Have you received an invitation which says “cocktail attire” this season? Or do you just need a fabulously versatile dress for any occasion? Well the cocktail dress is your answer. This article has our picks of the best cocktail dresses for your next event.

It’s one of the most versatile, stylish dresses you can have in your closet. But it’s more than that. The best cocktail dresses can take you from semi-formal to more formal occasions.

What exactly is a cocktail dress?

Put simply, it’s a dress that hits anywhere from knee-length to ankle length that you can wear for everything from dinner to parties.

To help you in your quest for the perfect dress, you’ll find below some of the best cocktail dresses in stores right now, as well as how to wear them.

A classic cocktail dress can take you anywhere.

The most important thing when choosing a cocktail dress is – do you feel good in it?

Cocktail dresses as a dress code

If you’re invited to an event where the dress code says “cocktail attire” you can’t go wrong with a dress with finishes either just above, just below, or on the knees, worn with heels.

However, just because a cocktail dress tends to be a certain length, that doesn’t mean you can’t choose a dress which suits your individual body type and style.

You can opt for a dress with sleeves, a sleeveless gown, one-shouldered or strapless.

New Year is just around the corner so you may also want to check out are outfit ideas for NYE!

cocktail dresses for weddings

A cocktail dress can be a beautiful option for a wedding. Any of these dresses (below) would be a good option for you if you are a wedding guest, although you may want to avoid wearing white.

Take a look at what to wear to a wedding.

Lizzy in light blue cocktail dress fit for a wedding | 40plusstyle.com

Lizzy @whatlizzyloves above (read her style interview here) opts for a beautiful blue dress that would be ideal as wedding guest attire.

Get her look with this similar maxi dress (other options here and here), sandals, clutch and headband (another option here).

Cocktail attire for women when you don’t want to wear a dress

What if you simply aren’t a dress kind of person? Or you don’t fancy wearing a dress that night?

Don’t worry, the cocktail attire dress code is not quite as formal as it once was.

You could always channel your inner Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker or Katharine Hepburn and choose a tuxedo jacket and pants instead.

Tahari ASL Peplum Blazer & Pants | 40plusstyle.com

Tahari ASL Peplum Blazer & Pants

Or how about opting for a jumpsuit? Jumpsuits are just as suitable for a cocktail event as a dress. Just make sure you choose a jumpsuit in a material and shape suitable for the occasion.

Ramy Brook Myra Asymmetric Pleated Satin Jumpsuit | 40plusstyle.com

Ramy Brook Myra Asymmetric Pleated Satin Jumpsuit

The best cocktail dresses in stores now

But if you are looking for a beautiful, classic cocktail dress which will take you to everything from dinner to a party, below are some of the best options for women over 40 in stores now.

Black cocktail dress

You can’t go wrong with a little black dress.

You can always stand out from the crowd by looking for one with interesting details such as an embellished neckline or flared hem.

Best cocktail dresses: Teri Jon by Rickie Freeman Asymmetric Peplum Minidress | 40plusstyle.com

Teri Jon by Rickie Freeman Asymmetric Peplum Minidress

The best cocktail dresses in stores now | 40plusstyle.com

Souri @fabfemme_australia above (read her style interview here) chooses a textured black dress with bow details.

Recreate her outfit with this similar dress (other options here and here), pumps and crossbody bag.

Red cocktail dress

If you aren’t keen on showing off certain parts of your body, such as your tummy, then maybe you could opt to show off a bit of shoulder instead.

Amsale Draped Satin One-Shoulder Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Amsale Draped Satin One-Shoulder Midi-Dress

White cocktail dress

While you will definitely find plenty of black dresses at any cocktail party, how about wearing white?

You can make your white dress winter ready by pairing with black accessories and a black shrug for a stylish, monochrome look.

Best cocktail dresses: Dress the Population Emery Long Sleeve Sequin Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Dress the Population Emery Long Sleeve Sequin Cocktail Dress

Sexy cocktail dresses

What is sexy is definitely a matter of opinion. We don’t think a sexy dress has to be one that is overly revealing.

While there are some dresses with sheer paneling which we would be wary of wearing, a dress like this one below by Aidan Mattox by Adrianna Papel manages to be both demure and sexy at the same time.

Aidan Mattox by Adrianna Papell Floral Lace Illusion Mesh Cocktail Dress  | 40plusstyle.com

Aidan Mattox by Adrianna Papell Floral Lace Illusion Mesh Cocktail Dress 

Long sleeve cocktail dresses

If you aren’t keen on showing your upper arms, or you opt for a hemline which is a little shorter and you want to balance that out, there are lots of long-sleeve options in stores at the moment.

For more inspiration, take a look at the best dresses with sleeves.

Best cocktail dresses: Tahari ASL Beaded Drape Long Sleeve Stretch Velvet Sheath Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Tahari ASL Beaded Drape Long Sleeve Stretch Velvet Sheath Dress

Cocktail dresses with sleeves

Here is another stylish option for you if you are looking for dresses with some arm coverage. Look out for dresses with mesh arms for coverage that doesn’t feel too ‘heavy’.

Mac Duggal Embellished V-Neck Long-Sleeve Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Mac Duggal Embellished V-Neck Long-Sleeve Midi-Dress

short sleeve cocktail dress

If you just want to cover your upper arms, a short sleeve cocktail dress will work for you.

JS Collections Hope Floral Embroidered Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

JS Collections Hope Floral Embroidered Cocktail Dress

designer cocktail dress

Because a cocktail dress is a classic that you can wear year after year, you can make an investment in your cocktail attire. The Donna Karan cocktail dress (Below) would work for all of your special events.

Best cocktail dresses: Donna Karan New York Social Ruffle Hem Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Donna Karan New York Social Ruffle Hem Cocktail Dress

midi dress

Cocktail dresses can also be midi length like the embellished empire waist dress (below) which comes in a choice of two colors.

Mac Duggal Beaded Empire Waist Column Midi Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Mac Duggal Beaded Empire Waist Column Midi Cocktail Dress

mini cocktail dress

If you want to opt for a shorter dress, you can always wear a pair of opaque tights or slim pants under your cocktail dress for extra coverage.

Lilly Pulitzer® Jessamie Metallic Long Sleeve Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Lilly Pulitzer® Jessamie Metallic Long Sleeve Dress

tea length dress

A tea-length dress typically falls a few inches above the ankle. We love the dramatic print and asymmetric hem on the Kay Unger midi dress (below), which could easily be worn for festive events or summer weddings.

Best cocktail dresses: Kay Unger Jessie Poppy Mikado Ruffled Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Kay Unger Jessie Poppy Mikado Ruffled Midi-Dress

knee-length cocktail dress

A knee-length style is a traditional length for cocktail attire. The Badgley Mischka dress (below) features embellishment and an overlay jacket, making it perfect for cooler weather.

Badgley Mischka Overlay Jacket Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Badgley Mischka Overlay Jacket Midi-Dress

maxi dress

While a cocktail dress is usually classed as being on or just above the knee, you should be able to get away with wearing a longer gown to a cocktail party.

We love the satin material and the print on the Reformation dress (below). If you need a cover-up to go with it, check out our article on how to cover a formal outfit.

Best cocktail dresses: Reformation Frankie Floral Silk Satin Maxi Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Reformation Frankie Floral Silk Satin Maxi Dress

asymmetric dress

Asymmetric detailing is always on-trend. The dress below features a shorter sequin skirt with a longer asymmetric overlay.

BCBGMAXAZRIA Sequin Asymmetric Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

BCBGMAXAZRIA Sequin Asymmetric Midi-Dress

two-piece dress

If you like the look of separates but want a cocktail dress, then the Alex Evenings cocktail dress (below) is ideal. It comes in a good choice of colors. The paler colors will work well for summer events, or choose the navy or burgundy shades for winter parties.

Best cocktail dresses: Alex Evenings Mock Two-Piece Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Alex Evenings Mock Two-Piece Cocktail Dress

wrap dress

A wrap style is flattering for all body types, and the Eliza J metallic dress (below) is glamorous enough to ear to any party.

Eliza J Metallic Long Sleeve Faux Wrap Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Eliza J Metallic Long Sleeve Faux Wrap Cocktail Dress

Off the shoulder cocktail dress

Everyone has certain areas of their body that they are happy to show off, and other areas that they prefer to cover.

If you have great shoulders, you can draw attention to them with an-off-the-shoulder dress.

Kay Unger Izzy Belted Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Kay Unger Izzy Belted Cocktail Dress

one shoulder dress

A one shoulder dress is perfect for adding some subtle, yet elegant sex appeal. The Theia gown (below) comes in four colors.

Best cocktail dresses: Theia Rayna One-Shoulder Gown | 40plusstyle.com

Theia Rayna One-Shoulder Gown

Sequin cocktail dresses

For some festive sparkle, you could choose a sequin dress.

Here is how to wear sequins after 40 in a chic way.

Elie Tahari The Robin Sequined Sheath Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Elie Tahari The Robin Sequined Sheath Dress

Jamie in sequin cocktail dress and bow pumps | 40plusstyle.com

Jamie @moreturquoise above (read her style interview here) wears a knee-length sequin dress and adds black ankle-strap heels.

She is wearing a sequin dress from Chico’s. Check out this similar pair of bow pumps and earrings.

Lace cocktail dress

Choosing a cocktail dress can be a great way to play around with textures such as sequins and lace. The crepe dress (below) features subtle lace panelling.

Best cocktail dresses: Tadashi Shoji Crepe Lace-Paneled Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Tadashi Shoji Crepe Lace-Paneled Midi-Dress

tulle dress

Tulle is a great choice to add some volume and drama to your party looks.

Mac Duggal Sequin Tulle One-Shoulder Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Mac Duggal Sequin Tulle One-Shoulder Cocktail Dress

corset style cocktail dress

A corset style dress can keep everything tucked in and pushed up, flattering your bust and waist. It’s a good shape if you have an hourglass figure.

HOUSE OF CB Myrna Satin Corset Dress | 40plusstyle.com

HOUSE OF CB Myrna Satin Corset Dress

empire waist cocktail dress

Play around with where your waistline is and see that the most flattering effect is for you. An empire waist can work well for some women as it cuts in below the bustline where you are likely to have your slimmest point.

Best cocktail dresses: Maggy London Gathered Empire Waist Long Sleeve Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Maggy London Gathered Empire Waist Long Sleeve Dress

elegant cocktail dress

Cocktail attire should always look elegant. The sheath dress (below) features a contrasting black belt and strap details as well as fringing at the hem.

Aidan Mattox Jacquard Sleeveless Sheath Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Aidan Mattox Jacquard Sleeveless Sheath Dress

high low cocktail dress

A high-low hemline will show off your legs and add interest to your silhouette.

Shani High-Low Crepe Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Shani High-Low Crepe Dress

ruffled dress

If you like a romantic look or you want to add drama to your outfit, then choosing ruffling is a good choice.

Best cocktail dresses: Cinq à Sept Paola Floral Ruffled Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Cinq à Sept Paola Floral Ruffled Midi-Dress

sheath cocktail dress

The sheath cocktail dress (below) features a stylish draped neckline and the color is sure to get you noticed for the right reasons.

Black Halo Kozia Draped Sheath Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Black Halo Kozia Draped Sheath Dress

velvet

Velvet is one of those fabrics that really comes into its own during the cooler months, adding a luxe look to any outfit.

You could add a touch of velvet on your cocktail dress, or maybe try a velvet blazer or pair of velvet boots.

For an extra luxe look, you could team with a faux fur bolero.

Best cocktail dresses: Tadashi Shoji Off-The-Shoulder Velvet Lace Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Tadashi Shoji Off-The-Shoulder Velvet Lace Midi-Dress

cape dress

A cape style is great for adding some extra coverage, and for balancing your figure if you have a pear shape or narrow shoulders.

Badgley Mischka Cape Bodice Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Badgley Mischka Cape Bodice Midi-Dress

feather dress

Feathers or embellishments are perfect to add extra glamour and a touch of playfulness to your cocktail attire.

Likely Prima Crystal & Feather Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Likely Prima Crystal & Feather Midi-Dress

ruched cocktail dress

Ruching is a great way to ‘hide’ any lumps and bumps and flatter your figure.

Best cocktail dresses: Gauge81 Ira Ruched Midi dress | 40plusstyle.com

Gauge81 Ira Ruched Midi dress

high neck dress

Choose a neckline that looks good on you. A v-neck is flattering on everyone, for example, while a high-neck tends to look good if you have a long neck, a rectangle or an inverted triangle figure.

A.L.C. Inez Satin Halter Dress | 40plusstyle.com

A.L.C. Inez Satin Halter Dress

Erica in a high neck white cocktail dress | 40plusstyle.com

Erica @ericabunker above (read her style interview here) chooses strappy sandals with her white dress.

Steal her look with this similar cocktail dress (another option here) and sandals.

halter

A halter dress is another style that looks great on inverted triangle figures as it will balance out wider shoulders.

Best cocktail dresses: susana monaco Sequin Halter Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

susana monaco Sequin Halter Midi-Dress

classy

Cocktail attire is always a classy choice. For extra glamour, choose an embellished cocktail dress.

Badgley Mischka Embellished Scuba Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Badgley Mischka Embellished Scuba Midi-Dress

modest cocktail dress

If you are looking for a relatively modest choice, then a cocktail dress with long sleeves and a below-the-knee hem length will work for you.

Santorelli Paisley Satin Wrap Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Santorelli Paisley Satin Wrap Midi-Dress

unique cocktail dress

For a unique style, the cocktail dress (below) combines the look of a dress with the styling of a tuxedo jacket.

Aidan Mattox Mixed Media Sheath Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Aidan Mattox Mixed Media Sheath Dress

winter cocktail dress

If you have a winter event to attend, then velvet is a beautiful material to choose for the cooler months. Choose longer sleeves to add warmth.

Best cocktail dresses: Donna Karan New York Main Event Velvet Burnout Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Donna Karan New York Main Event Velvet Burnout Midi-Dress

fall cocktail dress

If you’re attending a cocktail event during the Fall, then choosing autumnal shades such as burgundy will work well.

Black Halo Audrey Velvet Tie-Neck Midi Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Black Halo Audrey Velvet Tie-Neck Midi Dress

cocktail dress for summer

For summer cocktail events, choose paler shades and lighter materials such as silk. We love the print on the slipdress (below).

Cinq à Sept Mon Amour Milana Printed Silk Satin Slipdress | 40plusstyle.com

Cinq à Sept Mon Amour Milana Printed Silk Satin Slipdress

Plus size cocktail dresses

Are you looking for a plus size cocktail dress this year? Thankfully, there are plenty of beautiful options in stores now, for all shapes and sizes. We love the hemline on the Chelsea28 dress (below).

Best cocktail dresses: Chelsea28 Asymmetric Hem Satin Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Chelsea28 Asymmetric Hem Satin Dress

Kiyonna Mademoiselle Lace A-Line Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Kiyonna Mademoiselle Lace A-Line Dress

Petite cocktail dress

If you’re petite, it can be tricky to find a dress which falls at knee-length rather than being too long for you.

Look out for brands which have petite ranges to get the right fit. A jumpsuit would also look great on you.

Xscape  Ruffle Off-the-Shoulder Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Xscape  Ruffle Off-the-Shoulder Cocktail Dress

There’s more inspiration in how to dress if you are petite.

gold cocktail dress

For a luxe look, how about gold? It was one of the major color trends seen on the winter and fall catwalks for this year.

Best cocktail dresses: Sachin & Babi Carmen Sequin One-Shoulder Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Sachin & Babi Carmen Sequin One-Shoulder Midi-Dress

Blue cocktail dress

Rather than a little black dress, how about a little blue dress? The sheath dress (below) features a flattering v-neck and interesting tie detail.

Badgley Mischka V-Neck Sheath Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Badgley Mischka V-Neck Sheath Dress

light blue cocktail dress

A paler blue can work well for warmer weather. Or, you can wear during the cooler months by adding black accessories.

ML Monique Lhuillier Luella Lace Midi Dress | 40plusstyle.com

ML Monique Lhuillier Luella Lace Midi Dress

gray cocktail dress

Gray tends to be thought of as a color for business, but it can also work just as well for parties if you choose a gray dress in satin or silk, or with embellishments.

Badgley Mischka Brooch-Embellished Belted Coatdress | 40plusstyle.com

Badgley Mischka Brooch-Embellished Belted Coatdress

pink dress

Just as red will help you stand out from the crowd, pink could be another option to consider.

We’d opt for a deep shade rather than pastels if you are attending a winter event, although if you do have a paler pink dress, you could always wear with a black jacket or bolero and black accessories to make it more seasonally-appropriate.

Best cocktail dresses: Laundry by Shelli Segal Scuba Off-the-Shoulder Sheath Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Laundry by Shelli Segal Scuba Off-the-Shoulder Sheath Dress

emerald dress

The little black dress is definitely a stylish woman’s best friend.

But, we love all of the lovely jewel colors that are in stores now for fall and winter events.

Donna Karan New York Social Occasion Asymmetric Velvet Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Donna Karan New York Social Occasion Asymmetric Velvet Cocktail Dress

Orange dress

To stand out during your cocktail event, an orange cocktail dress is perfect. We don’t think anyone else will be wearing orange. Take a look at our article on how to wear orange to decide what color to wear with it.

Elliatt Dimness Halter Ruffle Midi-Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Elliatt Dimness Halter Ruffle Midi-Dress

Tanasha in orange and turquoise outfit | 40plusstyle.com

Tanasha @letsrecreatethelook above perfectly mixes orange and blue.

Get her look with this similar ruched dress, sandals, handbag and earrings.

Yellow cocktail dress

Do you love to wear yellow? We know it’s one of those colors which is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it.

But you can almost guarantee no one else will be wearing a yellow cocktail dress, so you’re sure to stand out from the crowd.

You could team with black or gold accessories.

Badgley Mischka Pleated Side Drape Sheath Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Badgley Mischka Pleated Side Drape Sheath Dress

champagne dress

If gold is too ‘blingy’ for you, then Champagne is a more subtle option that will give you a similar look.

Sam Edelman Pleated Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Sam Edelman Pleated Dress

Purple cocktail dresses

For something a little different from the usual black or navy, how about opting for a deep purple or plum?

More ideas here on how to wear purple.

Elliatt Reception Cascade Ruffle Strapless Cocktail Dress | 40plusstyle.com

Elliatt Reception Cascade Ruffle Strapless Dress

accessories to go with your cocktail attire

Of course, if you have chosen a beautiful cocktail dress, you will need equally beautiful accessories to go with it.

Below are some of the best shoes, wraps and jewelry to wear with your cocktail attire.

Accessories to go with your cocktail attire | 40plusstyle.com

Nordstrom Satin Border Silk Chiffon ScarfTory Burch Reva Leather Clutch

Cole Haan Wallet On A ChainNina Crystal Frame ClutchValentino Garavani VLogo Signature EarringsKenneth Jay Lane Ball Drop EarringsKonstantino Anthos Earrings

Jess in red dress, tights and pumps | 40plusstyle.com

Jess @elegantlydressedandstylish above (read her style interview here) teams her red dress with black accessories.

Check out this similar dress (other options here and here), tights, pumps, clutch, earrings, necklace.

Read our article on how to wear tights for more inspiration.

shoes to go with your cocktail attire

We’ve stuck to a palette of black, gold and silver here as they will go with any cocktail dress.

Opt for classic pumps or sandals to go with your cocktail dress.

If you don’t want to wear very high heels, you could look at kitten heels or block heels, which will be more comfortable. Or, choose a pair of pointed flats.

Also take a look at the these stylish heels that are comfortable to wear.

Shoes to go with your cocktail attire | 40plusstyle.com

Jack Rogers Debra BalletNaturalizer Vera Ankle Strap SandalsBadgley Mischka Zendaya PumpsCalvin Klein Gabrianna Pumps

Fonda in wrap sequin dress and pumps | 40plusstyle.com

Fonda @savvysouthernchic above matches her shoes to her cocktail dress.

She is wearing a wrap sequin dress from DKNY. Check out these similar pumps, clutch, earrings and necklace to complete the look.

winter cocktail dress ideas

If you are wearing your cocktail dress for a winter dinner or party, you will definitely need to stay warm on your way to the event and, depending on the temperature inside, you may wish to keep a wrap over your shoulders.

Faux fur adds a glamorous touch.

Read our article on how to style your shrugs and boleros for evening dresses.

Winter cocktail dress ideas | 40plusstyle.com

Eliza J Faux Fur CapeletBABEYOND Faux Fur Capekate spade new york Faux Fur Pull Through ScarfLucky LeafFaux Fur Ornate Collar Shrug

Your cocktail dresses together in one capsule

Below, you can see some of the cocktail dresses used above, complete with accessories so you can see how to wear them.

A capsule wardrobe of cocktail formal dresses | 40plusstyle.com

shop the best cocktail dresses here:

Read our ultimate guide to creating a capsule wardrobe that works best for you.

Do you already have a lot of cocktail dresses in your closet? What events will you be wearing yours to this fall and winter?

Continue reading:

  1. The Best Dress Styles For Your Body Shape
  2. How To Choose The Perfect Little Black Dress For Your Body Type
  3. How To Dress For A Christmas Party: 11 Outfit Ideas!

Like this article on the best cocktail dresses? Save it on Pinterest!

The best cocktail dresses in stores now | 40plusstyle.com

Feature image by Souri @fabfemme_australia

Sylvia

Sylvia is 40+style’s editor-in-chief and has been helping women find their unique style since 2011. She is devoted to empowering women of any age to look and feel their best. Read more about Sylvia and 40+style on this page.

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