What Is Proper Cocktail Party Attire

When it comes to cocktail attire for a party, most people remain puzzled. However, by looking at the invitation and using some common sense, you'll be able to determine exactly the right outfit for that cocktail party.

Read The Invitation
The invitation should give you a clue about how to dress. If you are lucky, it will spell out clearly what to wear, such as "formal attire" or "office attire." If the event is for a business meeting, charity fundraiser or community event, expect it to be more formal than your good friend's weekend gathering. When the party is being held can also give a clue about the expected attire. Cocktail parties held in the evening are considered more formal, while afternoon cocktails are a little more casual. Finally, consider the season, as that can assist in what fabrics are acceptable.

Women
For ultra-formal cocktail parties, a woman should wear a flattering dress that is both elegant and simple. Avoid lots of lace, sparkles or loud prints, and go for a sophisticated look. Many women turn to the "little black dress" for a cocktail party, but use that successful formula as a guideline, not as a requirement, for acceptable formal cocktail party attire.

A more casual cocktail party look for a woman can include knee-length skirts and fitted blouses, a dressy pantsuit or a sweater and skirt. A basic dress or skirt set can be dressed up more by adding bold accessories, such as a necklace or a scarf.

A weekend or outdoor cocktail party requires a slightly different approach when it comes to women. A sundress or halter top dress made of rayon or linen would be just right for an afternoon in the summer, while a cardigan and wool skirt is perfect cocktail party etiquette for a cool autumn afternoon.

Men
Men have it a little easier when it comes to proper cocktail attire. Formal business attire means a suit, period. Choose to wear a heavier wool suit during winter months and a lighter fabric for spring and summer.

Sometimes a cocktail party will specify office attire or office casual. In that case, men can wear khakis paired with a button-down shirt. A blazer or sports coat will pair well with that in cooler months. Other more casual options include a sweater with khakis or even a turtleneck with a blazer and slacks. For a weekend afternoon cocktail party, especially in the summer months, men can wear khakis and slacks with short-sleeved button-down shirts.

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