How many cocktail dresses does one "need"?

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  1. I have been going to more work-related semi-formal parties (cocktail dress required) as DH and I move up in our respective careers. Is it appropriate to wear the same dress to all these events? What is the minimum I can get away with? There is a core group of executives and their spouses who attends all of these events, and I spend most of my time interacting with them. The women always wear a different fabulous designer dress.

    We live in a very casual area, and I never wear cocktail dresses except for these events, even to the fanciest restaurants. This year, I will probably attend 6 or so of these events, most of them around the holiday season. I hate for dresses to be one use. What is the minimum I can get away it? If I "need" 6 dresses, can I wear them each once a year for 10 years?

    I don't want to rent the runway, since I am picky about fit and usually have dresses altered.
  2. A friend of mine once told me that people never remember a black dress so I would opt to get at least 2-3. If you see something in a color that you have to have, go for it, but just remember where you wore it. You can also change the look of anything with your accessories so it looks like a different dress, especially if it is black.
  3. I'm not a fan of one use dresses either, but if the women conspicuously never wear the same thing twice, would it be a social faux pas not to follow suit? I suspect that fitting into the group may need to trump practicalities.

    Perhaps buying one use dresses for 2 of the 6 events (and consigning them afterwards), and accessorizing black dresses for the others might be a middle ground. That way, these people will remember you wearing different dresses during the holiday season, but you don't have to go all out. My life generally has few wardrobe demands, so that's the best that I can think of. HTH!
  4. If this is the same group that you will be seeing all the time, then have at least 3-4 different dresses. Have a couple of black or dark colour sheath dresses as your base. If you stick to a classic flattering neckline & quality weave in the material, they should last for many years. Just accessorize to change the outfit.
    Maybe consider adding little bolero jackets in lace, chiffon or beaded to change the look of your dress.
  5. You could probably rotate 3-4 dresses and get away with it. Or you could do 6 and wear them to other events, too (You could start wearing them to fancy restaurants since you’ll have them, or if you go to the theatre, etc.). I believe in getting multiple wears out of all clothes. Cocktail dresses (and dresses generally) are my favorite items to wear, and I will re-wear the same dress to an event with the same group of people, although not right away.

    If you want them to last years, choose classic styles that won’t look dated – solid colors or simple patterns that have stood the test of time. I have vintage dresses that look contemporary. Black is good, but you’ll want some color. Neutrals and pastels (for spring) tend to be less memorable, which you’ll want if you only go for 3-4 dresses. However, I think it’s good to have one bold color (royal blue, red) and at least one dress with a distinctive print/embroidery if you go with 6.
  6. Yes, I love black and already have 2 black dresses! I don't know if I am being self-conscious, but I worry they will remember them and notice that I always wear the same thing. Even though I think of my dresses as being plain, I get tons of comments on them. I definitely remember what the other women wear. Of course the men get to wear suits.

    Yeah, my biggest worry is that it would be a social faux pas. I don't really know what ettiquette calls for here and how much I should be trying to fit in. Do you think this matters professionally?

    I'm also terrible at accessorizing! Do you have any suggestions? I usually love minimalist but unusual clothing which is so different from most formal wear, and I'm not into jewelry at all. I got a pair of diamond studs and was hoping I could just wear them all the time. I noticed everybody else changes their accessories.

    You're right, I could wear them to fancy restaurants and I've been thinking about getting a subscription to the opera or ballet. I could definitely come up with more events to wear dresses to, I just feel like I would be going out of my way to change my lifestyle to fit my clothes when I'd rather live with my clothes to fit my lifestyle.

    These are the two dresses I currently have. Only the first one is truly a cocktail dress, but the second one I wear casually and feel I can dress up with shoes and a clutch. What would you add to round out my dress collection? Any suggestions for jewelry? I would like to dress in a way that I feel is "me" (minimal, a little edgy) and avoids bling, sequins, lace, satin, etc. But if doing that will be a bad reflection professionally, I am willing to do the minimum it takes to "fit in".

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  7. The first dress is really nice. If you are not into jewellery then don't feel pressured to buy more.

    With a simple black sheath, you can do almost anything. Find one with a neckline that flatters you. Add a rhinestone belt, a sash or even detachable skirt. I saw a lady at a party with something similar to the second model here. She had the skirt made to an existing black dress she had before. I thought it was great idea.

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  8. You definitely shouldn’t change your lifestyle, but sometimes it’s nice to expand what you do. I think the opera and/or ballet subscription is a good idea provided you have some interest in them, and they can make for great conversation topics at social functions :smile:

    The first dress is definitely a classic style. Some teardrops and either a pendant to fit into the V-neck or a collar necklace would be nice. The second dress is cool and trendy, though I wonder how appropriate it is for work-related events even if it’s dressed up – depends on your field. If you’re in the arts it would be fine, but for law or finance? I just feel dress #2 is more for social events rather than work-related ones. That said, it would also depend on the dress’s fit/length on you specifically, such as if it falls that far below the knee on you like the model. However, it might be fine in real-life with the right accessories.

    Your diamond studs will get you through a lot, but you should invest in a pair of teardrops and one other type of earrings in a color that will go with the majority of your dresses. You should also think about a diamond pendant necklace to go with your studs and then another type of necklace to go with one or both of the other two earrings.

    In terms of rounding out your collection, this is merely a suggestion. Your choices should ultimately factor in your coloring, height, build, and aesthetic.

    I’d get one more black dress, but one that’s notably different from dress 1 (perhaps sleeves or a boat neckline, or a fit and flare silhouette – whatever you prefer). Get a navy, charcoal, or other neutral colored dress that works best with your coloring. Get a pastel or other light colored dress for spring/summer. Then a jeweled/bold colored dress. If you decide to get an additional dress, I would go for one with a more unique design, but still in a classic cut. This would make for a minimum collection that should see you through. Rotate your jewelry and add little touches like a shrug/bolero or a scarf.

    You can still dress minimal, just maybe with a silhouette closer to the first than second dress. No need for lace or any bling if it’s not your style. A solid colored dress in high quality fabric will be fine.
  9. Agreed! I'm not a fan of lace and bling as well, my wardrobe is practically black, navy and cream (call me boring but I feel the most comfortable in those colours). I also like unique draped pieces - I think they are more timeless and versatile. But I have some fun satin/ clay necklaces and minimal jewellery to dress it up and change my looks. Have fun with styling!
  10. If the other women always wear a different dress/outfit then this is important to the group and they will definitely remember your clothes too. If you want to fit in then you will have to do the same thing.

    Once you are firmly part of the group you can then change you strategy.

    Could you wear black pants or skirts with a dressy top? That way you can recycle you pieces.
  11. #11 Jun 5, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2016
    If you want to move up in your career and society, you need to fit in at social events. That's life. People form opinions in 30 seconds based on appearance. And sorry, but when people say "who cares what people think" , I beg to differ. It matters as you move up in the world. At the bottom and top, it doesn't matter, but when moving up, it's does. Acknowledge you are moving up and embrace it. It's a good thing and more good things will happen to you. Go shopping! Buy nice dresses that say "I have made it". Own the room when you walk in with your beautiful outfit.

    As for what outfits, since you do not wear a lot of jewelry, buy classic dresses that make a statement and stand on their own. I work in a professional environment and big faux jewelry is not classy. Go with classic studs and pearl necklaces. If you only wear one item, wear stud earrings as they frame your face. Diamonds or a pair of Mikimoto pearls.

    Dresses... No more than two black dresses. It's a waste as black reflects safe/newbie/working class. For cocktail events, you want to reflect good elegant social class. Your cocktail dress should not be wearable at work. You've already connected with the men you work with... You need to connect with their spouses.

    My two cents. Hope this helps.
  12. This is a great " recipe" for building a cocktail dress wardrobe. I agree with choosing colors that work with your coloring. For example, navy is as elegant as black. Ivory( or Nude) is another beautiful option. For the first dress pictured, maybe add a clutch ( think Bottega Knot in a bright color). This one accessory will really spice up the overall look. If the dress is simple/ classic, choose fabulous shoes as your " statement piece". Let your personally and individual tastes shine through. A classic style in a classic color can be switched up with make- up as well. Think red lip vs nude or natural make- up, depending on season and function. It's definitely ok to " recycle", just " tweak" to achieve a different look that matches the season and event. Always choose quality over quantity. There is NO substitute for an excellent cut, drape, fabric. Most importantly, have fun!
  13. It depends on your situation. If you work in a male-dominated field, you don't need acceptance by the wives as much and your male colleagues may turn to you so long as your abilities and network benefit them.

    However, after reading purplepoodles' and willeyi's responses, I don't think you should take the risk. The women at the top of my field do whatever they want (no make-up, unmanicured nails, nondescript clothing), but they can afford to do so after attaining their levels of reknown. I can't think of any mid-career women who dress that way. The safer bet is to fall in line while you are still building your career.

    Also, because you are attending DH's work events, your attire may impact the way your husband is perceived by his co-workers. If the executives have wives who convey a certain level of status through their dress, they will look more favorably on your husband if your dress conveys that same level of status. I’m sighing in exasperation as I write this; despite the social progress that we’ve achieved in the past few decades (I’m in the US), IMHO, some elements of the work environment still remain primitive.

    If you start a thread of “Cocktail dresses on my way up the corporate ladder”, I’d be happy to gush over your choices, too. I like looking at pretty dresses, and given your two pictures, you obviously have good taste.

    Good luck!
  14. Maybe get to know the friendlier ladies in the group, after a while mention that you are not used to buying cocktail outfits and ask their advice. Unless the group travel and buy clothes as souvenirs there must be local places you can use for research if not actual purchases

    An appointment with a local personal shopper could be a good idea. Remember you don't need to actually buy anything at the appointment unless you know it will work for you.
  15. You have great taste in tailoring! Those sleeves are fabulous
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