Deciphering Wedding Dress Codes: Summer Cocktail

Ah, wedding season. You can’t beat a string of parties where you get to dress up, but with those parties comes a slew of questions about what to wear. Do you rent the runway? Get a new dress? Do you wear long? Short? What about heels? Do you have the right clutch to bring? What does black tie optional really mean? What about cocktail? Before you know it, you’re trying on 10-15 options and still feeling clueless at the end.


Fortunately, every wedding we had this summer was a late afternoon wedding – perfect for a summer cocktail dress. I love summer cocktail dresses because, unlike fall and winter where you’re probably going to opt for a solid, dark color and dress it up with accessories, in summer you can go bright and bold with printed silk dresses.

But, the trick with summer cocktail attire as opposed to cooler weather cocktail attire is that you want to keep it fun and light, while still being dressy enough. Since it’s likely going to be daytime for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and even into dinner, you’re probably not going to pull out the sequins, metallics, and beads that we often associate with cocktail dress. Instead, utilize statement jewelry and rich silk fabrics to create a cocktail look that is daylight appropriate. I also typically opt for a nude heel instead of a strappy metallic heel when I’m attending a summer wedding to keep it from feeling to evening, especially if the ceremony is under 4 PM afternoon sun.

For one wedding this summer, I wore an Anthropologie silk midi-dress from their line with Australian creative Colette Dinnigan several years ago (since several of you asked me about that dress from Instagram, I actually did a quick ebay search and found both a size 0 and a size 2!!). For another, I wore a Lilly Pulitzer tunic style cocktail dress similar to this one.




All this about cocktail attire being said, weddings are one of the events that I just hate buying new dresses for – you wear it for a few hours, and then it’s probably too dressy to realistically wear again to anything else besides another wedding and it just sits in your closet. So, I tend to recycle my dresses for years. I actually bought this one from J. McLaughlin 8 or 9 years ago and have worn it to several weddings over the years.

I paired it with a pair of gold statement earrings from J. Crew (find similar pairs here and here), a pair of nude Cole Haan heels that are seriously the most comfortable and versatile shoes ever – plus, you can find them for a steal at DSW, and a pair of cheap Target sunglasses. I received a ton of compliments on my Pieces of Me gold cuff, which I’ll talk more about a bit later in the post.

I carried an ivory beaded clutch that I picked up in Healdsburg, CA when I needed something to carry for a wedding out there. I found it at a vintage shop and when I opened it up, I found a placecard. I googled the woman and found that she’d just passed away in April at the age of 103 and was a lifelong Sonoma resident. Those are good vintage vibes, right?! You can find similar vintage beaded options below:




As I mentioned earlier, I got so many compliments on this gold cuff. Pieces of Me sent this cuff to me last month and it’s become one of my staples. I love that it’s a nice weight and is a gorgeous 14 K plated yellow gold. While I usually wear it with more every day looks, I decided to throw it on with this wedding look and it was absolutely perfect.

Pieces of Me makes cuff bracelets that each convey a quality – whether you see yourself as compassionate, a dreamer, funny, hard-working, honest, or more, there’s a cuff to match that quality. Each time you look down at the bracelet, it reminds you of what makes you unique or what you’re working towards in your life. I chose the “bold” cuff because, well honestly I just liked the design, but also because I know the importance of being bold in your life decisions. Whether it’s starting that side hustle or pursuing the next opportunity, being bold is the best way to move forward.

These would also make a great bridesmaid gift – which is why Pieces of Me sells them in sets! At $32 each, they’re a wonderful little gift for your closest friends.




So, what has been your biggest wedding attire conundrum? A black tie wedding when you didn’t have a black tie gown and didn’t want to go out and buy one? Trying to figure out what beach cocktail means? Let me know! And, also let me know if you’ve found a dress that earns its keep from wedding to wedding and beyond.




  1. August 28, 2018 / 2:02 pm

    I’m all about rewearing dresses to weddings too!! Can I just say though- I went to one wedding last month with a SEMI FORMAL dress code. I wore a summery cocktail dress- but I was SHOCKED to see some guests in capri pants, and even leggings?! And way too casual dresses. Ugh- it made me sad people didn’t respect the bride’s wishes!

    Love this pretty dress on you!

    xoxo A

    • hmbien
      August 28, 2018 / 2:10 pm

      Ugh, yeah, it’s always better to be over dressed than under dressed! I usually steer clear of cotton dresses to weddings for that reason – they look way too casual. It’s a summer wedding, not a summer cookout!

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