Whether you’re a fan of high fashion or an adorable, casual girl at heart, everyone has probably wondered about the differences between a cocktail dress and an evening gown. After all, both garments are intended to be worn for formal occasions, so it’s crucial to understand what separates them. The first difference is obvious: a cocktail dress is meant to be worn as part of a night on the town. Think low-key parties and dinner dates. On the other hand, an evening gown is perfect for more refined events and dinners with friends or family members.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s dive into a more detailed comparison between cocktail and evening dresses.
What is an evening gown?
Evening gowns are elaborate, often long, formal dresses that are typically worn at formal events. There are many different styles of evening gowns, but they all have three main characteristics: a full skirt that falls to the ground, sleeves that extend past the elbow (for extra modesty), and a neckline that is either V-neck or scooped. Some evening gowns can also have short sleeves and off-the-shoulder necklines.
Common reasons for wearing an evening gown include attending a wedding or other formal event, attending an awards ceremony or dance recital, going out for dinner with friends or a date, attending a party or gala, etc.
What is a cocktail dress?
A cocktail dress is a garment that is typically knee-length or longer, and that has an empire waist, a high neckline, and a fitted bodice. It can be worn with both heels and flats but is better suited to pair with a pair of pumps. It’s often worn for formal occasions such as weddings and proms, but can also be worn for other events, such as going out for drinks with friends. Dress cut and style define a cocktail dress, and so you should choose one that fits you well.
Differences Between Cocktail Dresses And Evening Dresses
Evening gowns are formal, whereas cocktail dresses are meant to be worn for formal events, such as dinners, weddings, or galas. It’s just one level below the dress code for black tie events, where the dress code is “black tie optional.”
However, an evening dress would be too dressy if you’re invited to a less formal event like a friend’s birthday dinner. Only wear cocktail dresses at such relaxed functions.
Cocktail dresses come in various lengths, while evening gowns are generally longer and tend to be floor sweeping or fall around the ankle. Although some evening dresses are short, they rarely go too high above the knee.
On the other hand, Cocktail dresses can go as short as mid-thigh.
While cocktail dresses are more likely to be patterned, evening gowns are more likely to be solid colors.
There is more leeway in the color and pattern of cocktail dresses. Cocktail dresses may have a floral pattern, bright colors like red, and even darker shades. Evening gowns tend to be more subdued colors like black, grey, or white, although depending on the design and fabric, more adventurous colors like silver, gold, emerald, and others can work too.
The fabric of a cocktail dress and an evening gown are almost precisely the same. The main difference is that evening gowns are likely to be more detailed and elegant. Both are likely to be made out of a fabric like silk, satin, or chiffon, but you are unlikely to find a cocktail dress made of materials like tulle or charmeuse. Likewise, you won’t find an evening dress made of cotton, but cocktail dresses favor this material, especially for dresses meant for afternoon parties.
The design of a cocktail dress is likely to be more daring and flirtier, while an evening gown is likely to be more sophisticated. Even in the most daring designs, evening gowns still retail a touch of sophistication because of how the design elements are weaved together.
Evening dresses feature intricate designs and take longer to make due to the amount of detail that goes into them. Both types of dresses can have the same silhouettes, necklines, and bodices, but with subtle differences in how they fit and embellish.
Both are supposed to be fit enough to suggest a woman’s figure, but rarely will you find an evening dress that is too tight. Cocktail dresses, on the other hand, can be tight-fitting.
Due to their length, evening dresses can have trains, while it would be difficult to fit one in a cocktail dress —nor is it practical.
Cocktail dresses and evening dresses can have just about any neckline, from a sweetheart neckline to a v-neck, a strapless neckline, or even a plunging neckline. The most common neckline you’ll see on a cocktail dress is a sweetheart neckline, a V-neck that’s cut so that it reveals the top of the bust and the bottom of the cleavage. Plunging necklines are rare in cocktail dresses because they look too dressy.
The length of your dress, its material, and the style are essential factors to consider when choosing accessories to pair with your dress.
Since evening dresses are long and flowy, you might not need many jewelry pieces that are long and elaborate. Formal and elegant jewelry like pearl earrings and a necklace might be all you need when wearing an evening dress. You could also wear very elaborate jewelry depending on the neckline of your evening dress.
On the other hand, a short, sassy cocktail dress made out of lace and chiffon would pair well with a little more bling. If your cocktail dress has details like patterns or embroidery, you might want to avoid wearing very plain jewelry pieces like pendants or bracelets.
Final Tips: Own Your Look In a Cocktail or Evening Dress
Evening dresses and cocktail dresses have a place in every woman’s life. You cannot substitute one for the other.
But if you aren’t used to wearing special dresses on special occasions, you might be wondering where to start. Here are some tips to help your look when wearing a cocktail dress or evening dress:
- If you’re unsure about what kind of dress to wear to an upcoming event, always think about the event: who will be there, what are they likely to be wearing, is there a strict dress code, what is the venue of the event, will there be lots of dancing, etcetera.
- If you have shorter limbs and a lot of curves in your torso, consider picking a more flowy evening dress so that it drapes nicely around your body.
- If wearing jewelry, stick with simple pieces that go well with the theme and color of your dress. If your dress has an attractive cut like a mermaid silhouette or empire waist, it’s probably best to stick with jewelry pieces that fit into these styles.
Jonah Levine is the Creative Director of TheDressWarehouse.com. TheDressWarehouse.com was launched in 2018 as the go-to online source for amazing designer dresses at affordable prices. With 10 years of experience in the industry, Jonah works daily to scour the markets to find the hottest styles and negotiate the best prices for special occasion wear on the internet.