People have been throwing lavish parties for thousands of years. From the bacchanalias of the ancient Greeks to the modern Oscar after parties, people simply enjoy celebrating special occasions, especially with food and drink. About the only thing that has changed are the outfits and the definition of what a party dress actually is.
The first party dresses were formal gowns that were worn by women of means during the 17th century. These dresses were specifically designed to wear at Court (in the presence of a monarch) and they took hours to "slip" into. The sack back, for example, was made of heavy, luxurious fabrics that were arranged in a series of box pleats that reached the floor and terminated in a modest train. The gown was so heavy that it required a hoop skirt (crinoline) to give it shape.
As time passed, fashions became less conservative. It was during the reign of Queen Victoria that the term "evening gown" first appeared. Once again, there was no standard definition, but most designers agreed that an evening gown had long sleeves and a hemline that went to the ankles or the floor. Although it was still quite formal, these gowns were made of lighter materials and had fewer layers than their predecessors. Fashionable women even started to show some skin.
Formal gowns were readily available in sleeveless versions and with plunging, décolleté necklines. Strapless numbers came along a bit later as comfort and simplicity started to sell. Women wanted party dresses they could actually party in. They wanted to dance the night away in fun and flirty gowns that could be worn to multiple events.
The Right Dress
Believe it or not, it's harder than ever for a woman to find the right dress for a specific event. After all, there were only a few dresses in earlier eras and dress codes were more clearly defined. When a woman received an invitation to a party at Court in Versailles, she knew exactly what to wear. But today, she must match her dress to each social occasion and event. Let us take a moment to review a few of the most popular dresses that can be worn to casual and formal affairs.
Black Tie & White Tie
A black or white tie invitation calls for formal attire at all times. The guys must wear tuxedos and the girls must dress in formal evening wear. Sleeveless or strapless gowns are just fine, but guests should pay close attention their hemlines. Ideally, the dress should fall to the floor (full-length), although tea-length dresses that reach the ankles are perfectly acceptable. But what truly sets the evening gown apart from a lesser dresses are the materials. An evening gown should be made from luxurious fabrics like velvet, silk, chiffon or satin.
It is important to note that an evening gown is different from a ball gown. Ball gowns are typically strapless, sleeveless and have skirts. They are often seen at high school proms and at formal dances. The evening gown, on the other hand, may have sleeves, halters, even straps. It is available in every silhouette, including mermaid, trumpet, sheath and A-line.
Many working women agonize over what to wear to a party held at work. As a general rule, a woman should dress conservatively if business clients and associates will be attending. Formal business attire or evening wear is appropriate. However, if the party is casual, ie, only the staff will be attending, a girl can wear pretty much anything she wants. The classic little black dress often makes an appearance at casual business parties, especially during the holiday. Cocktail dresses are also welcome, as are shirts, sweaters, blouses, pants and more informal attire.
The most popular semi-formal events are cocktail and dinner parties with friends. Dress codes are typically relaxed at these get-togethers, although a t-shirt and jeans would be totally unacceptable. Super short skirts would also be out of bounds. As you may imagine, the best dress to wear to a cocktail party is a cocktail dress. The hemline should fall below knees, but other than that, there really are no rules. A girl should feel free to wear a dress that makes her feel comfortable, even sexy. Cocktail and dinner parties are also the perfect time to break out a few tasteful accessories, since cocktail dresses tend to be a bit plain. Designer shoes, clutch purses, jewelry and colorful shawls can all be used to complement an understated dress
At the end of the day, a party dress should be flattering, comfortable and fun. Dress codes should be followed, if possible. Just do not let them get in the way of a good time. It's a party, after all.