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12 cocktail dresses to get you through the holidays

FashionNicole MillerBCBG Max AzriaJC Penney Company Inc.Spanx, Inc.

A girl can never own too many pairs of shoes, lipsticks or dresses. But out of the three, dresses rate as more of an investment, particularly when it comes to special occasions.

There's the little black dress (amped up with the right accessories, of course), and then there's everything else. While some holiday parties call for that understated black dress, others encourage attendees to go all out in style, trend and color.

"We should always think to ourselves, 'I'm okay with being noticed, but I don't want to make a scene,'" advises fashion expert Borris Powell, owner of the eponymous designer label and winner of the Academy Awards Designer Challenge in 2011.

"I believe you need to know the party that you're attending. Holiday parties can vary, so be sure to pay close attention to the invitation.

"Much like a wedding, you want to look and feel amazing, but don't show up to upstage the host. If it's a house holiday party, don't show up in a gown—unless it's a themed party. Think 'fashionable cocktail' attire."

Powell's favorite looks this season include classic, tailored dresses that fit every body type. He also appreciates a good pop of color.

"We always want to appear effortless, but photo ready," he says. "This is the holiday season. We're celebrating, so show up looking to celebrate. Full dresses with a skinny belt at the waistline are perfect … . as well as keeping it classic chic, fit and flair is always a winner.

"But most important, bright colors are back and I want them to stay, so put some color on and let's have some fun, people."

Check out some of our favorite cocktail dresses for this season, which include everything from classic styles to trendier, fashion-forward options.

Bloomingdale's. If you're in for a night of party hopping, you definitely don't want to overdo it. The Trina Turk sequin georgette dress effortlessly jet sets to all the season's social scenes. Whether you're dancing, cocktailing or holding court, the shimmy in this sheath is guaranteed to get you crowned belle of the ball. It's $398.

Ann Taylor. Color-blocking when done well looks magnificent. Look to this Ann Taylor satin jersey gown as a great example. The shirred, one-shoulder neckline in red paired with a flowing, black skirt elevates fashion sense for even the style-challenged. It's so alluring that it requires very little accessories. The dress is $248 and ideal for the fanciest of shindigs.

BCBGMaxAzria. Known best for its killer dress selection, BCBG never disappoints in the cocktail gown department. Those wishing to take the LBD to the next level should take note of the Katia ruffled sleeveless dress. Recommended for events held at an art gallery or other artistic-focused venues, the stylish sheath boasts a deep décolleté neckline, cutouts in the back and dramatic, modern ruffles at the hips. It's $338.

Herve Leger. The girl with the rockin' body wouldn't hesitate to strut her stuff in the Hayden studded detail dress that flaunts all of her curves in a classy manner. Even though it comes in "lipstick red," it maintains modesty with a high neckline. It's $1,750.

Herve Leger. The similarly studded Tamar dress tames down its sex appeal with an A-line skirt, but that doesn't mean you should. It's certainly an investment at $2,050, and is a perfect fit for dinner and black-tie parties.

J. Crew. Always count on looking sexy if you wear something lacy, but this little J. Crew number tones down its scandalous reputation with panache. The pinot noir hue adds a bit of adventure, yet the delicate underlay leaves everything to the imagination. It's $495 and perfect for parties when you're mingling with clients and/or co-workers.

JC Penney. Sassy, with the ability to look appealing on every woman's figure, this purple empire-waist dress is a confidence builder. Its subtle elegance is enhanced by a jewel-embellished waistline. The colorful frock will liven up black-tie events and cocktail parties. The dress retails at $75.

Le Dress. It doesn't get any more festive than red, and Shoshanna's sleek party dress will have all eyes on you for the entire evening. In addition to its cheery color, the flattering waistline includes a built-in belt that cinches you in even more. It's 100 percent silk and it means business if you plan on getting busy on the dance floor. It's $364.

Macy's. Think again if you believe taffeta is only for proms or weddings. You'll feel like royalty in Patra's stunner that's belted and cinched in at the waist, flowing in layers of scarlet taffeta and topped with black patterned velvet. It's $219 and the dress you'll want if you're attending a black-tie bash.

Nordstrom. Looking to make a dramatic entrance and exit without going overboard? Nicole Miller's embroidered trim sequin sheath showcases a vivid array of light-catching sequins in gorgeous colors. While the entire front is a zigzag of patterns, the back tastefully tones it down with a solid black bodice. The dress, at $550, also flatters an hourglass figure. Clubbier events at restaurants or cocktail lounges are where you'll want to sport this number.

White House/Black Market. Who needs to ever wiggle into a pair of Spanx again now that WHBM has invented an instantly slimming dress? This particular style comes in a sleek halter, with built-in shapewear. It's $160 and will have everyone at the cocktail party wondering if you've been hitting the gym more than usual.

Zara. The office holiday party tends to be always challenging when it comes to attire if you work for a conservative company. And if that party falls on a weekend, it's especially tricky. You don't want to dress dowdy, but you want your co-workers to not judge you come Monday morning. Zara's strappy black dress serves as the perfect reminder that you're a lady with great taste and sensibility. It's priced at $79.90.

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