What is Cocktail Attire for Women?


When your social calendar is full of cocktail parties, evening events, and other special occasions, you’ve probably received invitations politely requesting that all guests arrive in cocktail attire. Even for the seasoned partygoer, finding the perfect cocktail attire for women can be a style challenge. Discover how to navigate the cocktail dress code with styling tips from St. John Knits, then complete the look with elegant accessories so you arrive in style at every event. 

Ruffle Knit Halter Neck Dress

Layered Sequin Silk Organza Jumpsuit

What is Cocktail Attire for Women?

Simply put, the code calls for a dress that finishes at the knee or just slightly above. The look is less dressy than black tie occasions but still elegant and evening-appropriate. 

Do: Explore playful designs. This dress code is popular around the holiday season, making it the perfect time to showcase your style. 

Don't: Play outside the lines. Avoid long gowns that can end up looking too formal and revealing neck and hemlines that feel inappropriate. 

When Should Cocktail Attire be Worn?

The key to knowing when to wear cocktail attire is understanding the nature of the celebration. If it feels like a classic evening party, cocktail attire is almost always a sophisticated choice. Engagements parties, holiday events, and graduations are all popular occasions where cocktail attire is suitable. 

Do: Reach out to the host. If you're unsure of the dress code, simply contact them and inquire about what’s appropriate to wear.

Don't: Arrive underdressed. When in doubt, it’s always better to arrive dressed more formally than the occasion requires. 

Choosing Your Cocktail Dress

Cocktail hour is calling, and it's time to choose the perfect dress. As long as the hemline finishes near your knee, you’ve got many options. From chic little black dresses to playful printed styles, cocktail attire is the perfect opportunity to showcase your style.

The Little Black Dress

A timeless classic, the little black dress is effortlessly elegant and easy to pair with just about anything. Sleek knitted styles create a chic silhouette that's perfect for evening attire, while loose silk dresses offer a comfortable and sophisticated alternative for summer events.

Long Sleeve Styles

Classic and elegant, a long-sleeved look is ideal for more conservative events and chilly times of year. A simple black dress is timeless, while a colorful and printed design adds a playful edge to the traditional look. 

Trousers and Jumpsuits

As a modern interpretation of classic cocktail attire, a pair of sleek trousers can make a chic and sophisticated alternative to a dress. An elegant blouse and pants are perfect for evening looks and business-style cocktail events. 

Cocktail Attire Accessories

Put the finishing touches on your cocktail attire with elegant and eye-catching accessories. A classic low to mid heel is standard for cocktail attire and comfortable enough to allow for a few hours of dancing and socializing. Add in a delicate necklace or set of earrings and a petite clutch and you're perfectly styled for an evening out.

Do: Go bold. Bright colors, prints, and sequins are stunning in small amounts. A glittering necklace or vibrant clutch makes an elegant impression when paired with a sleek cocktail dress.

Don't: Go big. Avoid chunky bags and oversized jewelry. Instead, opt for a small clutch and delicate pieces that add visual appeal without overwhelming the outfit. 

Still stuck on what to wear to cocktail hour? St. John Knits designs proprietary textiles for the modern woman, with elegant cocktail dresses that are perfect for every occasion. Browse everything from a classic little black dress to eye-catching sequin pieces to set your style apart.