The Best Cocktail Dresses for Every Occasion

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A Great Cocktail Dress Is Essential in Every Woman's Wardrobe

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As a woman grows up and her wardrobe grows with her, it's essential that she have a few key pieces at the ready for special occasions. The most versatile of these is cocktail attire — mainly a cocktail dress — that can be worn for everything from weddings to class reunions to holiday and New Year's Eve parties.

A fancier dress that hits around the knee or a bit below can be dressed way up or down depending on where you're going — adding accessories like a faux fur, statement earrings or pointed-toe stiletto pumps can give it black tie potential. But with a cardigan and sandals, a cocktail dress is appropriate for work events, Easter Sunday, etc.

We'll outline six of our favorite (and most wearable) types of cocktail dresses that can be worn year-round.

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The Little Black Cocktail Dress

Emma Stone, Elizabeth Banks and Julianne Moore. Anthony Harvey, Frazer Harrison, Jon Kopaloff

Ah, the little black dress! We've gone on and on before about just how essential and important the LBD is. You can find them at any price, in any silhouette and with virtually limitless design details. Whether you want lace or sequins, sheer panels or embroidery — there is an LB(C)D to suit your style. Above, some of our favorite celebrities show off just how different black cocktail dresses can be, flattering legs, arms, shoulders — whatever your favorite feature might be.

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The Embellished Cocktail Dress

Giovanna Battaglia, Diane Kruger, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Kristin Sinclair, Andrew H. Walker, Tim P. Whitby,

An embellished cocktail dress — one with sequins, embroidery, beading or even feathered elements — is the most playful type of cocktail dress. For that reason, an embellished dress may also be the most vulnerable to the changing whims of fashion trends. If you want to embrace more fashion-forward elements, look for a timeless silhouette — like an a-line or a shift — to extend the wearability of the dress.

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The Lace Cocktail Dress

Sandra Bullock, Emily VanCamp, and Karolina Kurkova. D Dipasupil, George Pimentel, Jeff Kravitz

Lace is a great choice for cocktail dresses because it is ultra-feminine. Lace is a broad term for a fabric that encompasses many different styles and looks from guipiere to crochet-style looks, so be sure that if you intend to wear lace at a cocktail event, make sure the style you've selected is polished and dressy.

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The A-Line Cocktail Dress

Jessica Chastain, Allison Williams and Amy Adams. Getty Images: Jon Kopaloff, Michael Buckner, Andrew Walker

Flirty, flattering and reminiscent of Dior's New Look — the a-line cocktail dress is a classic look. With this silhouette you can go both long or short, and you'll find both sleeved and strapless dresses, as well as halter styles and spaghetti straps. The waistline and full skirt are what sets the a-line dress apart, and it's a flattering cut for women both with curves and those who want to create them.

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The Long-Sleeve Cocktail Dress

Getty Images: Dominique Charriau, Frederick M. Brown, Darren Gerrish

The long-sleeve cocktail dress isn't for everyone — but it's a look we find very appealing at the moment. By showing off your legs and concealing your arms, you strike an elegant and sophisticated balance. A mini-length dress with long sleeves is perfect for women in their 20s and 30s, while a longer, knee or midi-length is perfect for women 40 and up. However, always keep in mind that suggestions like these are just that, suggestions! If you've got the confidence to go extra-short in your 40s (and beyond), we say go for it!

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The Strapless Cocktail Dress

Hillary Rhoda, Kirnan Shipka and Allison Williams. Getty Images: D Dipasupil, George Pimentel, Kevin Mazur

Perhaps the easiest cocktail dress silhouette to dress up for special occasions is the strapless dress. A strapless a-line dress will be especially flattering on an hourglass figure, while a midi-length cut will look cool and modern, especially on taller women. To make the strapless look feel less dated, seek out cocktail dresses with interesting details such as architectural ruffles, embellishments and even pockets!

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