Little Black dress guide 

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What does the dress code "cocktail-wear" on your party invitation mean? When does it apply? Is it because an event starts after 7 p.m.? Also, who mails invitations and includes a dress suggestion now? We should bring that back. Unfortunately, the term cocktail-wear is thrown around quite casually, especially here in the South where events tend to be informal anyway. This guide to cocktail dresses might not provide a flow chart that determines the level of dressiness that a particular event requires, but it does note a number of local retailers with a great selection of outfits for after-hours events.

Barbara Jean This Little Rock high-end retailer has sexy classics from Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana, of course, but a depth of brands. For cocktail-wear there's sophisticated, ageless separates such as a pleated knee-length skirt in a black heavy silk from Elizabeth & James and a mod sequined shift from Rachel Zoe (a new line there) as well as solid, '70s-era influenced dresses from the revived label Halston. These labels, along with the always-in-demand leopard prints up front make for a fashion-forward but understated look. 7811 Cantrell Road, Suite 1. 227-0054. www.barbarajean.com. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

Dillard's An easy choice for event shopping, with the largest selection of cocktail dresses by far. Any shopper should be able to find something here in her size and price range. As with any department store, what is gained in selection is lost in attentive staff or special services. Park Plaza Mall, 6000 W. Markham. 661-0053. www.dillards.com. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun.

Indigo This boutique is a standard drop-in place for many mall shoppers. Located in Park Plaza mall, Indigo could theoretically outfit a shopper for any type of event, but as far as cocktail or evening event outfits go, there are well-priced, versatile dresses here. What does well-priced and versatile mean? It's a flattering dress that falls above the knee, usually nips in at the waist and would be appropriate for both the office paired with a blazer or for the evening's charity event with a bold shoe and bright clutch. As a bonus, it's close to Dillard's (also on this list). Park Plaza Mall, 6000 W. Markham. 663-4565. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun.

Pinky Punky This is the place to go for short and tight. Since so many men come here to shop for their wives, this retailer has plenty that they're likely to pick up. Co-owner Caroline Cossey says that as often as possible she carries lines exclusive to the store. She really believes that it takes a special dress for a special event. For Cossey, a true cocktail dress means slightly body-conscious and shorter-than-normal with a little bit of sex appeal. A big plus to shopping at Pinky Punky is its event registration. Cossey says she keeps track of what her customers have purchased for every major event to keep them from seeing their dress on someone else at a fancy event. Pleasant Ridge Town Center, 11525 Cantrell Road. 227-7303. www.pinkypunky.net. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.

Proposals In the past, this Heights retailer known for its bridal-wear might not be first choice for your office Christmas soiree or an engagement celebration. But the new owners are expanding their selection past poufy white gowns to include several well-priced dresses. Particularly impressive recently were the stylish yet conservative numbers that one could wear more than once to a variety of events. An emerald green short-sleeve dress with a black inset waist and oversized gold hooks used as trim comes to mind. This is a store to keep checking in on – the owners are continually evolving their inventory. 5913 Kavanaugh Blvd. 661-4696. www.proposalsboutique.com. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

RK Collections At RK Collections, located in the Promenade in Chenal, you'll find colorful, embellished knits along with sexy, sheer dresses and full-skirted, strapless numbers. Mostly for the younger, party-going set, RK carries brands such as Ark & Co., Erin K., and C. Luce and all come at good price points. The Promenade at Chenal, 17717 Chenal Parkway. 821-5590. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun.

Scarlet Located in the Pleasant Ridge shopping center, Scarlet is the place to go for the fashion-forward. Sure, the store has denim, solid basics and lots of work-appropriate wear, but Scarlet specializes in providing looks and brands you would find in more metropolitan communities. It has recently picked up Mark & James (a Badgley Mischka diffusion line) that will include sequined numbers perfect for that invitation that actually tells you that the event is semi-formal. Just a quick browse-through of the store locates a stunning navy silk dress with quilted shoulders and a cream, sleeveless knee-length dress with fringe. Fall will bring in longer hems. Pleasant Ridge Mall, 11525 Cantrell Road. 223-8585. www.scarletclothing.com. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.


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