How to Dress for Any Occasion
Old etiquette: No surprise here―a cocktail dress.
New etiquette: Cocktail dresses are always in style, but you have other options.
What to wear: These days, a cocktail party can be anything from a swanky society affair―cue that glittery knee-length number from the “special occasions” department―to a low-key group of friends gathered around a platter of crudités. But for the most part, “cocktail parties are dressy-casual, so you can’t go wrong if you wear a top with some special details and a skirt or tailored pants, plus heels or fancy flats,” says Williamson. “Avoid fabrics that are too casual, like chino, jersey, and denim.”
A fitted cashmere or fine-gauge merino-wool top with a knee-length satin skirt, heels, earrings, and an armful of stacked bangles is just right, he says. Sue Fox, an etiquette authority based in Paso Robles, California, and the author of Etiquette for Dummies ($22, amazon.com), also suggests a pantsuit, provided it doesn’t look too corporate. (Under the jacket, wear a silky camisole or some other feminine top with an evening vibe.) Keep in mind that different cities have their own dress codes, says Rothman: “Cocktail attire in Miami is just as dressy and chic as in New York, regardless of the weather differences, while in San Diego it’s interpreted a bit more casually, because the city is relaxed.”