Separates such as pants and feminine blouses are modern alternatives to the traditional cocktail dress.

Cocktail Attire Alternatives

by Chance Henson

It's an awful truth -- traditional cocktail attire can be boring. However, modern women have far more alternatives than the cocktail party hostess or guest did in the 1950s. Wow your friends at cocktail parties and social events with a number of dressy, clever alternatives that boldly bespeak your modern style.


Fine fabrics, such as cashmere, satin, silk and silk blends, can upgrade your attire from casual to dressy. "Harper’s Bazaar" recommends that you combine clothing materials; pair black wool pants and a silk blouse or a fitted cashmere top with a knee-length satin skirt for a luxurious evening look. In the CNN article “How to Dress for Any Occasion,” New York fashion stylist Joseph Williamson recommends that you avoid casual-style materials such as denim, jersey, canvas and chino.


Both the Emily Post Institute and Sue Fox, founder and president of Etiquette Survival, note that the pantsuit is an appropriate and modern alternative to the cocktail dress. However, Fox warns against wearing suits that may appear “too corporate.” Pair a short blazer with wide-leg or flared-hem dress pants, heels and a feminine blouse for a chic, stylish look. You can avoid a business or professional appearance by including trendy accessories such as bangle bracelets, a chunky necklace or a sequined clutch. Keep in mind that the cut of your pantsuit should flatter your body type. Plus-size women look best in wide-leg pants, while women with a boy shape are well suited to pants with high or tapered waists.


Separates such as jackets, pants, skirts, camisoles and blouses are all easily mixed and matched to create the perfect cocktail dress alternative. "Elle" magazine suggests slouchy pants with a thin camisole, heels and minimal jewelry for streamlined, glamorous look. When pairing separates, keep in mind that in addition to selecting fine materials, patterns and colors can also greatly affect your overall appearance. Stick with colors that flatter your skin tone and patterns that don't overwhelm your size. Adhere to basics if you are unsure about which colors and patterns work best for your ensemble; black, white, beige, grey and tan are all neutral colors and work well for most occasions.

Dressy Casual

Cocktail parties aren’t always as dressy as they were 50 years ago. Stylist Joseph Williamson notes that most cocktail gatherings tend to be dressy casual. Today, dark jeans that are in good condition are often appropriate for low-key social events. Pair your dark denim with a silk camisole, bolero jacket and heels or dressy flats for a relaxed, chic look. "Harper’s Bazaar" recommends that you wear your favorite dress with a jacket or sweater and flats for a “de-fancied frock.”

About the Author

Chance Henson earned a B.A. in English literature and a writing minor from Lamar University. While interning at the "University Press" newspaper and "UP Beat" magazine he received an award for news feature writing from the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. Henson went on to serve as content editor for "CUSH Magazine," eventually leaving to pursue the development of an online secular humanist educational publication.

Photo Credits

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