What to wear to a cocktail wedding, according to fashion stylists

Dress codes can be tricky, so we’re breaking down the basics.

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On the hierarchy of wedding rules, “cocktail” is way down the bottom.

In this context, the word “cocktail” loses all meaning. You dream of alcoholic drinks garnished with fruit, but in reality those delicious drinks have nothing to do with this ambiguous dress policy. If you think a date night outfit will do for a cocktail dress wedding, you’re wrong. However, if you’re into formal wear? Well, you’re wrong again.

So where is the happy medium? It’s there happy medium? Or are we stuck thinking about this heinous fashion query the rest of the time?


These are the types of questions that keep cocktail wedding attendees up at night. These are also the questions we asked the experts so we could finally get some sleep and dress appropriately for such an occasion.

“Nothing brings people together like a vague dress code,” says Rahimah Yoba in style, unironically. The celebrity stylist and costume designer explains that cocktail attire has evolved over the years and will likely continue to evolve with current events like the pandemic, the conversation about gender and pronouns, as well as the introduction of virtual reality and the metaverse.

“[Cocktail attire] is now a mix of comfort and ease with a touch of glamor and gender-neutral silhouettes,” Yoba says of the dress code. “It’s fun, free and stylish with a touch of individuality.”

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If you’re looking for a clearer definition, celebrity style duo Danielle and Alix sum up cocktail attire as “a balance between formal and casual.” It’s elevated, appropriate and gives participants more freedom to play with their looks.


“[It’s not as] as conservative as a black-tie dress code,” the couple told InStyle. “You can go for suits, interesting silhouettes, bright colors and statement accessories.”

Is the fog starting to clear?

If these definitions are still too vague, we’ve done our due diligence. In advance, fashion experts provide detailed examples of their outfits for cocktail wedding guests. Hopefully they provide some much-needed inspiration if you’ve embraced this dress code and are now stuck in front of your closet wondering what to wear.

Try a long dress

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Tea-length hems fall below the knee, but above the ankle, somewhere around mid-calf. Story by celebrity stylist Dani Michelle (who currently works with DSW). In style this style of dress, in fabrics like satin, silk, crepe or velvet, is her favorite for events where the dress code is cocktail attire.

“Tea-length dresses are the perfect moment to show off really special shoes,” says the stylist about the style. “Rands like Khaite, Galvan and Alex Perry have a wonderful range from fitted to relaxed in their collection.”

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Think Small

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If you don’t already have something suitable in your wardrobe, says Dani Michelle In style one of her clever tricks is to take a formal dress that you feel you’ve worn too much and shorten it. By reinventing the cocktail dress number, you’ll breathe new life into a tired wardrobe favourite.

“I even love an ankle wrap shoe with a cocktail dress to make it a little sexier and less formal,” she says. “DSW has endless options for strappy shoes and cocktail attire.”


Stick to the classic formula

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Danielle and Alix are talking In style their formula for “cocktail attire” is a midi dress plus a special shoe and bag.

“This structure feels timeless and feminine and allows some personality to shine through. Some shoe designers we love for this type of occasion include Rene Caovillo (especially their snakes!) and Sophia Webster; their heels can make any simple dress pop. Plus, we’re big fans of Judith Leiber’s new clutches and Paco Rabanne’s iconic glitter bags.”

Swap the dress for a suit

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“Formal wear and tailored suits are now seen in the same environment as edgy, oversized women’s pantsuits and deconstructed blouses,” says Yoba. This means that if you are not a fan of dresses, it is not a problem. If you do opt for a structured pantsuit over a dress, the stylist says all you need to do is accessorize with sparkling jewelry to elevate the look, which will instantly transform it from daywear to cocktail attire.

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