Hitting just the right style note for cocktail attire can be tricky. It’s more flamboyant than business casual, but not so formal as black tie. So, how do you get the right balance? While a cocktail dress is a clear option for a cocktail party – after all, the clue is in the name, you could also choose other outfit combinations. This article gives you plenty of inspiration for what to wear to a cocktail party.

What is the cocktail party dress code?

So, you have the party invite on your mantlepiece, or in your inbox, and it says “dress code: cocktail attire”. So what exactly does that mean? Cocktail attire gives you an occasion to dress up, but you don’t need to wear a full-length ball gown. It sits between a sophisticated formal event and what you might wear to a more casual party.

What to wear to a cocktail party?

The obvious choice is a cocktail dress, and it’s an obvious choice for a reason – because it’s a great option. But, a dress isn’t your only option. You can also choose a jumpsuit, tuxedo, pant suit or a blouse and dress. For really dressy events, you can add embellishments and sequins. Finish your look with heels, or dressy flats. Your goal is to look classy, put together and elegant and a little bit sexy.

What to wear to a cocktail party - Mel wears a blue sequin dress | 40plusstyle.com

Mel @curvycartel above shows off a dress that is the perfect length for a cocktail dress.

Check out this blue sequin dress (other options here and here) that you can wear with similar pair of pumps and earrings.

Let’s take a look at some specific cocktail party outfits to inspire you.

Cocktail dress

A cocktail dress is the most obvious choice. You can be sure you will meet the dress code perfectly. You can choose any color you want, from classic black, to bright red. For daytime events, you might want to opt for lighter shades, while for evening, you can think about darker, jewel tones such as shades of navy, burgundy or deep green. Some stores such as Nordstrom even categorize dresses so you can filter to look only at cocktail and party dresses.

Red cocktail dress and black pump and accessories | 40plusstyle.com

Chico’s Eyelet Balloon Sleeve Ponte DressNina Brystol PumpVince Camuto Edina Faux Leather ClutchChico’s Multi-Strand Necklace

A little black dress

A little black dress is a classic. If you have a favorite LBD in a knee-length then this could be perfect for your cocktail event. Add a faux fur coat for extra glamour.

Black dress and faux fur jacket | 40plusstyle.com

BLANKNYC Shawl Collar Faux Fur Crop JacketTablots Sequin Sleeve Velvet DressTablots Erica Ankle Strap Suede SandalsTablots Metallic Leather CrossbodyTablots Vintage Snowflake Stud Earrings

What to wear to a cocktail party - Sheree in a black dress and sequin shrug | 40plusstyle.com

Sheree @shesheshow above shows how you could add a sequin cover-up to your black dress. She further elevates her outfit with her embellished shoes.

She is wearing a fringe jacket from Nasty Gal (another option here) and a dress from FWRD. Check out this similar pair of pumps, clutch, necklace and earrings to complete the look.

You can find more inspiration in this article on how to cover up a formal outfit.

lace pants

You don’t have to wear a dress or skirt to your cocktail event, you can also choose a pair of pants. Just be sure that you opt for a special pair. Choose a material such as lace, satin or silk, in a slim or wide style.

Lace pants and embellished blazer | 40plusstyle.com

Cinq à Sept Kaleb Chain Detail BlazerTablots Satin Halter TopTablots Slim Ankle PantsTablots Evelyn Buckle Suede MulesTablots Suede Clutch


A jumpsuit is a perfect alternative to a dress. Add statement jewelry, heels and a clutch bag.

Jumpsuit and statement jewelry | 40plusstyle.com

Chico’s Drape Neck JumpsuitTablots Sylvie Bouclé Kitten Heel PumpTablots Suede ClutchChico’s Pendant NecklaceChico’s Red Linear Earrings

What to wear to a cocktail party | 40plusstyle.com

Patricia @madamechicbcn above (read her style interview here) shows off a dressy look with a blazer or hat that would be perfect for a daytime event, a wedding or a day at the races. You could lose the hat for an evening look and perhaps add a darker pair of shoes and a statement necklace.

Steal her look with this similar jumpsuit (another option here), blazer, pumps, clutch, fascinator hat (another option here)


Take inspiration from menswear with a tuxedo style suit or blazer. You can add a silk top or camisole underneath.

Tuxedo outfit for women | 40plusstyle.com

L’AGENCE Scarlet Crop BlazerThe Drop Natalie V-Neck Lace Trimmed CamisoleTheory High Waist Wide Leg PantsNina Brystol PumpVince Camuto Edina Faux Leather ClutchTablots Vintage Snowflake Stud Earrings

Skirt and blouse 

A skirt is another dressy choice for a cocktail party. You can pair it with a simple white shirt and blazer, or choose a silk blouse or camisole.

Blazer and dress outfit | 40plusstyle.com

Cinq à Sept Khloe Ruched Sleeve BlazerVince Slim Silk BlouseAnne Klein Pleated Satin Midi SkirtNina Brystol PumpVince Camuto Edina Faux Leather ClutchChico’s Red Linear Earrings

What to wear to a cocktail party - Alison wears yellow and gold | 40plusstyle.com

Alison @wardrobe_oxygen above (read her style interview here) opts for a yellow outfit and gold accessories.

She is wearing a silk top and skirt from M.M.LaFleur and sandals from Margaux. Check out this similar clutch, belt and earrings to complete the look.


Wearing sequins always adds glamour to any outfit. You can go for a full-on sequin look, or add a sequin shrug to your favorite little black dress. The shrug below could be ideal if you like to cover your upper arms. This sequin bolero comes in a good choice of colors so you can contrast with, or match, your dress. Reviewers say it is beautiful, unique and elegant. For more on coverup, check our ideas on how to cover up a formal outfit.

Sequin shrug and black dress | 40plusstyle.com

BABEYOND Sequin Beaded Evening Bolero – Sam Edelman Cowl Neck Cocktail DressTablots Sylvie Bouclé Kitten Heel PumpTablots Metallic Leather CrossbodyTablots Vintage Snowflake Stud Earrings

a suit

A smart suit isn’t just for men when it comes to cocktail parties. You can elevate what would usually be the preserve or workwear by adding a clutch bag, heels and jewelry.

Suit for women | 40plusstyle.com

Marie Marot X J.Crew Blazer In Italian City WoolMarie Marot X J.Crew Trouser In Italian City WoolVince Slim Silk BlouseTablots Sylvie Bouclé Kitten Heel PumpTablots Suede ClutchTablots Vintage Snowflake Stud Earrings

Nikki in a blue suit and gold boots | 40plusstyle.com

Nikki @40notfrumpy above chooses a navy suit and gold boots.

Recreate her outfit with this similar suit set (another option here) and booties.

mini dress

While mini dresses are usually the preserve of more casual parties, you can choose a shorter dress and team with elegant, slim-leg pants. Perhaps you’ll find a dress in the back of your closet that you haven’t worn for a while, or you shop for a new dress in a satin or silk material. Look for a style with long sleeves for extra coverage.

Mini dress and slim pants | 40plusstyle.com

Charles Henry Satin Faux Wrap MinidressCinq à Sept Brianne PantsNina Brystol PumpVince Camuto Edina Faux Leather ClutchChico’s Pendant Necklace

Below, you can see all our ideas on what to wear to a cocktail party in one capsule. You can mix and match to create plenty of party outfits that will take you right through the party season.

Cocktail party outfits | 40plusstyle.com

What are your own tips when thinking about what to wear to a cocktail party?

Get lots of more party outfit ideas:

  1. The Best Casual Party Outfits That Make An Impact
  2. The best office party outfits
  3. The best cocktail dresses
  4. How to dress for a Christmas party
  5. How to cover up a formal outfit
  6. Outfits for the holidays
  7. How To Choose The Perfect Little Black Dress For Your Body Type

shop our choices on what to wear to a cocktail party below:

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What to wear to a cocktail party | 40plusstyle.com

Feature image by Alison @wardrobe_oxygen


Sylvia is 40+style’s editor-in-chief and has been helping women find their unique style since 2011. An alumni of the School of Color and Design, 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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