Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Professional Cocktail Attire

Dear Belle,

Thank you so much for your blog. As a government worker, it’s been a big help.

I travel a lot for my job and every trip has one or two “cocktail attire” events.  Some of the women wear club clothes, some wear suits, everyone seems to be missing the mark on professional cocktail.  What would you wear?

I can’t wait to hear your advice! GK

Every work conference, every convention, every lengthy business trip seems to have a dinner, a cocktail hour or a reception that requires a nice dress.  Unfortunately, as you pointed out, a lot of women mistake cocktail or dinner attire for outfits more suitable to a nightclub.  While you want to dress up, you need to keep in mind that the people you’re out with are also co-workers, colleagues, bosses, clients and associates…not friends or dates.  Here are a few dresses that work for these types of occasions.


Anne Klein Sleeveless Lace Sheath ($139)

This dress from Anne Klein is a work appropriate-length, a modern cut and it has a bit of lace.  I also like this cap sleeve lace dress and this lace cranberry-colored, peplum dress.  And if you just want a touch of lace, try this cotton dress with lace trim.

Pencil dresses at knee- or midi-lengths with good high heels are a good option.  I like this bright coral with wide straps (so your bra strap doesn’t perform a daring escape), and this equally bright pink number.  I also like this deep green number with a dramatic neckline and this easy-breezy blue dress with relaxed draping.

Also, since like most women, I tend to gain weight when I travel, I like to pack a shift dress or two.  They’re more forgiving than sheaths for those nights when you can be wedged into your shoes or your dress, but not both.  This white Theory crepe dress is nice, and this bright pink dress is fun.  This short-sleeve dress has a crazy, graphic print, as does this long-sleeve dress.  And just because I like options, how about a brilliant powder blue one as well?

The truth is that you can wear any dress that makes you feel pretty and confident provided that it’s not too short and doesn’t show too much cleavage.  Don’t wear too much makeup to these things, you don’t want to over do it.  And cut back on the perfume, a whisper is nice, but your boss doesn’t need to get a contact high from your signature scent.  Put business cards in your clutch, and try to look like you’re having a good time.

I usually fail at that last one, but just because I’m no good at it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.  Because it is.

And remember that part of looking like you’re enjoying yourself is not wearing shoes that make you feel like tiny little men are stabbing your heels with tiny little spears.  So choose wisely.



  1. Maharani says:

    Re “your bra strap doing a daring escape” any tailor can put lingerie loops into the shoulder seams of dresses and tops. Mine charges $5 for this and it is well worth it as you dont need to worry your bra straps will show. If you sew, its easy to do yourself.

    March 28, 2013/Reply
  2. Yellowrose says:

    REALLY loved this post! Have a great Easter, Belle!

    March 28, 2013/Reply