Cocktail Dress

Also no dresses starting with ‘Z’ so another classic dress style for y’all…


How to say it: kok-teyl  dres

Traditional Features: 

Cocktail Dress

  • usually knee-length, but can be a bit shorter or longer
  • made with luxury fabrics suitable for evening or semi-formal events
  • can have decoration or embellishment
  • can be any shape or style appropriate for evening or semi-formal events

21st Century Cocktail Dresses

The 21st century cocktail dress comes in many guises, changing season after season with the trends and whims of designers. This plethora of choice means that the modern woman can search out the perfect cocktail dress for her personality and body shape (be it a classic LBD or something more colourful) allowing her to enjoy any event without having to worry about her outfit.



Erin Featherston Zac Posen

Erin Featherston, Zac Posen


…of the style: The cocktail dress is a product of the early 20th century, brought about in a time of social change that saw the development of the independent ‘modern women’, who socialised at clubs, lounges and the private cocktail parties made popular by Prohibition in America.

These social gatherings had a much more relaxed atmosphere than the traditionally more formal dinner parties, and as such required a new dress code that was not too dressy, but also not too casual. The cocktail dress was the perfect garment to fill the gap, being more formal than an Afternoon dress (suitable only for Afternoon Tea) but less dressy than a floor length evening dress or ball gown.

The cocktail dress of the 1920s often tight-fitting, calf-length affairs made from luxury fabrics like silk or satin ( and regularly taking styling notes from Coco Chanel’s 1926 LBD ), worn with matching hat, shoes and gloves. In the 30s the length of a cocktail dress fell to the ankles, the gloves became longer and costume jewellery became a must for any fashionable cocktail outfit. The hemline of the cocktail dress rose again in the 1940s (possibly because of WWII and fabric rationing) and despite the hardships of the era, social etiquette continued to require women to wear a hat and gloves to a cocktail event.

In the 1950s early evening cocktails and entertainment became a common social activity (think The Rat Pack, small tables with ashtrays, low lighting and dirty martinis), and the cocktail dress became an indispensable item in any fashionable woman’s wardrobe. Dress styles became longer (although not full length) with more modest necklines and sleeves, a hat and gloves remained an essential part of the cocktail ensemble (although if a woman was hosting cocktails in her home she was not expected to wear them), and day shoes could absolutely not be worn to a cocktail event.

Since then, socialising around a bar with a drink in hand has continued to be a popular pastime, and with it the cocktail dress has managed to stay the test of time, adapting and changing with the trends of the decades to remain relevant.

In the 21st century, cocktail hour as we know it is somewhat more casual than back in the day, with after work drinks taking over from the semi-formal cocktail hours of the past. As such the ever adaptable cocktail dress has shifted into a more formal realm for the modern day, more often seen at weddings, or fancy restaurants than in the home or bar. Cocktail dresses now come in a huge range of styles and colours, allowing the modern woman to pick and choose a design that suits her body and personality. Yet despite the abundance of choice on the modern marketplace, the original cocktail dress, the LBD, introduced by Coco Chanel all those decades ago has maintained it position as the ultimate cocktail frock and continues to be loved by women everywhere.

Regardless of where the cocktail dress now appears on the social spectrum, it has maintained a sense of decorum through the decades, despite its ever-changing face, and will always hark back to the days of gloves, hats, intelligent conversation and killer martinis.

…of the name: Christian Dior was the first person to coin the phrase ‘cocktail dress’ in the late 1940s, the name came from the event that the dress were designed for – cocktail hour.

Random Facts

  • In the late 1920s the female ideal was the ‘Drinking Woman’ who denied the matronly Edwardian sensibilities and embraced her new found independence.

For more info on Cocktail Dresses try ecosalon, eHow, The Met Museum or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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0 thoughts on “Cocktail Dress

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