
If you are buying true vintage clothing, you will have to be very careful when checking for quality. Examine all zippers and other fasteners, and check the fabric very careful for stains or holes. Avoid garments with strong smells, because these are extremely difficult to remove, even for a professional cleaner. The necessary repairs and cleaning of vintage clothes can easily get quite expensive, but for a really special dress it may be well worth it!
Cocktail dresses of this style, whether genuine vintage or modern reproductions, make absolutely stunning evening wear because they create the perfect sexy yet classy silhouette. For a truly vintage appearance, look for Asian-inspired brocade fabrics, or beautifully structured retro shapes. In modern dresses inspired by vintage designs, black and white are especially popular choices for a sophisticated look.
Plus Size Cocktail Dress
Cocktail dresses are fantastic for plus-sized women because the huge variety available means that you can choose the perfect dress for showing off all your favorite features. You can choose a sexy dress that shows off your legs or cleavage, or opt for something more understated. Lace is a fantastic fabric for any cocktail dress, and it has the advantage that it lets you cover up and reveal some skin at the same time! Bear in mind that many ‘plus-sized’ dresses are actually designed for vastly different body types, so you may have to try quite a few before you find one that’s perfect, especially if you’re looking for a more precisely fitted style. If this dress is for a very big occasion, or if it’s an investment that you plan to wear a lot, it may be worth paying a little extra to have it tailored exactly to your body.
If you’re an especially busty lady, that gives you something else to think about – while a lot of strapless cocktail dresses have built-in bras, you may find that a proper bra is more comfortable, especially if you’re going to be wearing your dress for a while. If that’s the case, look for cocktail dresses with sleeves or wide straps. Darker colors can help visually slim the body, if that’s what your after, but at a less formal event, bright colors are a great way to have fun with your cocktail dress!
Little Black Dress
Technically just a color of dress, the little black dress is actually so much more! Chic and sophisticated, a black cocktail dress is perfect for pretty much every formal or semi-formal event, and can easily be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. Especially in rich fabrics like lace or velvet, a little black dress is elegant enough for all but the most formal occasions, but as long as there is not too much in the way of sparkle or embellishments, it can also be dressed down for more everyday wear. For the most versatile black cocktail dress, look for classic silhouettes and cuts, and aim for a shorter length to avoid looking too frumpy. Black also makes a great background for stunning accessories, so try using statement jewelry or a stunning bag to completely change the look of your dress. Choose the right little black dress and it will keep making you look fantastic for years!
Finding the perfect cocktail dress for your body shape
Once you’ve decided what type of dress you’d like, and have thought a little about which styles and colors would work for you, it’s time to narrow it down even further! There are so many cocktail dresses out there that it can be overwhelming, so cut down the selection by focusing on which ones would work best on your own personal body shape.
If you are an apple shape, you will have a slightly larger upper body compared to your legs, and probably tend to carry weight around your midsection. You may have quite broad shoulders compared to your narrower hips, and may also have quite full breasts. The most flattering dresses for you are probably those which skim your body, creating a smooth and elongated silhouette. A plunging v-neck will show off your gorgeous cleavage, as well as drawing the eye upwards instead of outwards. Fuller skirts will also help to make your lower body more proportionate to your upper body. Avoid overly clingy fabrics – although actually this applies to cocktail dresses for all body shapes, as cheap fabric ruins the formality of the dress! In terms of color, single-color dresses will probably be most flattering, as they help to unify and elongate the body.
This is probably the most common female body shape, and involves hips which are wider than the rest of the body. Balance your proportions by drawing attention to your upper body – try embellished bodices, or fancy necklines like halter necks. Especially if you are a smaller-busted pear shape, a strapless neckline may really suit you. Alternatively, you can use accessories to do this, like chandelier earrings or a statement necklace.
In terms of the skirt, an A-line or flowing skirt will skim over your hips, but a tighter skirt can also look gorgeous, as long as the fabric is of good quality and well fitted. Go for slightly longer skirt lengths, to avoid creating a ‘band’ of fabric around your hips. Show off your waistline with a fitted dress or belt, or perhaps choose a dress that has different colors on the top and bottom. If you do this, be sure to keep the darker color on the bottom, so that attention is drawn towards your upper body!
If your body has a fairly straight shape, with even hips and shoulders, and not much definition around the waist, then you are a rectangle shape. This can be a very elegant shape (a lot of models have this shape!), but you may want to create the appearance of a curvier figure. Look for dresses that are slimmer at the waist, but avoid any waist details which will add extra bulk. A peplum may create the illusion of a slimmer waist. Alternatively, you could try different colors on the top and bottom of your body.
Like pear shapes, it may be helpful for you to draw attention to your upper body with bright colors, patterns, embellishments or accessories. Detailed necklines will also help to visually add dimension to your upper body. Avoid looser dresses with less fitted silhouettes.
An hourglass body shape tends to be the most admired shape, so choose a cocktail dress to show it off! You have an hourglass body if your hips and shoulders are roughly the same width, with a much narrower waist. A fitted cocktail dress that highlights your gorgeous shape is a good bet, so look for high quality fabrics that will outline your curves without creating any extra lumps or bumps. Defining your waist will make everything look in proportion, and will avoid adding any extra bulk to your shape.
Try fitted bodycon or shift dresses, and experiment with different necklines and skirt lengths depending on whether you want to look sexy or elegant (or both!). You will also look fantastic in 1950s-style dresses with a nipped-in waist and full circle skirt. Essentially, any style that is fitted around the waist will probably suit you! All other details are just a matter of personal taste, and which part of your body you would most like to show off.
If you have narrow hips and broader shoulders, with a large bust, then you are an inverted triangle shape! The best cocktail dresses for you will be the ones that balance out your proportions and stop you from looking too top-heavy. Strapless dresses will probably look good on you, but you should avoid off-the-shoulder necklines, as they will broaden your shoulders even further. Scoop necks and v-necks will also help to create an elegant upper body shape, especially if you have great cleavage to show off. Avoid any detailing around the shoulders.
In terms of the best skirts, look for cocktail dresses which add volume around the hips. Full or A-line skirts make for gorgeous classic cocktail dresses, and they will look great on you! Softer, more draped fabrics will help to give you all the right curves, and will probably suit you better than shift dresses made from stiff fabrics.
Accessorize your cocktail dresses
As the perfect cocktail dress can be a fairly expensive investment, you’ll want to get as much wear out of it as possible. The best way to do this is to use accessories so that your gorgeous dress can be adapted for lots of different events! Obviously plain dresses tend to be the easiest to play up with statement accessories, but you can change the look of any cocktail dress if you put a little thought into it. Sparkly and metallic accessories will add a lot of glamor and make your dress perfect for the evening, while simple black looks chic and striking.
Think about your jewelry, your hair, your bag, and your shoes. Towering stilettos will look very different to flats, and a sleek updo very different to messy beach waves. You can also use accessories to draw attention to your best features. A statement necklace will highlight your cleavage, while bright shoes will draw the eye down your legs.
For the ultimate go-everywhere dress, a little black dress is your best bet – there is no limit to the number of ways you can dress it up! You can even make a cocktail dress work for everyday if you add booties and a cardigan, or even a sweater.