The Cool Girl's Guide To Formal Dressing

Among a sea of taffeta and sequins, these unconventional formalwear options will truly stand out.

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    Prom is right around the corner, and although we’re a bit too old for the unforgettable celebration, we still find ourselves scrolling through the pages of tulle and halter-neck gowns every year. We’ve found that formal dresses often become monotonous, so we compiled the coolest styles that will ensure you avoid any fashion faux pas (like showing up in the same dress as another attendee). Even better: these looks will also work for black-tie events or weddings, so be sure to click through to get inspiration from the most stylish girls in Hollywood and score a covetable outfit for any formal affair.

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    Allison Williams

    A high neckline, like Williams’ Emilia Wickstead gown, is unpredictably sexy, especially when paired with pulled back hair, which elongates the neck.

    ​On Williams: Emilia Wickstead gown from the F/W 14 collection.

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    Zimmermann Silk Drape Long Dress ($520)

    This gown has plenty of red carpet appeal.

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    PHOTO: Venturelli/WireImage

    Dakota Fanning

    A plunging neckline takes some confidence to pull off, but the result is stunning, as proved by Fanning. Keep the rest of your look simple and modest, as not to distract from your décolletage.

    ​On Fanning: Elie Saab Couture gown from the F/W 13 collection.

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    ONE by Contrarian Babs Bibb Maxi Dress ($425) in Silver

    ​Silky and sleek, this gown will undoubtedly turn heads.

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    Diane Kruger

    Sheer lace might not be the first thing you consider for formalwear, but hear us out. With longer sleeves and a slip underneath, a lace gown can be an elegant and ethereal choice. Consider a vintage gown for this one!

    ​On Kruger: Valentino Haute Couture S/S 14 dress; Christian Louboutin Pigalle Point-Toe Pumps.

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    For Love and Lemons San Marcos Dress ($228)

    A vintage-inspired dress with a modern plunging back? Count us in!

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    PHOTO: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

    Elizabeth Olsen

    A black gown can read as understated, but throw an unexpected texture, like suede or velvet, into the mix and the results are seriously chic. Texture can be overwhelming on a bright gown, so a black dress is the perfect vehicle to try out a new fabric.

    On Olsen: Proenza Schouler dress; Jimmy Choo Ari Leather Pointy Toe Pumps ($795) in Disco Mirror.

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    Black Halo Drea Gown ($800)

    The velvet paneling on this structured gown pushes its cool factor over the edge.

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    Lupita Nyong’o

    Honestly, is there anything chicer than a gown with a cape? Gwenyth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, and Lupita Nyong’o don’t think so. Perhaps the most fashion forward and daring of all the gowns, a cape dress is easy to wear and super modern.

    ​On Nyong’o: Ralph Lauren Collection gown from the S/S 14 collection.

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    Teri Jon Belted Chiffon Cape Gown ($680)

    The sheer cape on this sleek sleeveless gown reads modern royalty.

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    Rose Byrne

    With the matching crop top and skirt look being a major trend for spring, this next formal outfit idea is a no-brainer. While a bit daring, you’re sure to be voted best dressed.

    ​On Byrne: custom Calvin Klein Collection dress.

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    Tibi Silk Faille Cropped Top ($298) and Silk Faille Full Skirt ($525)

    While highlighting your best assets, this silky two-piece is versatile, so it can be worn again and again.

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    PHOTO: Karwai Tang/WireImage

    Shailene Woodley

    One of the most interesting ways to show some skin is with low-skimming back cutouts, especially if your dress is more conservative in the front. A diamond shape feels current, which is exactly what you want for the big night.

    ​On Woodley: Stella McCartney Betta Lace-Trim Open-Back Gown ($4000) in Capri Blue.

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    Solace London Crockett Maxi Dress with Low Back ($245)

    Make a bold impression, both coming and going, in this dress.

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    PHOTO: Jeff Vespa/WireImage

    Taylor Swift

    A short-sleeved gown exudes a cool insouciance. Just be sure to look for a cinched waistline for the most flattering results.

    ​On Swift: Gucci Première gown.

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    David Meister Metallic Lace Gown ($588)

    ​The shimmery lace and sheer neckline on this gown feels fun, yet refined, the perfect combination fit for a (prom) queen.

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    PHOTO: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Jameson

    Margot Robbie

    A jumpsuit is one of the easiest ways to have fun with formal dressing. Naturally flattering and always chic, this style looks great in bright hues, pastels, and neutrals alike.

    On Robbie: Paper London Sun Jumpsuit ($1510) in Red.

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    Whistles Lovebird Jumpsuit ($500)

    The off-the-shoulder cut and wide-leg pant gives this pastel pink jumpsuit a modern spin.

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    Nicole Richie

    A slinky slip is the epitome of effortless style. Tip: luxe fabrics like silk and crepe are the best materials for this look.

    ​On Richie: Marc Jacobs gown; Giuseppe Zanotti pumps.

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    DKNY Illusion V-back Crepe Maxi Dress ($495)

    ​This boldly hued dress with illusion straps feels simple, sexy, and is sure to turn heads.

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    PHOTO: Nick Harvey/WireImage

    Lily Collins

    In lieu of a full-length gown, try a tea-length hemline! The figure-flattering silhouette is perfect for showing off statement heels. Opt for lighter fabrics with a fuller skirt to achieve a fresh, ladylike look a la Collins.

    On Collins: Mary Katrantzou Floral Grid Nevis Strapless Dress ($3720) in Multi; Jimmy Choo Anouk Patent Leather Pointy Toe Pumps ($595) in Nude.

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    ML Monique Lhuillier Tulle Tea-Length Dress ($498) in Blush

    Paired with metallic pumps, this blush colored iteration will have every girl wishing her gown was a foot shorter.

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    PHOTO: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

    Olivia Munn

    Hollywood It-girls can’t get enough of the thigh-high slit. The key is finding a length that makes you feel confident and sexy.

    ​On Munn: Reem Acra dress.

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    Naven Sleeveless Siren Maxi Dress ($198) in Pop Pink

    ​We love this simple bubble gum pink gown, and the slit adds just the right amount of sex appeal.

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    PHOTO: Karwai Tang/WireImage

    Emma Watson

    A sleek and formfitting white gown is anything but bridal. To achieve Watson’s striking white look, stick to a sleeveless gown with minimal details.

    ​On Watson: Ralph Lauren Collection gown; Jimmy Choo Carmen Watersnake Clutch Bag with Chain Wristlet ($1895) in Silver and Anouk pumps.

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    Lauren Ralph Lauren Sleeveless Beaded Gown ($210) in White

    This white gown is as sophisticated as it is bold, a perfect choice for the girl who wants to stand out.

    ​Which daring look will you be trying for your next formal affair?

Shop this Story
Metallic Lace Gown

Metallic Lace Gown

David Meister, $588
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Drea Gown

Drea Gown

Black Halo, $800
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San Marcos Dress

San Marcos Dress

For Love and Lemons, $228
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Illusion V-back Crepe Maxi Dress

Illusion V-back Crepe Maxi Dress

DKNY, $495
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Tulle Tea-Length Dress

Tulle Tea-Length Dress

ML Monique Lhuillier, $498
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Sleeveless Siren Maxi Dress

Sleeveless Siren Maxi Dress

Naven, $198
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Babs Bibb Maxi Dress

Babs Bibb Maxi Dress

ONE by Contrarian, $425
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Sleeveless Beaded Gown

Sleeveless Beaded Gown

Lauren Ralph Lauren, $210
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Crockett Maxi Dress with Low Back

Crockett Maxi Dress with Low Back

Solace London, $245
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Lovebird Jumpsuit

Lovebird Jumpsuit

Whistles, $500
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Belted Chiffon Cape Gown

Belted Chiffon Cape Gown

Teri Jon, $680
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Silk Drape Long Dress

Silk Drape Long Dress

Zimmermann, $520
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Silk Faille Cropped Top

Silk Faille Cropped Top

Tibi, $298
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Silk Faille Full Skirt

Silk Faille Full Skirt

Tibi, $525
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Ari Leather Pointy Toe Pumps

Ari Leather Pointy Toe Pumps

Jimmy Choo, $795
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Anouk Patent Leather Pointy Toe Pumps

Anouk Patent Leather Pointy Toe Pumps

Jimmy Choo, $595
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Floral Grid Nevis Strapless Dress

Floral Grid Nevis Strapless Dress

Mary Katrantzou, $3720
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Betta Lace-Trim Open-Back Gown

Betta Lace-Trim Open-Back Gown

Stella McCartney, $4000
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Sun Jumpsuit

Sun Jumpsuit

Paper London, $1510
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Carmen Watersnake Clutch Bag with Chain Wristlet

Carmen Watersnake Clutch Bag with Chain Wristlet

Jimmy Choo, $1895
SHOP
EXPLORE: Celebrity Style, Styling Tips, David Meister, Black Halo, For Love and Lemons, DKNY, ML Monique Lhuillier, Naven, ONE by Contrarian, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Solace London, Whistles, Teri Jon, Zimmerman, Tibi, Jimmy Choo, Mary Katrantzou, Stella McCartney, Paper London, Allison Williams, Dakota Fanning, Diane Kruger, Elizabeth Olsen, Lupita Nyong'o, Rose Byrne, Shailene Woodley, Taylor Swift, Margot Robbie, Nicole Richie, Lily Collins, Olivia Munn, Emma Watson, Celebrity Style, metallic gown, lace gown, metallic lace, short sleeve gown, black gown, strapless gown, velvet gown, White Dress, white lace dress, sheer dress, slip dress, orange dress, illusion dress, tulle dress, tea-length dress, slit dress, pink dress, plunging neckline, deep v gown, silver gown, white gown, beaded necklace, slit, back details, cut out, jumpsuit, Cape, cape gown, high neckline, silk gown, drape gown, crop top, Full Skirt, silver clutch, Clutch
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