Beauty & Fashion

Cocktail outfit with pants ideas

Maybe it’s a wedding. Or a 50th anniversary. Or a fund-raiser for your best friend’s favorite charity. The invitation says “cocktail attire,” or something equivalent. If you’re like me, the feeling of anticipation is mixed with dread, as the idea of having to shop for (and wear) a dressy dress makes you break out in hives. So I’ve come up with some outfit ideas with pants that can pass “cocktail” muster, but won’t require shapewear or self-tanner.

With so many of us living more casual lives these days, navigating dress codes more formal than “smart casual” can be particularly challenging. Our mothers may have maintained wardrobes to accommodate specific dress codes and levels of formality, but I know very few women today who do.

I’ve been following Amy Smilovic (Founder and Creative Director of Tibi) on Instagram for a while, and subscribe to her newsletter. I really like her approach to personal style and wardrobe building. She talks a lot about the importance of feeling like oneself in one’s clothing. Wherever you go, whatever you do. (She calls it a “through line.”) And her approach to wardrobe building is similar to mine, which is to create a versatile, cohesive wardrobe, that can accommodate just about anything life throws at us.

When Manina and I did an Instagram Live last year to talk about Gamine Style, one of the questions we addressed was how to put together a more dressed-up look. For those of us with more casual, relaxed, or androgynous style, a standard “dressed up” look can often feel too fussy or “trussed up.” So we might have to think outside the box a bit, which is what I’ve done here.

A slightly unconventional approach to “cocktail attire”

To create this look, I shopped my closet, and I really love how it came together. It feels dressed up, but still relaxed. Comfortable, a little quirky, and I feel very much myself in it. The top and pants are both in a silky fabric, which adds a luxe factor. But the difference in textures keeps the outfit from looking flat.

The top

The silk tuxedo blouse is a custom piece I had made a few years ago by Amanda Thompson Couture in London. I’ve always loved the somewhat louche appeal of a tuxedo shirt, worn slightly undone. Here’s a minimalist version from Me+Em, and a more relaxed linen style from Free People. Or check the men’s/boy’s departments at your local thrift store…I’ll bet you’ll find some good ones there.

The pants

The pants are those same silky cargo joggers I packed and wore in London. They’re a bit unconventional, but I find them easy to wear and style. These from Ruti have a similar look (and the price is 40% less). Here’s a style from Cinq à Sept that’s available in several colors. A fuller-leg and more relaxed style from Eileen Fisher. These from Cuyana are good too.

The accessories

I believe that accessories can do a LOT of the heavy lifting to dress up a look. Especially when the clothing is simple. I’ve added a pop of color with the bag, which also has a shoulder strap so I can go hands-free. A pair of statement earrings would be good with this outfit; I’m on the lookout for some with a minimalist vibe that don’t weigh a ton.

While I’d happily wear this to a “cocktail” level event, I know it might not pass muster in every locale. But I think no matter your region, having items in your closet that can dress up or down is key to getting the most out of your wardrobe.

More “not a dress” ideas (cocktail outfits with pants)

Here are two looks, to give you more ideas. For each of these, I included pieces that could be worn separately, and styled for a variety of looks.

“Co-ords” (matching top and bottom) have been a big trend for the last couple of seasons, and they can be an easy way to create a pulled-together look. What I like about these from Eileen Fisher is that the top and bottom textures are different, which creates visual interest without interrupting the clean lines.

Here’s another option, this one in a cool palette. Sparkly jewelry, a beaded bag and metallic sandals dial up the simple top and pants. (Both of which could be easily worn in more casual outfits.) I’ve shown the pants in navy here, also available in black.

So when that invitation arrives, don’t feel you have to start panic shopping for a dress, if you don’t wear them. A cocktail outfit with pants is a workable alternative, and chances are you already have some (or all) of the components in your wardrobe.

Tell me about the last dressed-up event you attended. What did you wear and how did you feel in it?

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