One of the most exciting parts about attending a party is deciding what to wear — but a “Christmas cocktails” dress code can often leave guests stumped. After all, curating an event-appropriate, on-trend look that feels true to your personal style can sometimes be challenging. It’s difficult to strike the right balance between formal and casual, and the traditional little black dress won’t always cut it!

To help with this sartorial dilemma, the all-things-cocktail experts at The Mixer have taken inspiration from the runways and put together a guide on dressing to impress during the season to come.

What is cocktail attire, exactly?

The term “cocktail attire” was coined by Christian Dior in the late 1940s and opened up a world of in-between, not-too-fancy but not-too-casual options. Cocktail dresses fell to mid-calf in a direct compromise between longer, fancier ballgowns and shorter, less formal daytime dresses. Decidedly less refined than “black tie” but not as laidback as “semi-formal,” cocktail attire offers the wearer more creative freedom in finding the middle ground between fancy and casual dress.

Inspiration for a modern take on the classic cocktail attire inspired by the 1940s can easily be found on this year’s runways, which displayed a number of cocktail-appropriate ensembles. From floor-length hems to modest layers, runway models and street-style stars offer plenty of inspiration.

5 Cocktail Party Fashion Trends to Try

This season’s fashion trends take us back to longer hemlines, heavy embellishments, and layered looks. These carefully curated styles perfectly blend into the cocktail attire category with an elegant, effortless, and modest leaning. Study up so you can infuse these high-fashion styling techniques into your holiday outfit choices!

#1: Floor-Length Hems

One of the first rules of cocktail attire relates to just how revealing clothes should be. Floor-length hems are trending right now, and this length offers the modest coverage that is synonymous with cocktail attire. Balanced by the exposed shoulders of a classic white tank and elbow-length gloves, this ensemble offers visual interest and more than enough coverage. By pairing the all-white outfit with black heels, the outfit instantly becomes more grounded and balanced. The final touch is a chunky necklace, and the overall effect is polished and cohesive.

model in white cocktail attire
Floor-length hems are very “in” right now. Try balancing this modest silhouette with a shoulder-baring top. Image: Acne Studios

#2: Cocktail-Length Skirts and Dresses

Cocktail-length dresses and outfits strike a careful balance between floor-length ballgowns and shorter, more casual dresses. This tea-length vibrant purple skirt is an ode to the classic cocktail length with an added bright punch of modern color and texture. An undone hairstyle and neutral sweater soften the vibrancy of the skirt, making this a perfectly balanced option for an evening event.

model in a purple leather skirt
Pair vibrant statement pieces with more relaxed items and less “done” hairstyles to strike the perfect balance. Image: Bottega Voneta

#3: Embellished Elements

Because cocktail attire is all about balancing the relaxed with the sophisticated, embellished elements play a key role in adding that touch of elegance to any outfit. This classic varsity-style jacket gets an instant upgrade with coordinating glittering floral appliques. The sparkling tea-length skirt is an ode to the classic cocktail dress length, and the slicked-back hairstyle adds an instant cool element to the look. Edgy, unexpected, and with just enough formal elements to balance it out, this is the perfect example of a modern take on classic cocktail attire.

model in embellished jacket
This outfit checks all the boxes — it’s a bold balance of classic and modern, with embellished elements that make it clear this is a special-occasion look. Image: Prada

#4: Curated Layers

Curating a blended style that perfectly balances seemingly opposite elements calls for a lot of layering. This look blends the feminine and masculine associated with fancy and casual dress, respectively, in an unexpected pairing that simply works. A lightweight ballet slipper pink dress moves with the model and shows off a pair of barely-there-heeled sandals peeking through. The oversized leather jacket roughens up the style and adds an element of edge to the look. This ensemble is made up of seemingly opposite ends of the traditional gender-style spectrum, yet the final look remains both cohesive and cocktail-appropriate.

model in black and white outfit
Don’t be shy! Try pairing a classically feminine piece with an edgy leather jacket or oversize black blazer. Image: Saint Laurent

#5: Refined Silhouettes

As mentioned above, cocktail attire is about skipping too-tight dresses and rising hemlines. Instead, consider a more refined silhouette that flatters your figure without showing too much off. Gold accessories balance out the more casual texture of this matching separates outfit, and a pair of heeled boots take this outfit to new heights. The combination of polished elements balances the cozy aesthetic of an elevated sweater set!

model in gray separates
For cocktail occasions, you can easily elevate more casual pieces with the appropriate styling and accessories. Image: Jill Sander

Cocktail dress attire has evolved in the modern age, with more opportunities to experiment with various textures, shapes, and proportions. The one thing that has stayed the same is the essential blend of sophisticated and informal, resulting in a finished look that falls squarely in between “fancy” and “casual.”

All photography is provided by The Mixer. Visit The Mixer for more memorable cocktail-related content, including LOTS of delicious cocktail recipes!


Looking for something a little more casual? Check out these 12 Cozy Sweaters We Love for 2022.

About the Author
Miriam Herst-Stein

Miriam Herst-Stein is a beauty expert whose work has been featured in Byrdie, Birchbox, Woman&Home, and the Huffington Post. Born and raised in Chicago, she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their large collection of color-coded books.