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How Do I Choose the Best Cocktail Attire?

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  • Written By: Andrea Cross
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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Cocktail parties are semiformal affairs that usually occur in the early evening. As these gatherings are semiformal, there is a generally accepted dress code for both men and women. Although the same style of outfit can be worn year-round, you can change the colors and fabrics of cocktail attire to coordinate with both the season and the formality of the event. When choosing the best cocktail attire, observe what is considered socially appropriate and what is in keeping with the season and event.

For women, appropriate cocktail attire usually includes a cocktail dress. If you feel uncomfortable wearing a dress, substitute a chic pantsuit or skirt suit. When choosing a cocktail dress, select a style that you are comfortable wearing and that suits your body shape. Although a sexier look can be appropriate, it should still be sophisticated and polished. Avoid choosing a dress that displays a lot of cleavage or that is too short, and stick to the adage that either the legs or the chest should be showcased, not both.

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The generally accepted length for a cocktail dress is just above the knee. For more formal gatherings, a longer dress may be a good choice. In terms of color and fabric, your choice of cocktail attire should be based on several considerations. For occasions in the fall or winter, darker or more muted colors tend to be better choices, leaving brighter or pastel shades for the spring and summer. The same rule applies for the formality of the event, with darker or muted colors considered more formal.

Patterns tend to be less formal than solid colors, as are glittery fabrics, although these can be great choices for less formal parties. If you are ever in doubt about the choice of color, the quintessential little black dress, skillfully accessorized, is your best bet. Accessories for your cocktail outfit should be kept tasteful, either consisting of one or two bold statement pieces to accentuate your dress or smaller, more elegant sets. If the event is in autumn or winter, then your cocktail attire should also include appropriate pantyhose.

Choose a purse that is small and easily held in your hand — aptly named clutches are perfect for this. Hair and makeup should be clean and understated. Avoid, for example, brightly colored, very obvious eye shadows. Nails should be manicured and may be painted naturally or with a pop of color to coordinate with your outfit, but it is best to avoid overly long, over styled nails.

Men should generally wear either a suit jacket or blazer and a tie. The colors of the jacket and tie should be based both on the season and the formality of the event. As with cocktail dresses, darker or more muted colors are more appropriate for autumn and winter parties and more formal gatherings. Novelty ties and brighter, patterned shirts, however, are good choices for more fun, casual events.

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