Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Creative Cocktail Attire

Dear Belle,

Hey! I’m going to Artini in 1.5 weeks. Attire is “creative cocktail” what does that mean? Help!

Confused by Invitation Jargon

When inviting guests to an event, it’s a good idea to give them guidance on what to wear.  Invitations often feature phrases like business casual, cocktail, black tie and white tie.  Recently, my generation, unhappy with the social conventions of yesteryear, decided to expand the traditional dress codes to include things like “creative cocktail,” “city casual,” “resort cocktail” and “relaxed formal.” 

That last one always gets me.  The first time that I saw it on an invite, I laughed until I was blue. 

To better understand creative cocktail, let’s use a Capitol Hill analogy.  Sometimes you can follow the spirit but not the letter of the law.  Meaning that you don’t do exactly what it says to do but any changes you make still retain the essence of the law’s intention.

Creative cocktail is the same way.  You will keep with the spirit of cocktail attire (semi-formal, dresses and jackets) but not limit yourself to the traditional staid black dresses and boring pumps.  Instead, you will add a belt to your sequin cocktail dress or carry a crazy purse or wear bright red lipstick with a dramatic hairdo.  You’re basic attire is cocktail but what color palette you use, what accessories you add and how you put it all together is creative. 

My guess is that because Artini is at the Corcoran, they used “creative cocktail” to prevent guests from showing up in the tres-boring Hill attire that we wear to rubber chicken dinners.  Need a visual reference? Check Artini’s website for photos from last year’s event or go to Brightest Young Things and investigate the photos of Hirshorn After Dark. 

If I were you, this is the outfit that I would wear:

Cynthia Steffe Laney Dress (Revolve Clothing, $375)

Nothing says “traditional cocktail,” like a chiffon dress.  But this dress has pleated tiers and a lighter color than your traditional black LBD.

Three Beacons Belt (Anthropologie, $34)

Since tiered dresses are notorious figure-killers, I decided to add a cognac belt to relax the cocktail dress and give me an actual waistline.  Make sure to choose a wider belt with a tiered dress because a skinny belt is just going to get swallowed up in the layers.

Inge Christopher Hard Case Clutch (Lori’s Shoes, $144)


 Pour la Victoire Bridgette Sandal (Nordstrom, $275)

Is this outfit Earth shatteringly creative? Not so much. But I’m a girl who prefers muted colors and monochromatic tones, so I tried to create a slightly more casual cocktail look for myself.  But your creative cocktail attire can be just as creative as you are.  Love bright colors? Live it up. A fan sequins? Sparkle like the sun.  Love the dramatic silk rompers of the 1970s? Why not?

The point is to be creative but not be casual.  So little black dresses with pearls and pumps need not apply.



    leave a comment

  1. casual observer says:

    Great breakdown of "creative" cocktail. It’s frustrating when people don’t even try to stand out a bit, particularly at an artsy event like Artini.

    March 25, 2010/Reply
  2. JD says:

    Dear Belle,

    I love love love your blog. Thank you for having a beautiful sense of style on the hill that differs from the usually black and gray suit with the classic blue button down shirt and of course the classic touch the American Flag pin on the lapel. That being said, I need your help. I have a black tie event at the Willard I need to attend and have a very little budget to do it on. What should I do? Where should I look? I would love to use rent the runway but they have yet to accept my membership (silly waiting list). The event is on April 10th and if time wasn’t the main pressure to lose weight and find a dress by add this: my date is drop dead gorgeous, way out of my league and this is the first time we are going out together so of course I need to look my best under $75. Is this possible?

    Please oh please fashionista do help!


    March 25, 2010/Reply
  3. Kim says:

    Love this! This is why I wear a dress to absolutely every event, from bbqs to firm-sponsored galas. Even though I sometimes miss in under- or over- dressing, I never look like I wandered in off the street.

    Jessi – I’m sure Belle will have a better/more targeted answer, but for now hit the department store sale rack; you’ll probably find something in your price range.

    March 25, 2010/Reply
  4. maria says:

    Great advice. I was trying to come up with a plan for tonight's “creative cocktail” event – you explained it well.

    November 5, 2010/Reply