Women have been wearing party dresses for centuries. Gowns that were designed specifically for formal occasions date back to the 17th century. The mantua was a loose-fitting gown with cuffed sleeves that was often worn with a petticoat. It was developed in France and by the 18th century, it was the most popular dress to wear at Court (in the presence of a monarch).
Gowns grew ever more elaborate as the centuries rolled on. The sack-back gown, for example, would make most modern wedding gowns look like sundresses. It was made of luxurious fabrics arranged in box pleats that fell to floor with a modest train. The dress was so heavy it had a square hoop to give it shape. As you may have guessed, only members of the bon mot could afford these formal gowns.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, the term "evening gown" was first used. Most fashionable individuals agreed that an evening gown was an elaborate dress with long sleeves that almost always had a hemline that fell between the ankles and the floor. Even so, designers continued to experiment with new looks.
Over time, dressmakers used less and material and women started showing more skin. By the end of the 19th century, the most fashionable gowns were sleeved numbers with decollete necklines. Strapless dresses came around a bit later as simplicity began to sell. Women wanted fun, flirty dresses that were actually comfortable.
Where are we now?
When an 18th century woman received an invitation to dine with a monarch at his Court, it was fairly obvious what she would wear. But things aren't always that easy these days. A woman must now match her dress to a given social event, and there are many of them, each with its own dress code.
The most formal social gathering nowadays is the black tie affair. A traditional wedding held in the evening or a political dinner often requires formalwear. That means tuxedos for the guys and evening gowns for the girls. The definition of an evening gown is not set in stone. As a general rule, the hemline should reach the ankles. Full length or tea length dresses are preferred. Luxurious materials like satin, silk, velvet and chiffon are commonly used in evening gowns.
Creative Black Tie
Creative black tie invites are always fun because they give girls the option of wearing cocktail dresses instead of evening gowns. One again, there is no standard, accepted definition of what a cocktail dress actually is. When compared to an evening gown, cocktail dresses are invariably shorter. The length of the little black dress, for instance, can range from just above the knee (the mini) all the way to the ankles (tea length). When a woman does wear a cocktail dress to an event that calls for creative black tie, she should select a tea length dress, since it is still considered to be a formal affair.
Cocktail and dinner parties with close friends are generally semi-formal affairs. While an evening gown would be over the top, guests are expected to dress up a bit. One easy way to select a dress is to consider where the party is being held—the venue. If the semi-formal event is a holiday office party, it is probably best to dress a bit more conservatively. A tea-length cocktail dress or a little black dress with tasteful accessories is appropriate. However, if the semi-formal event is a dinner with close friends, shorter cocktail dresses are okay.
Events that are held at work or with business clients often call for business formal attire. Unlike the holiday office party, guests are expected to show their respect for their clients and colleagues by dressing appropriately. This means either tailored business suits or long dresses. A cocktail dress is fine as long as it is long enough.
A dress with a hemline that falls to the ankles (tea length) is recommended.
Cocktail parties are a blast because guests can wear almost anything they want. Of course, a certain level of decorum should be observed. Men often show up in causal suits and women wear a party dresses. When we say party dress, we mean any of the dresses we have mentioned in this article. Cocktail dresses, evening gowns and little black dresses are all party dresses. Depending on the venue and the season, the shorter cocktail dress (the mini) is a crowd favorite at cocktail parties.
Most women own at least one little black dress. The appeal of this popular outfit is its incredible versatility. Little black dresses can be worn at most social gatherings. Though designed specifically for semi-formal affairs, they are popular at casual or informal parties as well.
Whatever the dress code, there is a party dress to match it. Find the party dress you've been looking for now.