Cocktail Attire for The Holidays

The holidays are the perfect time to pull out your best cocktail attire. Christmas pageants, office parties, Christmas weddings, New Year’s Eve – it’s called “the most wonderful time of the year” for a reason, and it’s not just because of candy canes and eggnog.

Cocktail Attire for the HolidaysSo how can you “go glam” without going over budget – especially if you don’t really need a lot of special occasion clothing? By thinking smart and trying to get the most out of your cocktail attire. Your goal should be to find great pieces that stop traffic yet can also be worn more than once and more than one way. Don’t spend a lot on something you only wear once. Spend moderately on pieces you can wear many times. Or, get extra mileage from your existing holiday wardrobe by wearing it in different ways.

The easiest way to do that is with color.

Crisp, cold air calls for strong jewel tones. Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire, Diamonds. These are the colors of the season – along with black, white, silver, and gold – and you’ll look festive and clever by incorporating them into your ensembles. Adjust color intensity to your skin tone, as needed.

Christmas color PaletteCourtesy of,
A GREAT color palette site

Here are some creative ways to go about it:

Little Black Dress (LBD)

Opt for a simple, classic style that suits your figure.

Little Black Dress (LBD) Little Black Dress

Then, change the look of it for different occasions, like add red shoes and red lipstick for the office holiday party…

LBD with Red AccessoriesLBD with Red Accessories

…or a pink satin jacket for New Years’ Eve.

LBD with Pink JacketLBD With Pink Jacket

Sapphire Cocktail Dress

A great alternative to the LBD, a sapphire (or other dark blue) cocktail dress is perfect three seasons a year. Pair it with black, flesh tone, or metallic shoes, and add coordinating accessories.

Sapphire Cocktail DressSapphire Cocktail Dress

Red Cocktail Dress

A bit bold, but certainly festive. Just don’t overdo it. Pair it with black, winter white, or metallic accessories to keep the focus on the dress.

Red Cocktail DressRed Cocktail Dress

Emerald Green Cocktail Dress

Another bold color, emerald green can be elegant if you pair it with black, metallic, or other eye-catching accessories. Just skip the red accents this time of year – you don’t want to look like an elf.

Emerald Green Cocktail DressEmerald Green Cocktail Dress

Winter White Cocktail Suit

Not a fan of cocktail dresses? Try a head-turning winter white cocktail suit instead. Go monochromatic, head-to-toe white, or add pops of holiday color with your lipstick, jewelry, or other accessories.

Winter White SuitWinter White Cocktail Suit

Lacy White Top

The great thing about evening pieces is that you can mix-and-match them in a variety of ways. For example, pair a lacy white top with a black skirt or pants for a holiday party at a friend’s house…

Lace Top With Pants

White Lace Top With Pants

Or, go all out by pairing it with a sapphire or ruby colored taffeta skirt for a Christmas ball or holiday evening wedding.  You’re only limited by your imagination.

White Lace top With SkirtWhite Lace Top With Skirt

Metallic Sequined Evening Top

Nothing says par-t-a-a-y like metallic sequins. Wear them with skirts, pants, or even under a business suit for an easy evening look.

Silk Sequin Top

Silk Sequin Top

See how easy this is?

Again, using the holiday color palette as your guide, think about what’s appropriate for various situations, and then mix and match to get the most out of your cocktail pieces.

Notice how I recycled various clothing and accessory elements in these examples, just as you should when you dress.  It’s the only way to get the most out of this (usually) little-worn part of your wardrobe.

Cocktail Attire Accessories

So what cocktail accessories should you have on hand?  Here’s what I’ve found suits most women:

Again, you don’t need a lot, and you certainly don’t need to spend a lot. You just need versatile pieces that work with a variety of outfits.

So when’s the best time to shop for cocktail attire?

Right after the new year, when stores are trying to get rid of their remaining holiday inventory. But you can still score some good deals throughout the season – just check your favorite department store website or follow them on Facebook to get notified of sales in your news feed.

So what’s the bottom line?

Demand as much from your cocktail attire as you do the rest of your wardrobe. Buy pieces you can mix and match for versatility, and use the colors of the season for styling inspiration. With a little imagination, you’ll be surprised by how many looks you can create.

Happy Holidays!


Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Signature Style Blueprint, an ecourse that shows women how to create a signature style that suits their budget, body shape, and clothing personality. Get Signature Style Blueprint today.

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  • Monica

    Reply Reply December 8, 2013

    The colors and the accessory recommendations are beautiful!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 9, 2013

      Hi Monica,

      Glad you liked them! Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in LBD cocktail attire mode, so I wanted to offer some fun, eye-catching alternatives.

  • Carol Hollan

    Reply Reply December 8, 2013

    The examples are all very lovely, but I do not understand the use of sleeveless tops/dresses for winter holidays. I realize the guidlines would be the same, but I’d like to see examples appropriate for sub zero weather and drafty party rooms.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 9, 2013

      Hi Carol,

      Since Napoleon, formal wear for women has typically included short sleeves, sleeveless, or off-the-shoulder styles. This openness on the top offsets the long and (often) very full skirts on the bottom, and offers a glamour that more modest sleeves do not. The drawback, as you noted, is getting cold in cool weather.

      To offset that, you have a few choices. You could wear a cocktail suit, as in the winter white with blue accessories example above, or you could look for a festive sweater set to pair with evening pants or skirt. Long sleeved cocktail and evening wear is not that common, but I will see if I can find some examples for you and post them on Facebook and Pinterest in the coming week. Be sure to follow me there:

      Thanks for your input!


  • Audrey Meyer

    Reply Reply December 9, 2013

    This was a very useful article. There is something for everyone here and all budgets. Great to have the pictures showing us “how”. I loved the lacy white top with black sash, black pants and red shoes.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 10, 2013

      Hi Audrey,

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! My goal is to get everyone thinking about the pieces they already have and give them styling ideas. As noted in the article, one of the easiest ways to do so is to let color be your guide.

  • JO

    Reply Reply December 10, 2013

    I have managed to buy a dress very similar in shape to the ivory one at the top of the page. It is an over large metallic floral pattern somewhere between the pink and purple swatches above on a black background, but more colour than black it has a wide black ribbon around the waist. The trouble is has a small capped shoulder sleeves. Do you think a bolero would go over them and if so what colour should I try to get. Also, do you think the dress style is a little young for someone in their mid forties – it is about knee length? Many thanks

    NB. Dress is this one, but you won’t want to post a link that will rapidly date, hence explanation above

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 10, 2013

      Hi Jo,

      I can easily see that dress with a black bolero jacket and black accessories. But I’m not wild about the ribbon belt – it makes it too youthful for a women in her 40’s. I’d either take off the belt or cut it to fit your waist and sew on enclosures so it can fasten in the back. Otherwise, it’s beautiful!

  • Mary Lynn Ilnitsky

    Reply Reply December 10, 2013

    Great and timely article Diana. I had great success shopping high end consignment shops for a wedding we attended last year and often suggest to my clients that this is a great way to find that special dress, and all the accessories at a more affordable price -especially when these occasions aren’t typically part of ones lifestyle.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 13, 2013

      Glad you enjoyed it, Mary Lynn! Yes, I can’t agree more – spending a lot on clothes you only wear once or a few times seems like a waste to me – even for your own wedding dress. There are much more sensible ways to go about it.

  • JO

    Reply Reply December 12, 2013

    Hi Diana

    You were right about the ribbon. I’ve replaced it with a plain black elasticated belt with a fastening hidden under a small black fabric rose (which is no wider than the belt and hardly visible unless very close) – it instantly removed some of the ‘I am 18’ look of the dress. A plain black satin bolero with 3/4 length sleeves is also mine and instantly adds maturity to the dress. I’ve also got some classy looking costume jewellery colour matched earrings and necklace to finish things off. When I put it all together next week perhaps I’ll find a way to email you a picture so you can see what I did with your advice.

    However, it put me in mind of a possible future article for you. Clearly some trims and accessories are more suitable for some ages than others. I didn’t realise this and which they were. You noticed it straight away and realised the solution was either replacement or removal (I tried the latter and preferred the former). I wondered if discussion of this area might possibly make an article for you in the future?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 13, 2013

      Hi Jo,

      Glad the solution worked for you! I would LOVE to see a picture. Please email it to the help desk if you get a chance.

      As for the article, I will certainly keep it in mind. I think a lot of women could benefit from the advice. Thanks for the suggestion!

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