What is a Cocktail Dress?

Updated on October 16, 2022 by Sarina Tariq

Simple – What you wear to a cocktail party! A cocktail event is usually a semi-formal one that does not call for a formal evening dress, so a cocktail dress is just that – a semi-formal dress. It is an elegant, knee-length dress made in a good quality luxurious fabric, just right for those occasions which demanded a dress code that is not too formal but yet, not too casual.


A cocktail dress can be in any style and may even be heavily embellished with beadwork, sequins, etc. The length of the cocktail dress can be shorter than knee-length or a bit longer. It is accessorised with a stylish bag, shoes, and jewelry.

History of Cocktail Dress

The origin of cocktail dress can be traced back to the early 20th century. Women started to work; they started attending social events, especially the so-called cocktail parties, organized by the companies to encourage the intermingling of their staff. These after-working-hours parties called for comfortable wear in which she could move around freely and the formal ankle-length evening gowns were not at all suitable. This called for a new style of dress which saw the birth of cocktail dress.

Another event that triggered the popularity of cocktail dresses was the prohibition in America. There were many private parties and these events were attended by the modern women of the times in their dresses. You can read about how this change and how it affected women’s fashion here.

1920s cocktail dresses were often fashioned after the Little Black Dress designed by Coco Chanel. They were short and simple, most often calf length, and made from luxury fabrics like silk or satin. The French made these popular when they traveled the world to spend their holidays in wealthy resorts. Soon designers across the world started fashioning their own styles of cocktail dresses. They were often worn with matching hats, shoes, and gloves.

The 1930s saw longer cocktail dresses and they were worn with costume jewelry or fashion jewelry which were inexpensive. Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, or brooches were often worn with cocktail dresses.

The 1940s saw the hemline of cocktail dresses rising up to knee length. The social etiquette of the time demanded these dresses to be worn with a hat and a pair of gloves.

It was in the 1940s that Christian Dior came up with the name ‘cocktail dresses’ for his collection of dresses with a cinched waist and full skirt. This terminology attracted the cocktail-loving Americans and the cocktail party attendees.

The 1950s saw the height of cocktail dresses. They had modest necklines and sleeves compared to their predecessors and came in a wide range of styles and colors. Early evening cocktail parties had become a part of the societal culture and women played the roles of housewives, matrons and hostesses in these events. Thus a cocktail dress became an essential part of any woman’s wardrobe.

The 1960s followed suit of 1950s and cocktail hours were celebrated by all irrespective of social strata or income. There were etiquette’s to be followed by the hostess and the guests which kept changing with time and social groups. But one thing that never changed was the requirement of a cocktail dress.

The popularity of cocktail events and dresses saw a decline after the 1960s. Women took to the liberated fashions of palazzo pants and jumpsuits and these liberated clothes replaced the cocktail dresses in social circles. But they still continue to exist even today.

The 21st-century cocktail dresses are an ideal choice when you want to look formal yet casual and elegant yet comfortable. It fits any occasion which wants you to dress up but does not require an elaborate evening gown.

The styles of cocktail dresses have changed and evolved with the times. One moment they may be form-fitting with a raised hemline and in the blink of an eye, the fashion may favor more flared styles with a cinched waist. But whatever the style, a well-made cocktail dress, paired with high heels, and other appropriate accessories is sure to steal the show at any cocktail party.

Related post : Kinds of clothing. ; Different types of dresses ; What are the different dresscodes

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Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

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