Legendary couturier Christian Dior – credited with creating the term “cocktail dress” – once described the early evening attire as “elaborate and dressy afternoon frocks,” best done in “a dark color, preferably black if it suits you.”
Sartorial trends have greatly changed since Dior offered that bit of advice in 1954’s “The Little Black Book of Fashion,” but the cocktail dress retains its appeal as a fun, fashionable alternative to formal evening wear.
Spring and summer cocktail dresses in particular offer lots of exciting possibilities, as the warm evening breezes invite bare shoulders and lower necklines. Here are a few of our favorite picks – and some fun facts about cocktail dresses!
Just what is a cocktail dress?
What is a cocktail dress? Cocktail dresses first appeared in the 1920s and gained new popularity after the war, especially after Audrey Hepburn sported her trademark black cocktail dress in “How to Steal a Million.” The cocktail dress was worn at early evening or 6 to 8 p.m. gatherings, historically. This Elie Saab cocktail dress, with high neckline, short sleeves and wrap waist, hearkens to the old shirt-waists of the ’50s but with a modern pop of blazing orange color. Gorgeous!
The perfect cocktail dress shape
Ever wonder where the signature a-line shape of the classic short cocktail dress came from? The term cocktail dress refers largely to the fact that women wore the dresses to parties where they tended to stand. That meant the dresses could have puffy skirts since they wouldn’t be sat upon and crushed. We’re in love with the arced neckline and graphic detail of this Monique Lhuillier silk and satin cocktail dress – but the voluminous skirt steals the show!
What’s the ideal cocktail dress length?
Though cocktail dresses are often thought of us short, flirty affairs, a cocktail dress can actually reach to mid-ankle and, in some cases, designers have created floor-length versions. At mid-calf, they’re usually called “tea-length” cocktail dresses. This square-necklined, knee-length cocktail dress by Zac Posen puts us in the mind of the classic with a floral embroidered twist! What a perfect summer cocktail dress choice!
Satin, silk, chiffon or lace – what’s best for a cocktail dress?
Though Dior once said cocktail dresses were most suited to taffeta, satin, chiffon or wool, more recent years have seen designers play with materials like chiffon and lace. We love this gauzy creme lace cocktail dress with full skirt by Elie Saab – and not just because it includes one of our favorite accents, flowers!
In a pinch, you could always opt for this diamond-encrusted beautiful cocktail dress designed by Chloe and Reese for New York City-based wholesaler Tov International. Featuring 100 three-carat diamonds, it costs just $15 million.
But whatever would you do for shoes?
“Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.”- Brian Tracy
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