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Cocktail dresses are the best excuse to have some fun with your style—even if you prefer a simple little black dress. While they typically lend themselves to more formal events, that doesn’t mean they should blend in. From their silhouettes to their intricate design details, cocktail dresses should embody the celebration they’re meant for—after all, they don’t call them "party dresses" for nothing.
We set out to find the best cocktail dresses for any and all occasions, categorizing them based on style, fabric, and some popular design features, such as a puff sleeve or ruffled hem. As a result, we put together a list of the best cocktail dresses for weddings, work parties, fancy dinners, and more.
Keep reading for the best cocktail dresses, along with some styling advice from stylists Lindsey DuPuis and Heather Smith.
Meet the Expert
- Lindsey DuPuis is a wardrobe stylist who has worked with celebrities like Brittany Snow and Nikki Reed and publications including InStyle and People.
- Heather Smith is the stylist for Alessandra Ambrosio. Based in Los Angeles, she also works with commercial clients including Target and NYDJ, among others.
Best Overall: Reformation Cassi Knit Dress
The Cassi Knit Dress from Reformation puts a modern spin on a classic cocktail dress silhouette. From the length of the dress to the thickness of the straps, this little black dress can get a ton of mileage, as it’s an appropriate option for office parties, wedding receptions, and fancy dinners—and, of course, cocktails. What makes this dress truly outstanding in our eyes is the comfort. Thanks to its ribbed TENCEL lyocell and spandex material, the dress is one of the most comfortable cocktail dresses ever.
Material: 88% TENCEL lyocell, 12% spandex | Size Range: XS-XL
Best Splurge: Cult Gaia Azaelia Gown
For a splurge-worthy cocktail dress, the Cult Gaia Azaelia Gown is our top choice. This satin, floor-length gown has an ultra-luxe feel in a timeless high cowl neck draped design. This dress is the perfect cocktail dress for galas, fundraisers, weddings, and other black-tie events. And, because of its classic style, it’s a dress you’ll have forever.
Material: 92% silk, 8% spandex; 100% rayon lining | Size Range: XS-L
Best Budget: Wild Fable Sleeveless Ruched Mesh Dress
You don’t have to break the bank to find an amazing cocktail dress. The Sleeveless Ruched Mesh Dress from Target’s Wild Fable label is a great example of that, as it is chic and sexy and looks more expensive than it is. This trendy dress is a nod to Y2K style with its spaghetti straps and mesh overlay—and that aqua-blue wave color screams Carrie Bradshaw in the 2000s. It’s a great option for a party with friends, a wedding, or a night on the town.
Material: Recycled polyester | Size Range: XS-4X
Best Strapless: Vince Camuto Popover Cocktail Dress
Strapless yet sophisticated, the Vince Camuto Popover Cocktail Dress is our top pick for this category, because it boasts a classy design that is still sleek and sexy. The silhouette is one that transcends a variety of personal styles as its simple design makes it easy to accessorize based on shoe, jewelry, and handbag preferences. We love the elegant dress for weddings, fancy dinners, banquets, and more.
Material: 65% polyester, 32% rayon, 3% spandex | Size Range: 0-18
Best Silk: Reformation Marguerite Silk Dress Es
Silk is a fabric must for a classy cocktail dress. While there are some amazing silk dress options on this list, we absolutely adore this Reformation dress for its unique design details, such as its standout pink hue, fitted seamed bodice, faux wrap skirt, and tie straps. Made from lightweight silk, the dress is flirty enough for a night out with your girlfriends, yet sophisticated enough to wear to a more formal event. It's also available in sizes 0-12.
Material: 100% silk | Size Range: 14-24
Best Black: Reformation Damaris Dress
We can’t stop thinking about this stunner, the perfect choice if you’re looking for the best little black dress. The mid-length halter-neck dress features a low back with contrasting white trim on the neckline, creating the perfect cross between sophisticated and sexy. It’s a dress that will truly never go out of style, and one you’ll wear over and over again.
Material: 53% viscose, 47% rayon | Size Range: 0-12
Best Lace: Elliatt Yuna Mix Media Lace Detail Bandage Midi Dress
There is no shortage of lace cocktail dresses, but this one hits our fashion hearts differently. We love the modern spin on this lace dress, with the form-fitting bodice and lace accents on the skirt and shoulder straps. It’s a mix of structural and whimsical and a great choice for summer events, or even a rehearsal dinner.
Material: Polyester and spandex | Size Range: XS-XL
Best Satin: House of CB Myrna Satin Corset Midi Dress
Inspired by corset construction, this cowl neck satin dress from House of CB is one of the sultriest dresses on our list. The form-fitting, knee-length cocktail dress boasts ultra-thin spaghetti straps with a nearly strapless silhouette and has a built-in underwire for support (no bra necessary here). The satin material is ultra sleek and soft with just the right amount of silky sheen.
Material: 100% polyester with 95% polyester, 5% elastane contrast | Size Range: XS-XL (straight), XS-XL (plus)
Best Feathery: Cult Gaia Shannon Feather Mini Dress
If you’re going to wear feathers, we say go all out with a fully flocked—and ultra-chic—dress. For this category, we had to include the Shannon Dress from Cult Gaia. This cocktail dress is covered in ostrich feathers from front to back with a high neckline and mini party dress silhouette. What we love the most about this dress is the dimension, and how the feathers move and flow with every step—it’s like wearing a piece of art, and we are obsessed.
Material: 100% viscose with ostrich feather trim | Size Range: XS-L
Best Leather: Good American Vacay Dress
Good American does faux leather so well—and this Vacay Lace-Up Sheath Dress is no exception. The Y2K-inspired silhouette hits right at the knees with a back slit that serves as a functional design choice, making it a lot easier to walk in the leather material. The real appeal to this dress, though, is the strappy, corset-inspired lace-up back, which perfectly ties the design together and gives some movement and flow to the slick leather dress.
Material: 100% polyurethane | Size Range: XS-5X
Best Square Neck: Staud Mini Wells Dress
This Staud dress is our top pick for the best square neck category, because not only does it have a stellar square neck, but it feels like a nod to the trendy tennis dress, which we love. The corset-paneled fit-and-flair dress is made of 98 percent cotton with a little bit of spandex, giving it a durable construction with breathability and some stretch for added comfort. It’s a universal cocktail dress you can wear with sandals and sneakers, or dress up with a pair of sleek pumps—and it comes in a ton of fun colors, including a stripe option we adore.
Material: 98% cotton, 2% spandex | Size Range: 00-16
Best Sweetheart: Norma Kamali Sweetheart Side Drape Dress
You can’t have a list of the best cocktail dresses without including a dress with a sweetheart neckline. For this category, we love the Norma Kamali Sweetheart Side Drape Dress. It’s a classy silhouette with modern details, including ruching at the sides and a sexy slit. We also love the slanted hem detail, and the sleeve length.
Material: 95% polyester, 5% spandex | Size Range: XS-XL
Best Velvet: Banana Republic Velvet Slip Dress
For a winter or fall cocktail dress, velvet is always in season. This swoon-worthy Velvet Slip Dress from Banana Republic is our top pick, thanks to its trendy silhouette and all the styling opportunities. Because it’s a mini, it would work well for warmer fall evenings, but just imagine how good it would look with a pair of fun tights and heels. It’s classy, cozy, and super sexy.
Material: 100% polyester | Size Range: XXS-XXL
Best Puff Sleeve: Azeeza Cameron Dress
Puff sleeves bring the party, and we are all about their statement-making superpowers. For this category, the Azeeza Cameron Dress was a no-brainer. Everything from the color to the dress silhouette to the sheen of the silk fabric takes our breath away. And, those sleeves—those sleeves! They have the right amount of poof, are the perfect length, and have elastic at the shoulders, so you can wear the dress off the shoulder, too.
Material: 100% silk | Size Range: XS-L
Best Tie Straps: Show Me Your Mumu Claire Midi Dress
Whether you’re shopping for a wedding outfit or want a cocktail dress that feels a little less constructed, Show Me Your Mumu’s Claire Midi Dress is an excellent pick. We love this dress because of the simple shape and design, plus the quality of construction and comfortableness with the stretchy smocked back. What really captured our hearts were the tie straps, and the fact that they are detachable, so you basically get two looks in one dress.
Material: 100% polyester | Size Range: XXS-3X
Best One-Shoulder: Mac Duggal One-Shoulder Metallic Brocade Midi Cocktail Dress
If you’re looking for a fun cocktail party dress, we found your match. This one shoulder dress from Mac Duggal feels vintage-inspired with its silhouette, yet modern with the addition of pockets. The fit-and-flare style feels universal, the ruffled sleeve feels ultra fun, and the overall coverage feels appropriate for many different formal occasions. Whether it’s a black tie event or a swanky New Year’s Eve party, it’s a one-shoulder dress to remember.
Material: 100% polyester | Size Range: 0-18
Best Print: Staud Le Sable Dress
Make a bold statement with this even bolder print. This beaded mini dress from Staud boasts a simple square-neck silhouette as the backdrop for a magical print. Featuring graphic beaded art depicting a leopard, a palm tree, the sun, waves, and a lobster, the dress is such a fun and fresh take on prints.
Material: 83% nylon, 17% spandex; 100% polyester lining | Size Range: 00-16
Best Ruffle: Amur Gen Floral Silk Cutout Midi Dress
For a show-stopping ruffle cocktail dress, look no further. This cut-out dress from AMUR is a mix of all of our favorite things: It’s frilly and floral with a ton of great movement. (This is a dress that makes us want to dance!) In addition to the amazing ruffles, we love the high-low hemline and plunging neckline that complements the waist cutout.
Material: 100% silk | Size Range: 0-14
Best Floral: ASTR The Label Gaia Floral Midi Dress
With 15 different floral prints to choose from, the Gaia Floral Midi Dress from ASTR the Label was a shoo-in for this category, but the floral print is the only reason it’s on our list. The dress is high-quality (it certainly doesn’t feel like an under-$100 dress) and has a silhouette that is always in style, so you’ll get many wears from it. It also has a high slit on the side, which makes it breathable enough to wear on warm summer days, and the criss-cross adjustable straps make you feel secure while you dance the night away.
Material: 100% polyester | Size Range: XS-XL
Best Body-Con: Dress the Population Karlie Sleeveless Body-Con Midi Cocktail Dress
We chose this body-con cocktail dress from Dress the Population because, while it is form-fitting, it’s also inspired by a more sophisticated design with a jewel neck and low scoop back, and a leg slit for more movement. We love this dress because it’s sleek, stylish, and a great length for more formal occasions. It’s also made of a stretchy satin material, making it more flexible and comfortable for long wear.
Material: 92% polyester, 8% spandex | Size Range: XS-XXL
How We Researched
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like material, size range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from 1 to 5 (5 being the best; 1 being the worst) to certain products on the list.
What to Look for in Cocktail Dresses
Silhouette and color
“When shopping for a cocktail dress, make sure the silhouette and color is flattering for your figure and skin tone,” says celebrity stylist Lindsey DuPuis. “This is your opportunity to accentuate your favorite feature, so take this chance to show off your legs, neckline, shoulders, collar bones, or whatever makes you feel most confident.”
“In a cocktail dress, I look for something I haven’t seen before,” says celebrity stylist Heather Smith. “Maybe it’s a pop of color, feather detail, disco ball metallic.” Cocktail dresses are meant to be fun and statement-making, making them a good opportunity to up the ante on uniqueness.
What is a cocktail dress?
“By definition, a cocktail dress is a semi-formal dress intended to be worn to late afternoon or early evening social gatherings, events, or occasions,” says DuPuis. “The term ‘cocktail attire’ can feel like a vague suggestion. Keep in mind that it doesn’t mean dresses only; it can also include jumpsuits and elevated suiting,” she adds, noting that cocktail attire “allows for more creative self-expression through colors and silhouettes.”
Where do you wear a cocktail dress?
According to Smith, a cocktail dress is best suited for “a semi-formal work event, wedding rehearsal dinners, and dinners on vacation when you want to spice it up.” You can also wear a cocktail dress to a more upscale restaurant or bar.
How do you style a cocktail dress?
“When styling a cocktail dress, don’t be afraid to take a risk,” says Smith. “Take off your everyday earrings and throw on a larger hoop, a fun chandelier, or mix matched earrings,” she adds, noting that you should also “always wear open-toe [shoes] with a cocktail dress.” According to DuPuis, extra attention should be given when styling a little black dress, too. “If you’re wearing a black dress, make sure your accessories attract attention. Try a statement earring and bold clutch,” she explains. “And, if you opt for a more elaborate dress, keep the accessories simple.”
Why Trust Byrdie
Contributing writer Jessie Quinn has a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism. From working in the fashion closet and interviewing designers at NYLON to now writing about the best style trends for various publications, Jessie researches and sources the best fashion finds. For this story, Jessie considered her own personal research—including styles she owns and loves—as well as top-rated designs. She considered everything from trends and comfort to potential cost-per-wear, as well as interviewed two stylists for their fashion expertise and how to style cocktail dresses.