The cocktail dress is the unofficial uniform of merry-making female party-goers across the globe. However, looking good in that slinky little number, and making an even better impression, requires more than just locating an attractive, appropriately sized dress on the store rack. You can't go wrong carefully considering the appropriateness of the dress, its style, and your accessories to the occasion.
Cocktail dresses are those appropriate for wear at cocktail parties or semi-formal parties, dinners, or celebrations. Cocktail dresses tend to be shorter, flashier, and less elaborate than dresses worn to formal occasions such as weddings or graduations, but much more dressy than those worn to casual dinner parties. Most cocktail dresses fall to a length somewhere at the knee or slightly above the ankle. They can be found in every conceivable style, color, pattern and cut.
The most common cocktail dress faux pas is wearing the dress at an inappropriate occasion. Cocktail dresses should be worn only to occasions in which the invitation or announcement states that dress is semi-formal or to a party that is specifically identified as a cocktail party. Cocktail dresses are not appropriate at formal weddings, funerals or casual parties.
Consider the occasion and choose your cocktail dress accordingly. If the get-together is to be held outdoors on an evening that may get chilly, pick a dress that will look good with a stylish wrap, scarf, shrug, or capelet. If the party is business-related, you're better off not going with the same sort of dress you'd pick when attending a bash at your best friend's house. It is never a mistake to opt for a classic, sophisticated and understated look. It is, however, nearly always a bad idea to show too much cleavage or wear a dress that is too tight or short.
Choose a cocktail dress that fits appropriately and that you are comfortable wearing. Try the dress on first and take the time to walk around in it and to get a feel for it. If it is too tight, so loose that it slides around, bunches up when you raise or move your arms, or distracts you in any way, pick another dress. In addition, be careful to try the dress on with the appropriate type of bra.
Understatement is the key to accessorizing a cocktail dress. Choose jewelry and shoes that are pretty but that don't draw undue attention to yourself. And leave the big purses at home--the only purse a woman in a cocktail dress should carry is a small (preferably mini) clutch.