Just who invented the cocktail party is up for debate. Americans claim the invention as their own when in 1917 a Mrs Julius S Walsh of St Louis, Missouri, invited 50 guests to her house on a Sunday for a one-hour soiree after which a St Louis newspaper reported that “the party was an instant hit and within weeks cocktail parties had become a St Louis institution”. On the other hand, there is also suggestion that it’s origins date back to 1798 when the word was first used in a London newspaper.
Regardless of it’s origin, the fact of the matter is that what to wear is the crucial element in attending a charity cocktail party.
With the variety of upcoming day and evening charity cocktail events listed on the Charity Do’s website, it’s timely that the old rule of wearing a perfect knee-length dress and chic clutch is no longer de rigueur.
Fashion’s hierarchy is setting new rules for cocktail party dressing and you can shake it up and stir the style pot when choosing your ensemble – just remember the two key words for cocktail dress code, “elegance” and “dressy”, and you won’t put a red-soled foot wrong.
So what do you wear to a charity cocktail party? Firstly consider the type of event, is it:
- a day or evening event?
- modern or traditional?
- formal or a little more relaxed?
Secondly, consider your moda-operandi – to frock or not to frock? Consider this tidbit of fashion history relating to the invention of the cocktail dress when making your choice; cocktail fashion for women began in the 1920’s marking a shift in their social role with a new-found freedom which came about from taking jobs in the First World War and from their ability to vote. Their liberty was said to have been expressed by dress, with shorter hairstyles and shorter hemlines.
So if you wish to adhere to nearly 100 years of style tradition and frock up for the occasion, the style of dress is perfectly explained by fashion’s ultimate style authority, Vogue:
“A cocktail dress can be many things—embellished or plain, jewel-toned or black, sleeveless or strapped, decollete or covered-up but it can never be long. Its abbreviated length is its defining characteristic, and what sets it apart from formal dresses that deliver codified glamour head-to-toe”.
Well said, thank you Vogue and point taken – formal wear including floor length gowns and tuxedos are not cocktail party etiquette.
So how to choose your cocktail dress? Here are some style tips:
- The classic sheath dress or LBD to the knee remains the perennial favourite and is the epitome of lady-like elegance. Modernize the look with a lace-embellished version.
- Peplum styles are also perfect for adding extra style élan
- If you want to add a little sass and sexiness (but not too much), opt for a fit-and-flare style or if you have great legs, choose a shorter style above-the-knee
- For evening parties, add maximum amounts of glamour and shine with sequins, embellishments and lots of bling.
- Fabrics such as lace, silks and chiffons are great for daytime events. Eye-catching prints or delicate florals can add style-wattage as does monochrome looks that is so on-trend now.
- Evening is the time for sequins, flounces and embellishments in either sleeker sheath-style dresses or softer more fluid options
Pretty cocktail style for day:
Glamourous evening styles:
Alternate Styles for Cocktail Party Dressing
On the other hand, if you want to shake it up a little and opt away from the traditional frock, choose from a number of styles:
- Soft and fluid wide-legged pants teamed with a soft blouse and jacket is perfect for day or night. If it’s an evening party, opt for a sequinned jacket.
- A jumpsuit is a great way to modernise cocktail dressing. For day choose a softer style with wider-leg pant, for evening choose a sexy fitted style with strappy sky-high heels.
- A beautifully cut suit is a great (and comfortable) choice for evening cocktail dressing. Rev it up with a bright colour such as siren red or fuscia pink and pair with a beautiful evening sandal or jeweled pump.
For day, beware too much bling – perhaps a lovely set of crystal earrings and elegant bracelets or cuffs. A cocktail ring adds a little glamour to day dressing and of course, pearls are perfect for day or night.
Evening soirees demand show-stopping jewellery so up the ante and go for maximum (but elegant) shine.
An elegant shoe with slim heel is your best choice and the perfect piece de resistance for both day and night cocktail parties is an elegant minaudière
Whether your choice is a fabulous frock or more contemporary style remember to let your personality define your look and you can’t go wrong.
I leave you with a quote from novelist F. Scott Fitgerald who wrote “what kicked off the Jazz Age was the general decision to be amused that began with the cocktail parties of 1921.”