The best cocktail dress

Dresses

Cocktail dresses are great ways to express your style. Experiment with different shoes and accessories for new looks.

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Which cocktail dresses are best?

Sometimes referred to as the “party dress,” cocktail dresses are short to mid-length and are semi-formal. There is no single look for a cocktail dress. They come in a multitude of fabrics and can be enhanced for a dressier style with beads, sequins, lace and satin. Buttons and jumper-style straps provide a more casual look. Top pick Betsy & Adam Caped Sheath Dress is an elegant, sophisticated cocktail dress.

What to know before you buy a cocktail dress

Body shape

Knowing what body shape you are is the most important factor before purchasing a cocktail dress. For those who are petite or have straight attributes, dresses with gathered layers flatter the body. V-shaped necklines and empire waistlines accentuate curves, while asymmetrical hemlines complement those who have broad shoulders and a narrower waistline and hips.

Occasion

Know for what occasion you are shopping for a cocktail dress. Additionally, knowing the setting and formality level will give you even more information, which you can use when choosing your dress, shoes and accessories. Choose bright colors and a unique pattern for a resort cocktail dress, and pair it with bold shoes and playful jewelry. Business cocktail dresses should be sophisticated and complement nicely with simple jewelry and shoes.

Fabric and pattern

Cocktail dresses come in a multitude of fabrics. Beads and sequins may be more suitable for holiday parties and New Year’s Eve while lace and silk result in an elegant look and are appropriate for weddings. Keep in mind the weather at the event. For warm nights, wear light and breathable fabric that’s easy to move around in. In winter, pair your cocktail dress with a shrug, shawl or jacket.

Sleeve type

Sleeves can dress a look up or down. The occasion you’re dressing for will determine what sleeve type to choose. Bishop sleeves are loose fitting down the arm and gathered at the wrist, whereas bell sleeves are fitted down most of the arm but open into a large bell shape. If you’re looking for an elegant look, choose fitted sleeves.

Shoes

When possible, wear heels with a cocktail dress. For a sophisticated look, try neutral heels such as black or nude. Sandals and pumps are best for summer and tropical locations. When choosing a simple cocktail dress, bold shoes add interest.

Accessories

Accessories are a fantastic and stylish way to finish any look. When choosing jewelry, try pieces that are chic, exciting and attention-grabbing. Bags, clutches and hats show extra style and keep looks sophisticated. 

What to look for in a quality cocktail dress

Keep in mind material and fit when shopping for a cocktail dress. Dresses that have loose ends, buttons and zippers are more casual and have an unpolished look. If you want a fancier cocktail dress, you will pay more; however, a higher-end dress likely will last longer.

Material

Material is a large factor when it comes to comfort. Sequins, lace and beads can be itchy while silk, satin and jersey provide more flexibility. A cocktail dress made of inexpensive fabric may have ripped seams, loose buttons and tough zippers. If you’re shopping in person, always try clothes on and look for unpolished elements.

Fit

Some cocktail dresses are specifically made to fit loosely and others tightly. When trying them on, see how it fits overall. Look for wrinkles that aren’t part of the design. Make sure the bottom does not ride up and that the sleeves aren’t too tight. Is the dress made to be loose in certain areas? If you’re unsure, ask for a second opinion.

How much you can expect to spend on cocktail dress

Cocktail dresses have a large range in price, and manufacturers and retailers are the reason why. Dresses by designers known for producing well-made products that last for years are expensive but worth the money, which can be upward of $200 or more. If you choose a less-expensive cocktail dress, make sure there are no loose strings, buttons or embellishments that might make the dress look unpolished.

Cocktail dress FAQ

Do all zippered cocktail dresses have concealed zippers?

A. Concealed zippers provide extra support while maintaining the look of the original garment. Not all cocktail dresses have concealed zippers. Some may simply slip on while others have buttons or clasps.

What are the best dressy shoes to wear if I can’t wear heels?

A. Some heels can be difficult to walk in or may not be your style. Try pairing cocktail dresses with wedges or boots. Wedges are perfect for summertime and come in a variety of designs and heights so you can still express your style. Ankle and thigh-high boots are good choices if you’re looking for a unique look. If you prefer heels, however, try choosing one that has a low heel height.

Can I wear boots with a cocktail dress?

A. Yes, you can easily wear boots to dress up or down a look. Ankle boots pair great with lightweight semi-sheer cocktail dresses during the summertime. They also go with bold bracelets and necklaces. Thigh-high boots are another alternative and look best with sleeve cocktail dresses. Avoid patterns and too much decoration; instead, purchase a neutral color such as black.  

What’s the best cocktail dress to buy?

Top cocktail dress 

Betsy & Adam Caped Sheath Dress

Betsy & Adam Caped Sheath Dress

What you need to know: Available in red, white and blush pink, this cocktail dress is perfect if you’re looking for something unique.

What you’ll love: Made of polyester and spandex, this dress provides maximum comfort. Its ruched bodice and boat neckline accentuate the neck and collarbone while the attached cape creates a sophisticated and sleek appearance.

What you should consider: Do not remove any tags unless you’re 100% certain of keeping it. Once removed, it cannot be returned. This dress is dry clean only.

Where to buy: Sold by Macy’s and Amazon.

Top cocktail dress for the money

X by XSCAPE Off-the-Shoulder Dress

X by XSCAPE Off-the-Shoulder Dress

What you need to know: This cocktail dress is perfect if you’re looking for something simple yet stunning.

What you’ll love: This cocktail dress is available in black and navy blue. It is ’80s-inspired and the off-the-shoulder sleeves highlight the collarbone.

What you should consider: While this is on the more luxurious side, you can wear it to many occasions. Don’t remove tags unless you’re set on it. It cannot be returned without them. This dress is dry clean only.

Where to buy: Sold by Macy’s.

Worth checking out

SL Fashions Metallic Trim Capelet Sheath Dress

SL Fashions Metallic Trim Capelet Sheath Dress

What you need to know: This cocktail dress is great for holiday parties, weddings and New Year’s Eve.

What you’ll love: The capelet sheath feature has a boat neckline, and metallic trim adds a touch of luxury. This cocktail dress is not dry clean only; you can hand-wash this dress.

What you should consider: This dress may be more suitable for those who are taller as some reviews show that due to short height, the capelet attribute covers the entire body.

Where to buy: Sold by Macy’s.

Alex Evenings Bell-Sleeve Draped Sheath Dress

Alex Evenings Bell-Sleeve Draped Sheath Dress

What you need to know: This cocktail dress has ¾ bell sleeves and a contoured top reminiscent of a 1950s suit dress.

What you’ll love: Its compression fabric creates a slim effect and a side embellishment adds sparkle. You can hand-wash this dress.

What you should consider: The chest may be too large for customers with smaller busts.

Where to buy: Sold by Macy’s.

Eliza J Sequin Sheath Dress

Eliza J Sequin Sheath Dress

What you need to know: It’s skirt is tailored to fit close to the body while the top has a looser fit for extra comfort.

What you’ll love: Its crewneck and sheath silhouette accentuate legs and pairs perfectly with simple pumps. You can hand-wash this dress.

What you should consider: Sequined fabric can be itchy so make sure you can move comfortably.

Where to buy: Sold by Macy’s.

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Tessa Schaal writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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