What Is a Formal Cocktail Dress?

Did you know that the formal cocktail dress rose to significant popularity in the 1920s and 1930s? This was due to the upsurge of pre-dinner drinks and canapes. There was a need for day-to-evening attire, allowing women to seamlessly go from afternoon tea to an intimate evening Gala. 

Christian Dior was the first one to name the evening frock a 'cocktail dress' in the late 1940s. That's where this forever-trending and essential dress attire took off. 

But what is a formal cocktail dress exactly? It can be interpreted in so many different ways. That's why we have created this brief guide below to help you decipher what you should wear to your next black-tie social event.

What Is a Formal Cocktail Dress?

When the formal cocktail dress was first designated in the early to mid-1900s, it had a completely different meaning to what it is labelled now. Previously, the term was used for dresses with cinched waists and form-fitting long-length dresses. These were made of satin, cocktail cotton, silk, credenza, chiffon, and other decadent fabrics.

Of course, nowadays cocktail dresses are something completely different. Thankfully, cocktail dresses don’t always translate as ‘form-fitting’ dresses that flow to the floor. Not only would they be extremely difficult to wear, but you might end up being overdressed for your special black-tie social event.

What Is a Cocktail Formal Dress Code?

You’ll want to wear a formal cocktail dress when invited to an event that emphasises formal attire. The problem here is that every person who reads the invitation and sees 'formal attire required' interprets it differently.

Some people might end up wearing floor-length gowns that look like they were going to the Oscars or some other grand event.

And other people might end up wearing the popular LBD (little black dress) with sparse accessories and slight makeup. 

This is why it is important to consult with the event organiser to ensure you understand what they mean when it comes to formal attire. Do they want you to go all out or are they just wanting people to dress up a bit more than their normal jeans and casual Friday attire? 

If you are going to an event that emphasises formal black-tie attire, then you can be certain that you need to up the ante when it comes to your cocktail dress.

Are Cocktail Dresses Formal?

As iterated earlier, cocktail dresses range from formal dresses that you could wear to a family gathering to floor-length gowns that you would wear to an event where the Head of States and celebrities are in attendance.

But you can rest assured that if you wear a cocktail dress, form-fitting or not, floor-length or not, you can dress it up or down as the occasion desires. By adding some funky statement necklaces or jewellery to your cocktail gown or adding in a pair of arm-length white gloves, you can make your cocktail dress quite formal indeed.

Also, keep in mind that a cocktail dress isn't always a dress. In recent times, celebrities have started wearing black-tie tuxedos or feminine suits with decadent jewellery to formal events. 

You can be as creative as you wish when it comes to wearing a cocktail dress to a formal event. Everything goes in today's world, where celebrities and other stars constantly change the definition of formal wear.

Can I Wear a Cocktail Dress to a Formal Wedding?

You can wear a cocktail dress to a formal wedding, but be careful not to upstage the bride (do not wear white!). Unless it is emphasized that the wedding is highly formal, a floor-length gown is usually not necessary. Even so, you will always see some women wearing extravagant floor-length gowns to weddings that are not even labelled ‘formal’.

That's why the definition of a formal cocktail dress is so hard to pin down. It depends highly on people's interpretation of it.

For some women who are used to wearing formal attire, a cocktail gown is acceptable at a formal wedding. Even wearing a black dress with no jewellery is formal enough for others who aren't so used to such attire.

What Is a Formal Cocktail-Length Dress?

This is always an interesting question to ponder when it comes to deciding which cocktail dress to wear to a formal event. The best way to do it is to find a length somewhere in between floor length and a mini.

This way you are taking care of all eventualities and ensuring you don't end up offending someone because your dress is either too short or too long. If you think a mid length dress is not extravagant enough, try embellishing it with chunky statement pieces of jewellery that stands out. Or, with Cinderella shoes that look like they come out of a fairy tale. 

You could also use eye-catching makeup that emphasises your best features to get your attire to that next level. 

One thing to remember when you’re dressing up for a formal occasion - comfort is paramount. Do not overdo it with the makeup, dress, or hair if you are going to fiddle with it all day and night.

Rent a Formal Cocktail Dress for Your Next Social Event

Now that you know all the goss on formal cocktail dresses, you can choose the best formal attire for your next event.

If you are frequently invited to formal events where you have to wear cocktail dresses, and you can't afford to buy a new one each time around, consider renting designer dresses. Companies like Dress For a Night allow you to rent gorgeous cocktail dresses at a wide range of pricing. You can even try these dresses at home before renting them with a Try On Service.

We have formal gowns and on-trend designer dresses from sizes 4 to 22. Thus, you will always end up finding something you love. And by renting your formal attire, you never have to worry about running out of space in your closet or overextending your bank account.

See our Cocktail Dress Collection here.


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