cocktail dresses
Image: Zimmermann

Perfect cocktail dresses for every occasion

12 Oct 2023 | |By Luxury London

Put the joy back into dressing up with fun, fabulous cocktail dresses guaranteed to turn heads

All products are chosen independently by our editors. Luxury London may earn commission on items purchased.

While the classic cocktail dress may be anything but humble, it seems it’s become rather overlooked of late. A mainstay of glamorous nights on the town during the 1980s, ‘90s and Noughties, the combined forces of Mrs Prada, Phoebe Philo and Sarah Burton turned our heads away from shimmering look-at-me micro-minis and towards the quiet luxury of clean, minimal lines and long, lean silhouettes during the 2010s. Forget skyscraper heels – every cool girl knew Stan Smiths were the only shoes to be seen in.

Then the pandemic hit and many of us practically forgot about fashion altogether. After all, why bother searching for a perfectly cut white shirt or adhering to the latest trouser trends when the world is only going to see you from the shoulders up via Zoom? Even post-lockdown, the whiplash that lingered from frequently changing rules left many reluctant to invest in the kind of clothing that required a real occasion. As they say, you can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict when the rule of six will come back into force.

But the year is 2023 and thigh-skimming hemlines, sequins and sparkle are seemingly everywhere. So, really, you’ve no excuse not to nail a cocktail dress code. But before we get to the fun part (the shopping, obviously), allow me to clear up any confusion over what a cocktail dress actually entails.

Firstly, we are absolutely not talking about gowns. Turn up to a cocktail party in anything longer than a midi dress and you will feel vastly overdressed. Instead, a good cocktail dress should walk the line between formal and smart-casual. It should call for heels or party flats (sorry, Stan Smith fans), a hemline that falls somewhere between mini and midi and, ideally, design elements that make it clear this is not office attire. Think textured fabrics, embellishment, vibrant colours and flamboyant patterns. The cocktail dress is truly the peacock of the fashion world.

So, grab your sparkliest clutch and your finest metallic eyeshadow palette. It’s time to go out-out in one of this season’s best cocktail dresses.

Black cocktail dresses

If short, flirty, frothy dresses aren’t exactly your comfort zone, a trusty LBD will see you through pretty much every celebratory occasion. Choose wisely and a simple change of accessories will yield a different look every time. So, even if you stretch your budget, the cost-per-wear will make it a savvy investment. Add interest with the help of subtle embellishments or unusual design details.

Alexander McQueen double-breasted mini dress

Riffing on Alexander McQueen’s beginnings on Savile Row, this seriously chic mini dress turns the tuxedo on its head. Wear with sky high heels for party time or opaque tights and chunky boots for an edgy office look.

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Red Valentino bow appliqué dress

The sweet younger sibling to Valentino’s main line, Red Valentino is the label to turn to for youthful gowns full of romance and whimsy. The bow applique torso detailing on this strapless midi is a case in point.

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Nensi Dojaka asymmetric cut-out dress

Nensi Dojaka is the house du jour for incredible sexy slinky dressed. It’s take on the LBD comes with an asymmetric cut-out, a semi-sheer insert, and a side slit perfect for the dance floor.

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Rachel Gilbert embroidered dress

All-over bead embellishment and fringe detailing imbue this short Rachel Gilbert number with vintage glamour. No jewellery required.

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Metallic cocktail dresses

Nothing says party time like slinky, shimmery gowns rendered in light-reflecting metallic fabrics. And, while gold and silver are great, this season’s best metallic cocktail dresses are hewn in a spectrum of hues ranging from inky greys to eye-popping neons. Not a fan of a short hemline? A metallic midi is every bit as cocktail hour-appropriate as its miniature cousin.

Jane Renata dress

Rendered in a silver-tone metallic finish, Jane’s uber-flattering midi dress offers a modest twist on classic cocktail dressing.

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Bella Freud Anjelica dress

Ramp up the sex appeal (without giving too much away) in Bella Freud’s ruched, sculpted, high-neck gown.

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Sabina Musayev Marissa plissé dress

Playful and flirty, Sabina Musayev’s brown pleated Marissa dress is cut with an A-line silhouette and is perfect for twirling around the dance floor.

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Saint Laurent lamé dress

Crafted in a luxurious silver lamé with a cinched waist and demure sleeves and neckline, Saint Laurent’s metallic mini dress is the last word in elegant dressing.

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Colourful cocktail dresses

Looking for a party dress that you can repurpose come next summer’s wedding season? Allow us to point you in the direction of something bright, bold and endlessly versatile. The rules here are simple. Opt for one solid hue that doesn’t stray too far into either pastel or jewel tones and look for finishings that scream 1960s hostess. Think feather trims, crystal details and floaty, exaggerated silhouettes.

Oscar de la Renta crystal Dahlia dress

This bright pink shift from Oscar de la Renta is giving ‘Jackie O hosting a Christmas party at the White House’. We’re here for it.

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Nina Ricci puff-sleeve dress

Sure, you may have to be a little careful when the canape trays start coming round, but the compliments this Nina Ricci dress will elicit will be totally worth it.

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Taller Marmo Piccolo Ubud feather-trimmed dress

Taller Marmo’s signature Ubud dress comes in a rainbow of shades (and lengths) but this orange version is the real stand out.

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Valentino Duchesse satin dress

A minimal straight-cut silhoutte offset with bolero cap sleeves rendered in a bright aubergine hue, this Valentino dress is the easiest traffic-stopping look you’ll wear this season.

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Embellished cocktail dresses

The festive season may be the perfect excuse to wear head-to-toe sequins (in fact, we actively encourage it) but any cocktail dress code is reason to don a little bit of sparkle. Steer clear of all-over embroidery or crystals and opt for the unexpected – pearls and Pop Art-style details are the perfect alternative.

Self-portrait crystal-embellished fishnet dress

Fishnets may not have the most elegant associations, but Self-Portrait pairs them with crystal embellishments and a mermaid silhouette for an instantly glamorous look.

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Clio Peppiatt Prism dress

Keep styling minimal if you opt for Clio Peppiatt’s Prism dress. It’s hand-beaded rainbow gradient and shimmering crystals do all the talking.

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David Koma cut-out crystal-embellished dress

Take a break from all-over embellishment with David Koma’s cutout mini dress. A flash of thigh and a hint of sparkle courtesy of crystal-embellished chain-link detailing speak volumes.

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Marchesa Notte sequin-embellished dress

Florals for spring may be passé but they’re a great idea for winter. Embrace sparkly florals with Marchesa Notte’s sequin-embellished blue dress.

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Patterned cocktail dresses

Tricky cut-outs and voluminous silhouettes aren’t for everyone. Good news, then, that all you really need do to stand out from the crowd is find a dress in your favoured style rendered in a gorgeous print. Florals, geometric, graphic: the choice is yours, just make it loud.

Borgo De Nor Vida dress

There’s florals and then there’s Borgo de Nor florals. Big, blooming and bursting with a palette of rich hues, a black backdrop and feather trim put a darkly chic spin on this classic.

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Emilia Wickstead Zephyr satin dress

At the other end of the spectrum, Emilia Wickstead’s dainty bouquets give this racy micro mini a wonderfully girlish aesthetic.

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Ahluwalia Ojewale midi dress

Ahluwalia’s signature Ojewale geometric print takes its name from a classic Nigerian family name and riffs on the colours and shapes found in traditional Akwete fabrics. It’s the perfect foil for a minimalist slip dress.

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Zimmermann Luminosity draped dress

Zimmermann has built an entire brand on floaty, feminine pieces saturated with painterly prints. With an autumnal colour palette and asymmetric drapes, its Luminosity dress adds princess vibes.

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