As the host of a cocktail party this coming Saturday, I've had many people ask what exactly the rules are for attire. For those who need to know, those who are curious, those that need to brush up, and those who like looking at pictures of cocktail rings...this is for you.
The following is a list of quotes from various experts regarding cocktail attire:
"Cocktail attire means short, elegant dresses for her and dark suits for him." - Cynthia Nellis, about.com fashion writer
"Your boyfriend should wear a suit and tie. You can wear an elegant-looking dress in any color, but no formal gowns. The skirt length can be anything that you are comfortable wearing. Perhaps you are thinking of black because the popular 'little black dress' goes well with any party, except white tie." - Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee, etiquette columnists
"You are allowed to be more seductive and playful in cocktail attire than in general semi-formal wear. Cocktail attire gives room to play, but make sure that you still look like a lady." - Emilee Haines, fashionista/my old roommate
Cocktail Attire for Men
A suit is a must, but it does not have to meet the strict standards of business attire or formal wear for a cocktail party. As with the ladies, the rules are fairly loose for our cocktail party and cross-era-dressing is perfectly acceptable. The following would all be welcome at this event:
The Cocktail Dress
The right cocktail dress is key to the enjoyment of a cocktail party. At this particular cocktail party, we're encouraging dressing from whatever era the attendee desires. Traditionally cocktail dresses are knee-length, but tea-length (to mid-shin) and ballerina-length (to the ankles) are both entirely acceptable. A variety of cocktail dresses that would be appropriate:
The Cocktail Ring
While not a requirement for a cocktail party, the cocktail ring is an ages-old cocktail party tradition. What a cocktail ring is: huge. What a cocktail ring is not: small. It's a pretty simple concept. If you own a cocktail ring, you wear it to a cocktail party because there aren't many occasions that will arise to wear it. If you don't own a cocktail ring, you buy one when you are invited to a cocktail party, because there aren't many occasions that will arise that give you an excuse to buy one. Any of the below rings are appropriate:
What Not To Wear
Hawaiian shirts. You don't want to look like this guy:
Trust your gut, ask a friend, ask an expert, go to http://www.coololdstuff.com/cocktail1.html for a history of cocktail parties, etc. You can do it. I'm here for you. And always remember:
"Style starts with your hair and ends with your shoes. If you get the top right and the bottom right, the rest will figure itself out." - Isaac Mizrahi
I realize I didn't discuss hair or shoes in this tutorial, but frankly, I need to go to bed, as I've already spent far too much time tonight making collages of cocktail dresses, etc. Also, there aren't really specific rules for cocktail hair or shoes. Just go with your typical semi-formal fare. Isaac's statement is still one of the truest statements of our time outside of the teachings of our living prophets, however.