Choosing the right attire for different events is very important, as it can determine the outcome of your night. The wrong choice can leave you over (or under) dressed for the event, causing embarrassment and giving people the wrong impression. There are a few things you should you know about choosing cocktail attire versus formal attire for a "black tie" event.
Black Tie Events
First, formal events are usually black-tie affairs and will certainly require different attire than a cocktail party. Usually, you will need to visit a tuxedo rental shop, and rent a formal dress (for women) or a tuxedo (for men). Of course, the location of the event will also play into the attire worn. For instance, some cities tend to have "dressed down" formal events, where no black tie is actually needed.
Cocktail party attire is usually a bit more casual than a formal event. Men might wear a business suit here, rather than a tuxedo. Elegance is usually the rule at a cocktail party, and women tend to wear shorter cocktail dresses, rather than long formal dresses that are worn at black-tie events. You can get great and inexpensive cocktail dresses at any big box clothing store at the mall, such as Macys.
The Little Black Dress
The infamous "little black dress" is the best example of proper cocktail attire for women. Men can get away with a dark suit and a regular tie. This should not be confused with semi-formal or informal attire, both of which differ considerably from the types previously discussed. Festive attire is also different, and is usually reserved for specific holiday times throughout the year, such as Christmas.
Even with these guidelines, there is a lot of flexibility in attire for different events. Perhaps the best option is to check out the venue, as well as the host(s) of the party and find out what is generally expected of guests.