The cocktail dress is a formal garment worn for special occasions such as dinner parties, work events and soirées. Although it’s a style that comes attached to a dress code, its history is rooted in breaking with tradition; and today, it serves as a framework—but not a rule—for festive dressing. In this Ask Mytheresa article, we cover your potential questions about this important attire, and offer designer options.
The formal dresses emerged in the United States in the 1920s, as women increasingly populated the social scene due to liberation movements. This meant that they frequently attended evening affairs that called for a designated ensemble—not only a number, but accessories to match. But while the style was born in America, Christian Dior gave it a name: in the 1940s, he called it the “cocktail” dress.
In order to break the rules, you must first understand them. Party dressing has always come with a prescribed set of guidelines—which have nonetheless changed to match the trends of the time. For instance, it used to require wearing gloves and hats; furthermore, one’s “uniform” could be dictated by her role in the party, whether she was the hostess or attendee. Today, the dress code is elastic, but knowing the expectations equips you with the ability to modify them as you see fit.
The length: The sweet spot for a cocktail dress is a knee-length hemline. A mini or a midi dress, in this case, is preferred to a maxi-length or a gown, which is considered too formal: the latter would be best suited for a black tie event. Consider looks from American designers Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera, whose knee-grazing numbers make the rule easy to follow.
The fabric: Different occasions call for different fabrics. Generally speaking, velvets and satins—luxe textures—are more appropriate for later engagements; lightweight materials, such as georgettes and jerseys, suit earlier hours. You can never go wrong with a crêpe cocktail dress, whether silk or wool—or both, as the signature Crêpe Couture from Valentino proves.
A wardrobe essential, if ever there was one, the “little black dress” is a failsafe option for almost any cocktail occasion. Its simple description testifies to its ubiquity and versatility. Although its invention is attributed to Coco Chanel and Jean Patou, Saint Laurent—another French fashion house—has made it a modern must-have with its mini silhouettes.
For those with an inclination toward color and patterns, choose a printed dress that will make you the life of the party. From florals to jewel tones, there’s an array of ways to stand out. Go for Gucci or Versace’s maximalist approach with vintage-inspired embellishments and Baroque motifs.
A contemporary all-in-one alternative, the jumpsuit has recently risen the ranks as one of fashion’s favorite garments. We suggest choosing a piece with a tailored leg so that it strikes the same note of sophistication. We’re particularly in love with feminine takes on tuxedos.
The most important date to a special event is your bag: it carries your necessities and enhances your ensemble. For special events, leave your large totes at home in favor for a compact clutch; a bulky carryall indicates a lack of restraint and detracts from the outfit. A petite evening bag, on the other hand, is the most appropriate choice for social hours: it doesn’t interrupt your silhouette and allows you to easily stash credit cards and phone.
When it comes to shoes, most fashion experts advise wearing a heel—whether a sandal or pumps—with formal attire. However, we believe that the golden fashion rule is there are no rules. A lace-up brogue or an embellished ballet flat can maximize the impact of a stunning number. Thus, we say to trust your instincts and dress boldly.
Browse through Mytheresa for the finest selection of designer cocktail dresses and reach out to our Customer Service team if you need assistance with your purchase.