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Party frocks for the summer season

A nice summer cocktail dress is a good addition to a wardrobe, but sadly is a beast that's hard to find

About.com has listed 10 perfect cocktail dresses for the season.

Print dressA cocktail dress is one of those wardrobe staples that's useful to own. Suitable for after-work drinks, dinner out, the theatre or evening work events, a good one can take you to most places other than a truly swanky ball.

Traditionally, most women opt for black - in fact I read recently that 76 per cent of all women's clothes sold in the UK are black, which is actually pretty depressing. 

But black is slimming, is the thing. Most of us when cinched into a cocktail number want to look as thin as we can. Sad, though, when you look around the room and find everyone else is in black too. 

A good cocktail dress is a hard beast to find. You want something that skims your shape, can be dressed up in different ways (so is preferably sleeveless), hits at the right point on your knee and is comfortable enough to both stand up in for a reception and sit down in to eat. Manufacturers seem scarcely able to comprehend this.

My two favourite cocktail dresses don't often get outings these days in my unglamorous life. One is vintage 1960s, in blonde duchesse satin with beaded trim, and another is vintage 50s in magenta taffeta with a deep v-neck and a flared skirt. However, I was quite taken with some of the ones shown by About.com. Take a look. 

Floral cocktail dressThis printed satin dress by Maggy London is my favourite - a real touch of 1950s, Sophia Loren-alike glamour. The print is feminine and also practical, breaking up your silhouette and allowing you to drop the odd bit of wine on yourself. The pale colour makes a nice change from black and the fabric is stretch. The v-neck shows off most women's best assets, and the shoulders are wide enough to get a proper bra under, and give you a bit of coverage but still enable you to slip a shrug on top. 

Tulip skirt cocktail dressThis tulip-skirted dress from Helene Berman is kind of cute if you're a pear shape, which so many British women are. Brits tend to have small upper bodies, with quite neat arms and big bums, so for those this dress might be ideal. It would also add shape to a skinny girl. The bow, which makes you look nicely like a present that might need unwrapping, hides a few sins, but the neck is a little too high for my liking and the skirt is way too short - it needs to be about four inches longer to work on most women. Also, add a shrug to this and the effect is lost. Anyone think this colourway is very 80s too? Those harsh blues and pinks are clearly back with us. 

Ruffle cocktail dressThis ruffle jersey dress from Calvin Klein is also not bad. The slightly raised waist hits at the thinnest part of the rib cage, and the slightly more voluminous skirt gives you room to breathe. Again, the waist bow is useful for hiding a pot, but the slightly fussy shoulder is something you could do without if you're wearing a wrap - looks to me like it would catch the fabric. It would look more expensive in black. The ruffle is dead on trend too if you care about that sort of thing.  

Black cocktail dressMeanwhile this black lace number by Rachel Roy is an absolute classic, but with its high neck can only really be worn by the flat-chested. On anyone with tits, it would look like a shelf. Once again, it's also too short. If this dress had a v-neck and was a few inches longer, it would be very nearly perfect - you could dress it up or down with half a dozen different wraps and shrugs - and you'd need to, for over a thousand dollars. 

Pink dressThe other dresses featured I thought were very unflattering, even on the young and gorgeous. One-shoulder numbers (where are you supposed to put your bra in these designs?), this tiered satin job from Fashion Bug that even makes the dummy look fat, a twisted-neckline one from Banana Republic that would make anyone's boobs look simply udder-like and a couple of dresses so unstructured they're basically just tubes of fabric slipped over your head. 

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