Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The allure of the evening dress

By Hollie Graham

Dior, Spring/Summer 97, photograph by Niall McInerney, Bloomsbury Fashion Photography Archive, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
Once again, it is the captivating magnificence of the evening dress that is lighting up the fashion world. The Victoria & Albert Museum opened a ‘Ball Gowns: British Glamour since 1950’ exhibition on Saturday, 19 May 2012 (open until 6 January 2013). It will display evening wear spanning 60 years, by designers such as McQueen, Packham, Stiebel, and Deacon. Boasting gowns worn by celebrities, the truly glamorous, and of course, royalty.

Our love affair with the evening dress began in the early 19th century, when its popularity grew as it became fashionable at formal affairs. Always made out of luxurious fabrics, the design of the dress has changed over the years as fashion styles have progressed. Throughout the Victorian era, floor- and ankle-length dresses remained most admired, with most changes being made to the sleeves and neck lines. In the 1830s, off-the-shoulder dresses dominated; in the 1840s, low-necked designs; and in the 1850s short-sleeved gowns. In the 1860s, dresses were accessorised with long gloves and the 1890s with a long train. The Edwardian era saw the empire silhouette and in the 1920s the flapper style revolutionised the evening dress. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the dress was exceptionally modernised and was swept up onto glamorous and innovative fashion scene.

Nina Ricci, Spring/Summer 94, photograph by Niall McInerney, Bloomsbury Fashion Photography Archive, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
Creativity and fantasy led to some fabulous designs. The above example is from the Dior Spring/Summer 96/97 collection. Revealed on 20 January 1997, it presented John Galliano’s first collection for Dior — a show stopper, illustrating the excellence that was to come. This strapless, full-skirted, gloriously romanticised dress consists of a silver satin corset, embellished with embroidery and jewels, and a fluffy capacious princess-like tulle and organza skirt. This dress transports you into a fairytale. Capturing the attention and memorising.

The image on the left is from Nina Ricci’s Spring/Summer 1994 collection. Fabulously feminine and floral patterned. It is embellished with beads, bows and fresh flowers. The style is very different from the Dior dress, with short sleeves and wrap over skirt. The detail on the dress is beautifully delicate, yet elaborate and stunning.

Chanel Couture, Autumn/Winter 96, photograph by Niall McInerney, Bloomsbury Fashion Photography Archive, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
The blue evening gown is from the Chanel Couture Autumn/Winter 1996 collection. It depicts extreme elegance with an understated style, which lets the incandescent fabric catch the eye. Sequinned with straps, figure hugging and light reflective, it demonstrates another designer’s take on the traditional evening gown. These pieces illustrate just how much the evening dress has changed. How fashion has experimented, developed, and adapted in order to fabricate exquisite designs.

If you are fascinated by the luxury and creative design of the evening dress and would like to learn more, visit Berg Fashion Library and enjoy reading a free (for a limited time only) article on evening dress.

Hollie Graham is an intern at Berg Publishers, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, and you can find their articles online at Berg Fashion Library.

Read previous Berg Fashion blog posts: “Happy Birthday, Christian Lacroix” and “London Fashion Week is fast approaching.”

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only art and architecture articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

Recent Comments

  1. lena

    very interesting article
    Can you tell me in what year the first evening dress was designed and by whom?
    Thanks ;)

  2. Tharminder

    Evening dresses are the formal outfits worn for night time events mostly by women. These dresses are also known as prom night dresses. Made from exquisite fabrics including silk, velvet, chiffon, Georgette, satin and so forth, these dresses are quite expensive and elegant.

  3. Carl

    The blue gown is such a great outfit. I should suggest myself to wear it at some occasion. But this look to be quite expensive

Comments are closed.