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The History of the Evening Dress

Posted on 20 April 2017

The tradition of wearing evening dresses has been around for centuries. Regardless of the era, evening dress is intricately linked to the fashion trends of the time, with unique characteristics that distinguishes it from everyday dress. An evening gown is a special form of dress that amplifies a woman's femininity and often proclaims her desirability through it’s shape and cut.

19th Century Evening Wear

Although formal court dress has existed for centuries, there is consensus among dress historians that evening dress began to form its own unique category in the mid-1820s. It is probably no coincidence that this form of dressing emerged at the same time the Romantic Movement in art and literature surfaced as an influence in European and American cultures.

Chanel Cocktail Dress

Evening dresses saw a surge of popularity as the cocktail dress became the most desirable piece in a woman’s wardrobe. The cocktail dress, like cocktail culture, emerged after World War I as social changes allowed women more freedom and independence to engage in traditionally male dominated activities such as frequenting clubs and lounges.

Elizabeth Taylor, 1961 Oscars

By the 1960s, a plethora of options in evening wear had emerged, for everyone, not just the elite. Mini-skirted straight dresses were made from metallic fabrics or brilliantly patterned fabrics, and surfaces may have been trimmed with sequins, beads, or plastic bits.

By the late 1960s and into the 1970s evening dresses had returned to floor length. Pantsuits with full-legged trousers and palazzo pants paired with a coordinating top also became stylish and versatile evening wear options.


In the 1980s, the glamour of evening dress contrasted with subdued, professional dress for career women and integrated bright and vibrant colours with plenty of embroidery, sequins, and beading. Think Dynasty!

Helen Hunt and Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars

By the late 80s and early 90s, evening dresses were short and hugged the body, they were often strapless or had tiny shoulder straps. Basic slip dresses made from soft crepe fabrics became popular and have seen a rejuvenation in recent seasons as 90s style has come back en vogue.


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