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Cocktail Dresses for Women

The cocktail dress is the most versatile formal garment for the modern American woman. Cocktail-length dresses come in almost every conceivable style, and they are available in petite sizes and plus sizes. Depending on things like the material and embellishments, the cocktail dress is appropriate for events ranging from a professional office party to a formal party like a prom or wedding.

What does a modern cocktail dress generally look like?

The modern cocktail dress generally has a hemline that hits anywhere from just above the knee to just below the knee (midi dress). Some of them are unembellished, while others have embellishments like lace, sequins, and appliqués.

Where can you wear a cocktail dress?

Cocktail dresses should be worn to most late afternoon and evening functions that don't specifically require evening gowns. Such events include:

  • Late afternoon and evening work events - A more subtle wool dress in a color like grey, navy, or black is a good choice for people who need to socialize with professional colleagues.
  • Weddings and holiday parties - Cocktail-length dresses are appropriate for any wedding that doesn't specifically ask guests to wear formal evening dress. A guest may choose a floral print dress in a subtle crepe for a daytime wedding, or a chiffon dress with lace accents for an evening wedding. A dress in a festive color like red is a great choice for a Christmas party, and an elegant sequined or beaded dress can help you ring in the New Year.
  • Prom - While long formal dresses were de rigueur for Prom for many years, cocktail-length dresses are now a popular Prom dress choice. Young women who go this route tend to choose dresses that are beaded or embroidered, have sequins or lace, and are made from evening dress fabrics like tulle.

What neckline and fit options are there?

  • Common neckline styles include the V-neck, the bateau neck, the halter neck, and the sweetheart.
  • These gowns are available in fits like the bodycon style and the classic A-line. They also come in looser fits, like the flare dress. Dresses in all cuts are available with fabric that has been pleated, ruched, or draped.

What sleeve options are there?

  • Strapless - Many women who are looking for a party dress or \"going out\" dress choose a strapless gown. They also often pair these frocks with a matching pashmina or other cover-up.
  • Sleeveless - The sleeveless sheath dress is perhaps the most classic cocktail dress silhouette. Many variations on the iconic little black dress are sleeveless.
  • Short sleeves or cap sleeves - People who need dresses for professional or conservative environments may prefer something with short or cap sleeves.
  • Long sleeves - Long-sleeve cocktail dresses are dramatic. The sleeves range from slinky to billowing, along the lines of bell sleeves or kimono sleeves. Some other variations on this look are the one-shoulder dress, the cold-shoulder dress, and the off-the-shoulder dress.