Women have been wearing party dresses for centuries. Gowns that were designed specifically for formal occasions date back to the 17th century. The mantua was a loose-fitting gown with cuffed sleeves that was often worn with a petticoat. It was developed in France and by the 18th century, it was the most popular dress to wear at Court (in the presence of a monarch). Standesamtkleid Berlin/ Standesamtkleider Berlin
Gowns grew ever more elaborate as the centuries rolled on. The sack-back gown, for example, would make most modern wedding gowns look like sundresses. It was made of luxurious fabrics arranged in box pleats that fell to floor with a modest train. The dress was so heavy it had a square hoop to give it shape. As you may have guessed, only members of the bon mot could afford these formal gowns.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, the term “evening gown” was first used. Most fashionable individuals agreed that an evening gown was an elaborate dress with long sleeves that almost always had a hemline that fell between the ankles and the floor. Even so, designers continued to experiment with new looks.
Over time, dressmakers used less and material and women started showing more skin. By the end of the 19th century, the most fashionable gowns were sleeved numbers with décolleté necklines. Strapless dresses came around a bit later as simplicity began to sell. Women wanted fun, flirty dresses that were actually comfortable.
Where are we now?
When an 18th century woman received an invitation to dine with a monarch at his Court, it was fairly obvious what she would wear. But things aren’t always that easy these days. A woman must now match her dress to a given social event, and there are many of them, each with its own dress code.
The most formal social gathering nowadays is the black tie affair. A traditional wedding held in the evening or a political dinner often requires formalwear. That means tuxedos for the guys and evening gowns for the girls. The definition of an evening gown is not set in stone. As a general rule, the hemline should reach the ankles. Full length or tea length dresses are preferred. Luxurious materials like satin, silk, velvet and chiffon are commonly used in evening gowns