Entertainment Style Our guide to dressing for a cocktail party

Our guide to dressing for a cocktail party

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It is seems somewhat paradoxical that I am forever telling people that fashion trends don’t matter and simply wear what suits you, but then I get all bossy about dress codes. But I do.

I like appropriateness. I don’t see why it’s so hard to wear black to a funeral, covered shoes on a plane, a jacket to a job interview, a toned-down dress to someone else’s wedding. It’s respectful.

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What does a smart casual dress code actually mean?

One of the worst cases of “I’m having fun with my look today and I don’t care” that I have ever seen was at a very proper wedding in Melbourne, when one of the guests, an attractive blonde in her early thirties, wore a full length strapless dress, with a boned satin bodice, enormous tulle skirt and a floral headpiece. In white.

She was already married but obviously thought it was the perfect opportunity to relive the whole experience. Apparently the “don’t try to outshine the actual bride, who is in her forties, on her second marriage and wearing an understated cream sheath dress” memo was never received.

Don’t do this.

As we head into summer, the party invitations will start to arrive, and this is when the cocktail dress code might be mentioned. So what is suitable for the cocktail circuit, strictly speaking?

It’s pretty much what the little black dress was invented for. Think of that as a starting point – an LBD with some great jewellery and a summery sandal. That is always, always en pointe.

A knee-length, or mid-calf dress in any colour or print is perfect for cocktails. Should it be long? No, not really, unless it’s more of a dressy caftan and you are by a pool or the sea.

The floaty, seventies-style romantic dresses that are all in at the moment are also lovely for cocktails. Silky pyjama-style pants are perfect too with a jeweled sandal.

Inspiration for the ladies (L-R): Reese Witherspoon, Alessandra Ambrosio, January Jones and Christina Hendricks.

But dramatic, floor-sweeping ballgowns, or – horror of horrors – anything with a long train, are not. These big statements are for weddings or black tie events. Or, in the case of a train never, in my opinion.

I can’t stand trains. I think they are costume-y and crass. They are the opposite of understatement, which I usually find to be more chic. Perfect if you are marrying royalty and the dress has been handstitched by Maison Valentino, or you are the Pope.

I guess if it’s your big day and you’ve always dreamed of wearing a train, astride a white horse and in a glittering tiara, knock yourself out. But let’s call trains very, very special occasion dressing. For when you win the Oscar.

Diane Kruger and Joshua Jackson excel at coordinating their couple cocktail looks.

When I was a copywriter at Vogue, we loved to suggest a new piece that you needed in your wardrobe, such as the latest LBD or tuxedo suit and then use the phrase, “go straight from day into evening with a change of accessories!”

Cocktail doesn’t mean you have to go home and get changed into a set of shantung theatre curtains. You should be able to wear what you have on at work, and simply add a pair of strappy sandals or high heels, a small evening bag, and a pair of sparkly earrings.

A simple shirt and a pair of pants should be able to walk confidently into cocktail with the right upmarket accessories and reapplication of lipstick.

Inspiration for gents (L-R): Wretch 32, Tinie Tempah, John Slattery, Jon Hamm and Ryan Reynolds.

This brings me to the men. For the most part, conservative and restrictive dress codes and a reasonable indifference to trends has made life so much easier for them in the past. You had to wear a suit, a shirt, some shoes and socks. Maybe a tie.

Well, that’s all over guys. You can wear jeweled sandals now. Lurex trousers. Velvet loafers. A silk sarong. The options for you today are endless, just like ours.

It’s not such a walk in the park now, is it?


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