Cocktail Wedding Attire: What It Means, What To Wear + 5 Tips! | Bella Bridesmaids

What to Wear When the Wedding Invite Says “Cocktail Attire”

Bella Bridesmaids: Cocktail Wedding Attire [What to Wear/Tips]Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Freehold/Marquee Studio

Wedding dress codes aren’t that complicated. But there are so many different ones that the more wedding invites you receive, the trickier it can be to keep up with them all!

One of the most popular dress codes couples choose for their wedding day is cocktail attire.

Not sure what that means?

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered!

This guide will show you what to wear when a wedding invitation calls for cocktail attire: 

What Is Cocktail Attire?


What is Cocktail Attire? (Bella Bridesmaids)

Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Mobile/Amber Fletcher

The most formal events usually call for white tie or black tie (think tuxedos with bow ties and floor-length gowns). But many couples opt for the cocktail attire dress code instead:

Dressy, elegant, and chic without being too over the top.

The cocktail attire dress code trips many people up, partly because it’s so flexible. Cocktail attire means dressy but not too dressy.

Cocktail attire is dressier than business casual. It’s fancier than the dressy casual dress code and a step above semi-formal attire. Yet, it’s not as fancy as the black-tie optional or black-tie dress code. 

Here’s the bottom line:

If you receive a wedding invitation that says “cocktail attire,” you’ll want to look amazing. That also means looking well-put-together and presenting yourself with elegance and class.

Cocktail Attire: No Need for a Long Dress or Tux


Cocktail attire: no need for long dress or tux

Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Orange County/Alicia Mink

The cocktail dress code gets its name from the cocktail dress, typically a knee-length dress that hits just above or below the knee. But by today’s standards, cocktail attire is open for lots of variations!

When it comes to dresses, there’s no need to wear a red carpet-ready maxi dress. 

Instead, opt for a:

• midi dress
• tea-length dress
• short formal dress that hits at or above the knee

    Not in the mood to wear a dress? Consider a:

    • jumpsuit
    • dress pants with a chic blazer
    • modern pants suit

      If an invite says cocktail attire, leave your tuxedo in the closet. This is not the occasion to dress like James Bond. 

      Instead, rock a button-down dress shirt with a:

      • tailored suit
      • dress pants with a blazer, sport coat, or suit jacket

        Accessorizing is part of the fun, too, so be sure to complete your look with the right accessories. 

        Here’s a chance to put on your best:

        • tie
        • pocket square
        • dress shoes
        • clutch handbag
        • jewelry

          Cocktail attire isn’t defined by any one specific look, so it’s a great opportunity to show off your personal style and excellent fashion sense!


          Consider the Location


          Consider the location when choosing cocktail attire

          Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Denver/Mallory Munson

          Some couples have massive receptions, and others choose to have more intimate celebrations. Either way, it’s always an honor to receive an invite as a wedding guest! 

          So when the invite says cocktail wedding attire, you’ll want to show up looking your absolute best.

          The cocktail wedding attire dress code works for all sorts of different venues, including beach wedding venues and grand ballrooms. It’s also common for what you might think are more casual wedding venues, such as barns, gardens, or even someone’s backyard. 

          When choosing a wedding outfit to wear, keep the location in mind.

          Invited to a beach wedding?

          Rock a cocktail dress in a bold floral print or layer a colorful printed button-down shirt beneath your suit jacket.

          Heading to a cocktail party at a high-end hotel or a beautiful estate?

          Shine in a brocade jacket or embrace embellishments, such as sequins and beading.

          The fancier the venue, the dressier your look can be. But you’ll want to balance that with the time of the event.


          Still deciding on your wedding dress code and theme? How about casual? Read 5 Casual Wedding Ideas for Easygoing Couples!

          Consider the Time of the Event


          When choosing cocktail attire, consider the time of the event

          Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Westport/Twisted Oaks Studio

          The time of the event matters for one main reason — evening events tend to be dressier than daytime events.

          For an evening event, go ahead and get a little bit fancier! Bold accessories like your best diamonds, flashiest watch, favorite cufflinks, and strappy metallic heels are the perfect way to add some glitz to your cocktail look. 

          During the day, you might want to pare back on the jewelry and opt for a pair of classic pumps instead of sky-high stilettos. 

          Wear a tie if you’re attending an evening event at a fancy hotel or ballroom. 

          Are you heading to a reception at a vineyard or a garden party in the afternoon? 

          Then, you can forgo the tie as long as you wear a well-fitting jacket and tailored pants.

          Seasonality matters, too. A short cocktail dress with strappy heels is perfect for a summer wedding. Meanwhile, a midi dress with a peep toe pump is ideal for an outdoor wedding in the fall! 

          Cocktail attire works for day or night, and it works for every season. Therefore, let the time of day, the venue, and the season help steer you in making your final fashion choices.


          Tips for Picking the Perfect Cocktail Dress


          How to Pick the Perfect Cocktail Dress (Bella Bridesmaids)

          Photo: Bella Bridesmaids Miami/Matlock and Kelly

          Now, here are a few tips to keep in mind when choosing your outfit for a wedding calling for cocktail attire:

          There Aren’t Any Fabric Rules

          Cocktail dresses come in a wide variety of fabrics, and as long as the fabric has an elegant vibe, there’s no right or wrong fabric choice. 

          Any dressy fabric can work, whether you love the texture of lace, the shimmer and shine of beads and sequins, or the soft and sumptuous feel of satin or silk.

          Avoid Casual Fabrics 

          Just steer clear of casual fabrics, such as cotton jersey and sweater knits. If it’s a fabric you would wear to brunch or to the office, it’s not right for a cocktail attire wedding.

          Choose a Silhouette That Suits Your Style

          There is no right or wrong choice regarding silhouette either — any neckline and shape can work! Just find a silhouette that you love and that flatters your body, be it a full A-line skirt, a midi slip dress, or a short shift.  

          Match the Sleeve Length to the Time of Year

          All sleeve lengths work as well, but in the interest of comfort, it’s best to choose a sleeve length that fits the season and time of year. Go sleeveless for summer and long sleeve in winter, and you’ll look perfectly appropriate for the moment.

          Select Season-Appropriate Colors

          Keep the season in mind when choosing colors too. Autumnal tones are ideal for fall, and jewel tones are perfect for winter. Pastels and bright colors are perfect choices for spring and summer celebrations. 

          Neutrals work all year round!



          The cocktail attire dress code is flexible. So you’ll want a look that meets the formality of the venue, works for the season, and makes sense for the time of the event.

          Get online or hit some stores and have fun shopping for different silhouettes, colors, and accessories. And when in doubt, just remember this: 

          With the right shoes and accessories, a little black dress and a gray suit never fail! 

          Follow us on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram for even more wedding-day inspiration!

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