Evening Skirt

AKA: ball skirt, formal skirt, cocktail skirt

How to say it:  eev-ning skurt

Traditional Features: 

Evening Skirt

  • often full length
  • traditionally made from more expensive, luxurious fabrics like silk
  • style varies depending on the trends, but are usually cuts and shapes that are more formal – like a ball gown skirt
  • appropriate for a formal, evening event


…of the style: Evening dress, also known as court dress (it began in the Royal courts of Europe), can trace its origins back to the 15th century and the court of Philip the Good – a particularly fashion-conscious Burgundian ruler. During this time clothing was a means of displaying wealth and social standing; rich fabrics were the domain of the nobility and the women of the court were dressed impeccably in sumptuous gowns at all times, adding a little more to their outfits for formal occasions.

In the 16th and 17th century court life revolved around art, literature and music, creating lots of social events requiring formal clothing. Balls, elaborate dinners, recitals and theatre performances gave women of the time ample opportunities to don their finest clothing and strut among their peers. Gowns worn to these occasions were often more lavish than regular day garments, made from intricately woven silks (introduced in 1400 and very expensive) and trimmed in furs to indicate the wealth of the wearer (or more likely the wearer’s husband or family) and their social status

Despite the exclusiveness of court the rules surrounding social rank began to relax throughout the 14th – 17th centuries, allowing rich merchants and member of the public outside of the court to display their wealth through their clothing. By the Baroque Era of the 17th century, formal or evening dress, which had become synonymous with court dress, began to be common in  the salons of the wealthy who copied the trends of the court.

During this time the focus of fashion began to move to France, making the court of Louis XIV the centre of fashion in the 17th century. However, the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century upset the social class rules, and balls and formal occasions were no longer the sole realm of the wealthy or the royal. As the upper- and middle-classes arose from the conflict and staked their claims in society, evening wear became a style for the masses and the term ‘evening gown’ was born.

Throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries the style of evening wear has changed with the times and trends, and with advances in fabric and manufacturing technology, became more and more accessible to the masses, however one defining characteristic has remained firm – it is always more. Whether it’s in the fabric, the cut, the styling or the embellishments, evening wear is more luxurious, more detailed, more lavish, more elegant and often more expensive; it is designed in a way that makes it clear that the garment is not appropriate for general wear and should be reserved for special occasions.

This includes the evening skirt, which is essentially a skirt that is made to be worn to a formal occasion. The style of wearing separates as evening wear most likely evolved in a similar manner to the evening gown, coming in and out of fashion depending on the styles of the times (it was particularly popular in the 1930s, 40s, 70s and 80s, and there was more than one evening skirt worn at the Oscars this year). In the 21st century, evening gowns tend to be more popular, but there are still a large number of evening skirts available in varying styles for those who want them.

…of the name: This style of skirt is worn to formal events (like balls) that are traditionally held in the evening. Hence the name.

For more info on Evening Wear try Queens of Vintage or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

21st Century Evening Skirts

In the 21st century, the evening gown is definitely more readily available than the evening skirt, however there are still plenty of skirt styles to choose from. From big, bright ball skirts, to smooth and slinky sequined numbers, the styles on the marketplace are varied and encompass the latest trends as well as the most classic of styles.

Alice & Olivia Carolina Herrera

Alice + Olivia, Carolina Herrera

Donna Karan Lela Rose

Donna Karan, Lela Rose

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