Best cocktail dresses: The 12 dresses that will ensure you dazzle at any party this season

On the hunt for the best cocktail dresses? These are the styles for all body shapes and budgets our fashion editor recommends

three models in the best cocktail dresses
(Image credit: Coast / Phase Eight / Simply Be)

While the invites never really stop, as we head towards the Holiday season, the best cocktail dresses suddenly become a key part of our wardrobe. Whether you've got work parties to attend or a winter wedding in the diary, finding the perfect cocktail dress to toast any celebration is a surprisingly tall order. 

The best cocktail dresses tread the fine line between occasionwear without going OTT. Not quite as formal as black tie clothing but not as casual as your favorite jeans and cute top ensemble, a cocktail dress helps to instantly up your style game, making sipping that champagne even more enjoyable. But what makes the best cocktail dresses stand apart from your regular best dresses? A cocktail dress is made to be worn for evening events, which means it automatically demands a sleek and sultry twist. 

While your day dress might feel light and bright, for evening cocktail wear you will want to consider more jewel tones, as well as classic darker hues of navy and black. Fabric is important to consider too, more tactile fabrics such as velvet and light-catching silks replace daytime linen and cotton for a dramatic finish. You might also want to consider embellishment details. Lace trims, pretty beadwork, feathers, or sequins might feel a lot for a day outfit, but come cocktail hour, you can easily weavee these finishes into your ensemble. 

12 best cocktail dresses - selected by a fashion editor

When it comes to silhouettes, there are no hard and fast rules. As a general guide, we recommend opting for a midi, knee-length or thigh scraping style, as traditionally maxi or gown length dresses are not worn for cocktail events, however as hem lengths are often dictated by the latest trends, there is some wiggle room, if you'd prefer to go for a longer skirt length.

The main thing that sets a cocktail dress apart is the leaning towards more luxe fabrications and the use of embellishment detail. This means that you can concentrate on picking a silhouette that you feel most confident in. Here are 12 cocktail dresses we're loving for the season ahead.

navy tiered ruffle t-shirt dress

(Image credit: Phase Eight)

1. Phase Eight Nika Blue Ruffled Dress

Best cocktail dress to flatter a tummy

Specifications

RRP: $230 / £129
Sizes: US: 2-26 / UK: 6-26
Fabric: 100% polyester

Reasons to buy

+
Trendy ruffle effect
+
Good size range
+
Timeless design

Reasons to avoid

-
No embellishment

This lovely ruffled dress is ideal for a cocktail party. The tiered ruffle gently skims your middle, making this one of the most stylish dresses to hide a tummy. The dark navy hue makes a welcome change from classic black and is much more flattering on all skin tones. 

With a sheer, chiffon style yoke and sleeves, this dress gives discreet upper arm coverage, whilst ensuring your silhouette does not feel swamped under the fabric. Falling to just below the knee, this dress offers a modest and stylish finish, ideal for any cocktail soiree this season. Although the sleeve is short, this frock can be worn throughout all seasons. 

Available up to a size 26, this is a good option for those looking for a plus-size cocktail dress too. The ruffled tiers will also give great movement on the dancefloor, should drinks lead to a little bit of a shimmy. 


pink off the shoulder self stripe dress

(Image credit: Simply Be)

2. Jo by Joanna Hope Bardot Pink Dress

Best plus size cocktail dress

Specifications

RRP: £89 (UK only)
Sizes: UK: 10-26
Fabric: 100% polyester

Reasons to buy

+
Great color
+
Good size range
+
Longer sleeve

Reasons to avoid

-
Off the shoulder style demands a strapless bra

If you've loved the best pink dresses this season, then inject this look into your cocktail dress wardrobe. From one of the best plus size clothing brands, Simply Be really know how to cut for curves, so you can guarantee this dress nips and skims in all the right places. We love the double pink, self-stripe for added contrast, and the tiered skirt and sleeves help to create added detail and a flattering A-line finish. 

Swap the self-fabric belt for a leather design for added luxe and to make this cocktail dress appear far more expensive than its straight-to-market price tag. 

Ideal for an early Fall party, this dose of color and high shine fabric really makes this quite a style statement. As the dress is off the shoulder, you will need one of the best strapless bras to make this look work. 


navy jersey wrap style dress

(Image credit: Boden)

3. Boden Ruched Jersey Dress

Best cocktail dress for apple body shapes

Specifications

RRP: $150 / £98
Sizes: US: 2-22 / UK: 6-22
Fabric: 95% viscose 5% elastane

Reasons to buy

+
Flattering ruching across the midriff
+
Can be worn for lots of occasions making it cost-effective
+
Comes in three colors/prints

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a luxe fabric

Although this dress doesn't adhere to the tactile element of a cocktail dress, we can almost guarantee this is one of the most versatile dresses you will ever own. The flattering faux wrap design is great across busts large and small, while the ruching across the stomach area makes it particularly flattering on apple body shapes.

Treat this jersey dress as the ultimate layering piece and you'll wonder how you lived without it. Dress it up with lashings of jewelry, your best designer bag, and a great pair of shoes; Give it a refresh with a statement embellished jacket or embroidered knit, or dress it down for the office or daytime with a denim jacket and a pair of flats. This is the dress your capsule wardrobe has been waiting for. 


halter neck cream cut out back mini dress

(Image credit: Mango)

4. Mango Cut-Out Back Dress

Best halter top cocktail dress

Specifications

Price: $59.99 / £35.99
Sizes: US: 0-12 / UK: 4-16
Fabric: 85% viscose,15% linen. Lining: 85% polyester,15% cotton

Reasons to buy

+
Chic design
+
Great price point
+
Ideal for rectangle body types

Reasons to avoid

-
Backless, harder to wear a bra

There is something so elegant about a halter neck dress. An ideal shape for a cocktail frock and those with a rectangular body type, the halter style naturally elongates your frame, drawing eyes up the body. 

This beautiful dress from Spanish clothing brand, Mango features a delicate cut-out back, making it a tricky one to wear if you need anything more than a stick-on bra. So it's ideal for those with a smaller bust, who could potentially go bra-free. 

With a thigh-skimming finish, this lovely dress can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion, as it is embellishment free, although the halter and cut-out back certainly loans itself to more dressy events. 

To make this look work for a cocktail evening, lean into the more relaxed, straight cut and team with a pair of low-heeled mules and a classic clutch. Forgo necklaces, opting instead for sculptural statement earrings and a chunky cocktail ring. 


shirt dress in patchwork print

(Image credit: Net a Porter / Zimmermann)

5. Zimmermann Lilac Print Shirt Dress

Best cocktail dress for weddings

Specifications

RRP: $850 / £725
Sizes: 0-3
Fabrics: 100% linen

Reasons to buy

+
Designer style
+
Linen will keep you cool
+
Statement print

Reasons to avoid

-
Small and confusing size range

Looking for one of the best wedding guest dresses for a cocktail party. Enter Zimmermann. The Australian clothing brand has garnered a reputation for some of the most stylish and joyful dresses on the market, pairing laidback, boho styling with statement prints to create pretty frocks that always hit the mark. 

Crafted from linen, this dress is a great option for keeping you cool and the soft floral print feels light, bright and romantic - spot on for what to wear to a wedding

We love the fullness of the skirt - ideal for partying the night away, while the higher neckline and chic full sleeves keep the look directional. Pair it with sleek barely-there heels and a subtle clutch to let the frock garner the attention it deserves. 


petite ruffled shoulder midi dress

(Image credit: Karen Millen)

6. Karen Millen Petite Structured Crepe Ruffle Midi Dress

Best petite cocktail dress

Specifications

RRP: $342 / £199
Sizes: US: 0-12 / UK: 4-16
Fabric: 92% Polyester, 8% Elastane/Spandex, Lining: 100% Polyester

Reasons to buy

+
If you've been after a petite midi length, this is it
+
Vibrant color and statement design
+
Elongates your frame with clever styling

Reasons to avoid

-
Small size options

If you're constantly on the hunt for the best petite dresses, then this beauty should be added to your list. One of the best cocktail dresses for petites we've seen this season, the midi length hem is one that can be tricky for those under 5'4, however, thanks to the fact this dress is specifically designed for petite silhouettes means the hem length should be just right. 

The asymmetric design and the heightened ruffle is a clever styling trick to elongate your frame. Drawing the eye up the body and to the height of the ruffle, you'll be adding inches to your torso, no heels required. The amazing jewel colorway makes it ideal for a cocktail party, and this dress will team beautifully with gold shoes and bag to finish off the look. 


purple maxi cocktail dress

(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners / Scarlett & Jo)

7. Scarlett & Jo Kemi Dress in Purple

Best cocktail dress for a large bust

Specifications

RRP: £85 (UK only)
Sizes: UK: 12-28
Fabrics: 92% polyester, 8% elastane

Reasons to buy

+
Vibrant color
+
Frames a bust
+
Good size range

Reasons to avoid

-
Maxi length not always ideal for cocktail

Some of the best cocktail dresses have the habit of being a little on the skimpy side, which means if you usually wear the best bras for large busts, dressing for a cocktail party can induce a full-blown, sartorial meltdown. 

This striking purple dress from Scarlett & Jo clearly frames the bustline beautifully, enhancing a cleavage. For the best effect, you'll want to look for a plunge or balconette style bra as you'll want a cup that cuts lower across the bust line. Forming an empire line this plus size cocktail dress will look great on curvaceous figures, skimming stomachs and enhancing your boobs too. One of the best plus size dresses (it's stocked up to a size 28), it's available in four colorways, so if you're looking for the best bridesmaid dresses this season, this is a great option.


satin green bias cut dress

(Image credit: Ghost)

8. Ghost Grace Satin Midi Dress

Best cocktail dress for small bust

Specifications

RRP: $255 / £179
Sizes: XXS-XL
Fabric: 100% vscose, eco-satin

Reasons to buy

+
Ideal for smaller busts
+
Looks instantly luxurious
+
Style classic

Reasons to avoid

-
Bias cut and satin fabric can be quite clingy

Loved by the likes of Kate Middleton, Ghost dresses have an instant elegant quality to them. Largely cut on the bias, in eco-satin, they have a beautiful drape and handle that lightly skims the body. This beautiful silhouette is ideal for a cocktail dress and we love the light-catching fabric in this jeweled hue. Available in a selection of colors, this dress is a wonderful piece for those with a smaller bust, as the empire line cut with the ruching along the bust line, serves as a stylish way to enhance a bust and give a fuller and rounder finish. 

In a midi-length design, the brand has similar pieces in shorter and longer lengths, both with and without sleeves, making this an ideal place to head for special occasionwear and even for those looking for a delicate and timeless bridal dress. 

Maximize on the simplicity and pair this dress with delicate, fine jewelry and barely noticeable heels to finish. 


black blazer tux dress

(Image credit: Matches / Saint Laurent)

9. Saint Laurent Black Double-Breasted Blazer Dress

Best black cocktail dress

Specifications

RRP: $3,263 / £2,365
Sizes: UK: 6-14
Fabric: 100% wool

Reasons to buy

+
Edgier look than most cocktail dresses
+
High-quality fabrics and cut
+
Timeless design

Reasons to avoid

-
Quite a boxy fit

The best cocktail dresses don't have to be uber feminine. Saint Laurent is known for making some of the best tuxedos for women and this tuxedo-style blazer dress draws on all that expertise for a head-turning look. With a borrowed-from-the-boys feel, this blazer is made from 100% wool for a really high-quality finish. And although this is slightly boxier than many cocktail dresses, the thigh-skimming hemline and power shoulders help to flatter and balance the more relaxed fit throughout the body. 

One of the most striking cocktail dresses, this LBD is one that you can turn to time and time again, making it a savvy investment piece. Simply switch up your look each season with new heels and a bag, preferably in an eye-catching color to contrast with the black dress. 


orange ruffle hem bodycon dress

(Image credit: Matches / Alexander McQueen)

10. Alexander McQueen Off-The-Shoulder Jersey Dress

Best designer cocktail dress

Specifications

RRP: $2,398 / £1,790
Sizes: XS-XL
Fabric: 100% jersey

Reasons to buy

+
Easily layered 
+
Stylish cut
+
Statement hue

Reasons to avoid

-
Color won't work for everyone

When it comes to British designer brands, McQueen is right up there as one of our favorites. The label behind Kate Middleton's wedding dress, McQueen creates some of the most striking collections and is certainly one to invest in. 

This bodycon orange dress, with a ruffled hemline, will make a fantastic cocktail dress and inject the occasion with a bit of celebratory bold color - dopamine dressing anyone? With an off-the-shoulder silhouette, this jersey dress will hug every contour of your frame and while it will in many ways act in the same way as shapewear - thanks to the weightier fabric, you will most likely want to invest in some of the best shapewear for the ultimate in streamlined looks. 

This dress is a stand-out piece on its own, but due to its close fit, it will also be a fantastic base layer for directional blazers or a statement leather jacket if you want to switch it up. 


white and silver cocktail dress with sequins

(Image credit: Coast)

11. Coast Cluster Embellished Midi Dress

Best white cocktail dress

Specifications

RRP: £179 (UK only)
Sizes: UK: 8-18
Fabric: Recycled Polyester Lining: Recycled Polyester

Reasons to buy

+
Embellished dress ideal for a party
+
Could be used for a rehearsal dinner, bridal shower or bridesmaids
+
Universally flattering silhouette

Reasons to avoid

-
UK only

A striking ivory dress with silver sequins, this look is one that will certainly help you shine. A great choice for a cocktail party, this pretty dress would also work for brides for pre-wedding events, nailing what to wear to a bridal shower or making one of the best rehearsal dinner dresses, where white is often worn. 

The silver sequin detailing is bang on trend for 2022 and we expect to see more embellished looks as we head further into the Fall, and in the run-up to the Holiday season. 

With a fit and flare silhouette, this dress is ideal for highlighting or creating an hourglass body shape and is great for those looking for a cocktail dress for a curvaceous silhouette - nipping you in at the waist, before skimming hips and stomachs. The look is balanced with a fitted bodice, that will gently contour a bustline.

Team with silver jewelry and discreet footwear to allow the dress to do the talking.


beaded cocktail dress in biscotti hue

(Image credit: Macy's / Adrianna Papell)

12. Adrianna Papell Women's Beaded Midi Dress

Best cocktail dress brand

Specifications

RRP: $270 / £244.90
Sizes: US: 0-16
Fabric: Polyester

Reasons to buy

+
Stunning embellishment
+
Experts in occasionwear
+
Neutral colorway

Reasons to avoid

-
Difficult to wear a strapped bra with this dress

When it comes to special occasion pieces, Adrianna Papell is often our go-to. The brand has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to creating party-ready pieces with flattering fits and well-placed beading to ensure you look and feel great on the night. This biscotti-colored hued dress has gorgeous godet pleats that are supremely flattering on all body types, while the intricate beadwork creates an illusion style, central panel to lengthen your silhouette and narrow your waistline. 

Team with simple accessories to allow the beadwork to do all the hard work in this look.

With a big selection of cocktail dresses, this is a brand you can rely on to create timeless pieces that will put a stop to those 'nothing to wear moments'. Mixing sheer and opaque fabrics for a stylish finish, the brand also has plus size and petite collections. 


Best places to buy the best cocktail dresses

When it comes to where to buy the best cocktail dresses, as a general rule of thumb, we would start with retailers who you know do standout partywear. Cocktail dresses aren't hugely different from other special occasionwear looks, so shopping with retailers and brands you have been successful with in the past will hopefully contribute to an easier shopping experience. 

Occasionwear, such as cocktail dresses can be a little more fitted than everyday pieces, so you might want to try a few different sizes, especially if you've not purchased party items from a label before. You also will want to make sure you're wearing a bra with good uplift and consider some shapewear for the smoothest of finishes.

Of course, as we head towards the Holiday season more and more retailers will be offering special occasion lines and this is the best time to stock up on cocktail dresses. For pieces that will work year through, invest in metallic hues, or classic black and navy designs as these will become great fallback options that can constantly be reinvented.