Formal & Cocktail: What’s The Difference?

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Dress codes can seem a little intimidating, especially when you get into the formal section; everyone is terrified of messing up, so it’s perfectly natural to be concerned when choosing an outfit for a formal event. The word ‘cocktail’ comes up often and some people think it is another way to say formal, which isn’t exactly correct.

What Is Cocktail?

Cocktail sits between ‘semi-formal’ and ‘black-tie formal and it is a combination of elegance and comfort, making it very popular for day weddings and gala events. This allows you to wear something other than floor-length, which really opens up your options. Search online for a designer dress boutique and browse the cocktail dresses from well-known fashion designers. A cocktail dress can be colorful, midi, knee-length or shorter and make sure you have your vitals measured by a professional if you are going to order a designer dress online. If in doubt, always go for the next size up, as garments are easier to take in than let out.

Formal Attire

The general consensus is that formal is a little below ‘black tie’ formal. An elegant unique pantsuit for prom is a classic example of formal with a hint of cocktail and is among the most versatile choices, as it can be worn on other occasions as well.  Jumpsuits are excellent for winter formal wear, as the cold can bite through to the bone.


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Google Images will show you some great examples of a jumpsuit prom look, complete with accessories and when you find an appealing look, search the boutique’s collection for something similar. You can get away with showing ankles with formal if it is a wedding or a garden party. Search the online fashion mags for some examples of formal attire.


A little less restrictive than formal, this is perfect for a wedding or prom, with a light color for daytime and a darker shade for an evening event. More and more formal events are opting to announce semi-formal is acceptable and this is great news for girls that like free expression, within limits, of course. Assuming you have a couple of months, start by browsing fashion mags, looking for a concept you could work with, then look at online designer dress boutiques. Make an accessory list (you might need to borrow some diamond jewellery from mom) and whatever you choose, whether it be formal wear or cocktail, it should be elegant.
Image Source: Unsplash

Image Source: Unsplash

The most important thing of all is that you feel comfortable in your outfit and you can always ask a friend for her considered opinion on your dress choice (before you order) and this will give your self-confidence a boost. Once your gown arrives, take it to a local dressmaker or seamstress and let her carry out minor alterations, to ensure a perfect fit.

If you want to be absolutely sure about the dress code, simply ask the event organizer and it should be on your official invitation. The trick is to be unique without overdoing anything and, of course, you want to relax and enjoy the event.