The Coolest Cocktail Dresses

The cocktail dress may soon be approaching its centennial, but the silhouette of this party-ready frock has never looked fresher. After World War I, the dress made its stylish debut in American closets as women sought out chic evening looks that would suit social engagements, while letting them go sans-ball gowns. By the late 1940s, Christian Dior himself had coined the term “cocktail”, and the rest is fashion history. Whether your calendar is filled up with weddings, fêtes, or alfresco dinners, the cocktail dress is a wardrobe must. Luckily, our favorite shops in the city have stocked up for the season.

Alice and Olivia Leona Sweetheart dress

Spring in New York gives us floral fever—from the blooming Magnolia trees in Central Park to Alice and Olivia’s Leona Sweetheart dress.  This ultra figure-flattering beauty boasts a waist-cinching belt and twirl-worthy skirt.  $597. 80 W. 40th Street; 212-840-0887;

Karl dress by Chloe

Peek-a-boo cut-outs dominated the spring 2013 runways, and the Karl dress by Chloé is a brilliant lesson in mixing sexy details (ahem, an exposed back) with a gilt front panel. $3,695. Barneys New York, 660 Madison Avenue; 212-826-8900;

Alexander Wang dress

Leave it to wunderkind Alexander Wang to give us a white-hot modern take on cocktailing.  Mesh? Check. Zebra Print? Check. All that’s missing is a killer pair of party heels. $830. Opening Ceremony, 35 Howard Street; 212-219-2688;

3.1 Phillip Lim cocktail dress

Sequins go glam on this color-block shift by 3.1 Phillip Lim. Emerald (Pantone’s color of the year, no less) looks smashing against the panels of silver and white. The dress’s easy fit will ensure you can seamlessly transition from the cocktail bar to the dance floor. $950. Kirna Zabete, 96 Greene Street; 212-941-9656;

BCBG’s LRD (little red dress)

BCBG’s LRD–little red dress, natch–is a sure crowd pleaser. You’ll be able to show off your (faux) tan, while the ruffled bodice cinches in all the right places. $498. Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Avenue; 212-753-4000;

L’Agence frock

A dose of leather gives this body-con stunner some serious street cred, while the high neckline keeps things demure enough for a family function. It’s no wonder we found this L’Agence frock at hipper-than-thou Lower East Side emporium Blue & Cream. $895. 1 E. 1st Street; 646-360-3768;

Diane von Furstenberg cocktail dress

A perpetual designer favorite among twenty to eighty-something fashionistas, Diane von Furstenberg knows what girls want. This delicious yellow number is decked out with Art Deco-style crystal drops, and hidden side pockets. $895. DVF, 874 Washington Street; 646-486-4800;

Anthropologie empire-waist dress

Purveyor of all things delightfully feminine, Anthropologie will have you oohing-and-aahing over this empire-waist dress featuring a whimsical bow in the front and sleek exposed zipper in the back.  $248. 75 Ninth Avenue; 212-620-3116;

Pixie Market cocktail dress

Popping into Pixie Market, on an unassuming Lower East Side block, always promises a bit of the unexpected. Amidst fringed skirts and embellished crop tops was this lace stunner, a perfectly sweet addition to anyone’s cocktail dress stash. $106. 100 Stanton Street; 212-387-7871;

Rag & Bone cocktail dress

The designers behind Rag & Bone have crafted a swoon-worthy (and comfy, to boot) knit mini dress that will shape its lucky wearer into an ideal hourglass figure. $550. 182 Columbus Avenue; 212-362-7138;