We saw an abundance of party styles around the holidays. For some of us, though, now is the best time for dress shopping.  In my town, the  gala fundraisers start this month.  We have events every other week, so I’ve been admiring red carpet looks from the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Grammy Awards.  If you have a special event coming up this year, or just want a little eye candy, check out my  Evening Dresses and Shoes Pinterest boards.  Before you start shopping, take a look at my cheat sheet to help you figure out your event’s dress code.  

Dress Code Guide

List of common dress codes and a description for each one.


Most of us already have our casual favorites, so I’m going to focus on the other categories, which can be more confusing.  There is a range within each of these categories, so use the extra hints to pick the right outfit.  Need a little extra security? Match your date or friends.  That way you’ll at least have company.  Maybe you’ll even make a collective statement.  

Black Tie
  • Where to buy:  Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and Saks Fifth Avenue have great end of season sales.  Unlike, t-shirts,  evening dresses are a splurge item for me.   I find that the higher end brands have better fit and more details.  Cheaper dresses often have short cuts, like stretch fabric instead of seams, to give them shape.  Of course, if you will only wear a dress once, or your weight is changing, don’t spend a lot.  Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue also have off-price stores (Nordstrom Rack and Saks-off-Fifth).  Same designers, older styles.
  • My favorite brands for gowns are:  BCBG (amazing details), Jill Jill Stuart (sexy), and Leon Max Limited Edition (beautiful fabric).  Tadashi Shoji is another fool proof brand. Their dresses are often marked down in major department stores.  Laundry, By Shelli Segal isn’t as elaborate, but is usually elegant.  I always buy on sale, so most of my dresses are less than $200.  
  • When to buy: now, if you want to take advantage of sales!  Give yourself time for tailoring, otherwise you may spend the evening carrying your hem, or covering your chest.  Hint: always carry fashion tape in your handbag, for evening dress emergencies. 
  • Which dress to buy? I like to find something completely different from the rest of my closet.  After all, this is a stand alone piece, and supposed to be fun! If you tend to be conservative, go for daring.  If you tend to be serious, try romantic.  This is one of my favorites, a BCBG from a few years ago.  It is one of the more colorful pieces in my closet.  I also love the subtle asymmetry, as I have a tendency to like my left and right sides balanced.  

Printed gown, black box clutch, red lipstick, statement necklace, suede rhinestone shoes.

  • Where to buy:  you can find dressy cocktail dresses at the same stores that I listed above,.  Anthropologie carries a number of designer dresses as well as their own brands.  They also have a wedding  site called BHLDN, which also includes occasion dresses.  
  • My favorite brands for cocktail dresses: BCBG, Ted Baker, and Club Monaco.  For less expensive dresses, try Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and J.Crew. 
  • What to wear with it:  statement jewelry,  accessories and heels  will complete your cocktail party look.  Balance an embellished dress with simple accessories, and vice-versa.  
  • How much to spend: cocktails dresses are more versatile than gowns, so if you think you’ll wear your dress again and again, use the higher end of your budget.  If not, spend more on your jewelry and shoes.  If you prefer pants, jump suits and pant sets can also work for cocktail occasions, but make sure they are not too casual.  
  • Which one to buy: my go-to style is a little lace dress.  I have one in pink, one in black on black, and this black and nude one.  They all have very different looks and can be dressed up or down.  Lace is also distinctively “after work” so there is no confusion that you are ready for cocktails!  

 Lace Handkerchief Dress with Black Pumps
Business Formal
  • Where to buy:  Banana RepublicAnn Taylor, Club Monaco and J.Crew are great brands for work wear.  Look for their more tailored, structured pieces, that hit close to the knee. 
  • If you are going to your event right from work,  put your essentials as well as some jewelry and brighter make-up, into a small handbag that fits in your work tote.  Your shoes (in a cloth bag), and any non-valuables that you can leave at work or locked in your car, can go in the tote.  At party-time, just grab your clutch, change your shoes, freshen up and enjoy the night.  
  • Which accessories to wear:  shoes and accessories should be pared down from your cocktail look, but can still be a little more bold than what you would wear daily.  Think about what you would wear if you wanted to make a solid, professional impression.  
  • What to wear if you don’t work in a office:  pick a structured, conservative dress in a solid color.   Remember that black doesn’t work for everyone, and really is too harsh for most people.  I love this blue Banana Republic dress that has a slim fit, pleated details and can be dressed up or down. 

Flatlay of sheath dress, mules and clutch.

Happy shopping and comment below if I can help more.


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