Party dresses have been around for hundreds of years. But even after all that time, there is no standard, accepted definition of what they are. Party attire can be worn to both casual and formal affairs. The formality of the attire often depends on the time and location where the event is held.
In the beginning, party dresses were strictly formal gowns. They were worn by women of status or privilege to exclusive events. In fact, one of the first party dresses was the mantua, which was a loose-fitting gown that was worn with a petticoat. It became popular with the beau monde in 18th-century France, where it was the only party dress women wore at Court, i. e., in the presence of a monarch.
Party dresses grew ever more expensive and elaborate as time passed. Evening and ball gowns were designed for women of means. Dressmakers used heavy, luxurious fabrics that only the rich could afford. It was not until the 20th century that designers started making dresses for average women.
As upper class women began to show a bit more skin with plunging necklines and higher hemlines, party dresses fell in price. Because the designs were less elaborate and they required less fabric, these dresses finally became affordable. Simple strapless and sleeves gowns appealed to women of limited means who wanted to look elegant and have fun.
As we mentioned at the outset, there is no standard definition of what a party dress actually is. In fact, it is more confusing than ever. For upper class women living in 18th century France, it was fairly obvious what they would wear to a formal affair. But the modern woman has to consider several factors before she selects her party dress. The most important one, of course, is the event.
Black tie and white tie events are formal social gatherings. Men are expected to wear tuxedos and women dress in evening gowns. Though there is no standard definition, an evening gown is typically a full-length dress that is made from luxurious materials like satin, velvet, silk or chiffon. The hemline of the gown is typically full-length, though tea-length dresses are perfectly acceptable. Unlike the ball gown, which has a skirt, no sleeves, and a strapless bodice, the evening gown may have straps, sleeves or halters. The formal gown is available in every silhouette including A-line, sheath, trumpet, and mermaid.
Many women struggle over what to wear to a party held at work. There is no easy answer. But it is always important to consider who will be attending. If it is a casual office party with just the staff and their families, a woman should feel free to wear a fun and flirty cocktail dress. The classic little black dress is an office party favorite. However, if business clients and associates will be attending, women are expected to dress in formal business attire.
Cocktail and dinner parties are typically semi-formal events. Though an evening gown would be overkill, guests are expected to be presentable. This means no t-shirts and jeans or super short dresses. As you might expect, cocktail dresses are perfect for these get-togethers. A little black dress with a hemline that falls below the knees is a can’t-miss. The simplicity of the outfit can often be complemented with tasteful accessories like jewelry, clutch purses, shawls and designer shoes.
At a slightly upscale dinner with friends and acquaintances, a woman should feel free to wear pretty much anything she wants. The sexiest number that still retains a bit of modesty and decorum is the mini. The dress has a hemline that falls to just about the knees. Women who want to show even more skin can wear a miniskirt with a matching top.
The first formal gown most women wear is their prom dress. Though styles and fashions are always in flux, prom is still considered a formal event. Floor-length gowns can make any woman or girl look dignified, elegant, and mature. When it comes to style, most girls prefer to show a little skin with strapless, sleeveless gowns with sweetheart necklines.
The most important and expensive dress most women will ever wear is their wedding dress. Of course, these formal gowns are not party dresses. They are generally heavy and long and almost impossible to dance in. That is why many brides purchase a second dress, commonly called a reception dress. Made of relatively lightweight materials like taffeta and with high hemlines, these party dresses let new brides dance the night away at their receptions.