Wedding Goers: Here’s What ‘Cocktail Attire’ Really Means

cocktail attire burgandy black lace dress straight
Christian Vierig/ Getty Images

Don’t get us wrong: We love weddings. But even as the guest, they can be a bit tricky. First, there are all the events leading up the wedding (so...many...showers), then the gifts, flights, hotels, car rentals and, finally, the dress code. With so many weddings requesting “cocktail attire,” we couldn’t help but wonder, What constitutes a cocktail dress, anyway? And is there a definitive explanation? Well, the answer is yes, and here’s the final verdict. 

So, what exactly is cocktail attire? Just like it sounds—something that feels festive and fancy and worthy around a stiff drink. The most forgiving of the dress codes, cocktail attire means you have options. You can wear whatever length and style dress you’d like, but you’re also allowed to branch out from the traditional dress-and-pumps idea. 

What are some specific outfits? An embellished shift, a little black dress, a minimal maxi, a dressy jumpsuit, or a flowy midi skirt. As long as the ensemble appears party-appropriate, you’ll fit right in. You definitely must wear dress shoes, usually with a heel (although fancy flats work, too).

And how does that differ from a formal or black-tie dress code? Formal wear indicates a longer dress hem (aka a gown) for women, and literally means a black tie with a suit jacket for men.

Are pants appropriate? Yes, although this is not the time to dress up your favorite pair of jeans. Instead, opt for a pair of polished trousers if you prefer a more comfortable option. 

What kind of bag should I carry? We recommend a clutch or mini bag, just so it’s easier to hold if you need to bust out some signature dance moves on the fly. 

The bottom line: Be you, be comfortable and be ready to shake what your momma gave you (in that ridiculous culotte jumpsuit, of course). 


Director, Branded Content + Cohost, Royally Obsessed Podcast

As Director of Branded Content at Gallery Media Group, Roberta helps oversee the ideation and execution of sponsored content and experiential campaigns across PureWow and ONE37pm...