Party dresses, often used interchangeably with ‘cocktail dresses’ (although cocktail party dresses are actually only one type of party dress!), are garments meant for semi-formal events of all kinds. These flattering dresses can be easily dressed up or down to match an event’s theme and formality, and can be worn to everything from a summer wedding to a night out on the town (or more often, a party!)
How Did Party Dresses Come About?
These versatile garments got their start as slightly more tame versions of the elegant and luxurious evening gowns that were all the rage in Victorian times. These new party dresses were simple and comfortable attire meant for semi-formal corporate events and mixers in the 1940s and 50s.
Designers such as Muriel King, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel and Christian Dior helped to shape the idea (and the garments!) of what we now consider the ‘modern’ party dress. Simple yet elegant cuts combined with a more fitted design and a less opulent and ostentatious lace and details (which was now hip in a post-war society) became the standard for 20th century party-goers.
Today, what fits into the idea of party dresses is much broader than the 19th and 20th century. In the 2020’s, there are styles and colors of party dresses to match every level of formality, theme, setting and occasion.
Below are a few of our best tips to finding the perfect party dress for your next special occasion.
Choosing the Right Party Dress
The most important thing when you begin shopping for a party dress is the party! Finding the best dress for the event is made a lot easier by understanding what the host is envisioning for the occasion.
The formality of a dress is chiefly determined by its length and color, and less so by fabric and texture. The longer and darker a dress, the more formally it is typically perceived. Likewise, more vibrant colors and exotic designs with shorter lengths are typically thought of as more casual.
After the tone of the event has been established, your next step is deciding upon a style of dress with your personal style and body in mind. The most effective way to do this is to be objective about your body type in order to look for dresses that accentuate your own style while still being flattering when worn.
In general, there are 5 basic body types; the hourglass, the apple, the pear, the rectangle, and the wedge (inverted triangle). Each of these body types give unique opportunities for different styles of dresses to accommodate and accentuate your features.
For hourglass bodies, the style of dress is mostly up to your discretion. Balanced proportions allow you to experiment with different styles to find one that fits your own taste best. We recommend ‘intermediate’ dresses; not too tight or loose and a medium length. Midi dresses, especially wrap and lace styles are great options for those with hourglass bodies.
For apple bodies, the goal is typically to widen the silhouette of the hips and narrow that of the shoulders and torso. To achieve this tapered look, we recommend choosing an option that draws attention to your hips. This can be done in two different ways; with short(er) skirts, or with different waist styles on longer dresses. Mini party dresses, as well as tea length and skater dresses make great choices because their designs draw attention away from the shoulders towards the hips. These dresses are typically the more casual of the two options. For more formal dresses for women with apple bodies, maxi dresses and more casual style evening gowns with empire style waists also do an excellent job of lengthening the torso splitting up the silhouette to make a flattering outfit.
For pear bodies, the goal is to bring volume to your torso and arms, as well as slimming but not totally doing away with curves. This can likewise be achieved in multiple ways. One of the most prominent options is a midi or maxi dress with an A-line waist. These dresses’ waists sit just above the hips to give a slightly more tapered look and make hips less pronounced. A-line dresses are great options for events on the more formal side of the scale. On the other hand, asymmetrical one-shouldered cocktail dresses and long sleeved mini dresses are great options for less formal events. Asymmetrical dresses tend to add extra volume around the collar, and sleeves tend to give extra volume around our arms and shoulders, creating a more balanced silhouette.
For rectangle bodies, the goal is typically to create a curvier look by adding volume to the hips and bust. Much like hourglass bodies, a rectangle body’s uniform proportions leave much more on the table for dress shoppers. Color and length are up to your own style, but texture is where rectangle bodies shine. Ruffling, ruching and pleats can add extra volume to create a chic and flattering outfit. For rectangle bodies, we recommend short to midi length dresses with added texture and flared skirts to bring extra volume to the hips and torso.
For wedge (inverted triangle) bodies, the goal is to bring volume to the hips and waist to balance out proportions. This can best be achieved with midi or tea length and skater dresses. These styles do a great job of accentuating your hips and taking attention away from your torso and shoulders. Luckily, wedge bodies can pull off most styles of dresses. However, certain features may make a dress a no-go. Things such as spaghetti straps, strapless, collar ruffles and asymmetrical dresses can bring extra attention to your shoulders and may need to be avoided for a flattering look.
The dress you decide upon also reflects the statement you would like to make at the party, or at least will be perceived as doing so. Although you may look stunning in a mini bodycon dress, it might not be the best pick for a baby shower. Likewise, a floral maxi dress may not be a great choice to hit the club in.
While tradition and knowledge of different cuts can provide you with guidelines for choosing the right dress, it is up to you to find a balance of chic and courtly that best fits not only the event, but that also suits and accentuates your own personal style.
When shopping for party dresses, knowing yourself is just as important as knowing the event and the ‘rules’ of fashion. Even if you have an idea of what you hope to wear, taking a look at the options available might change your mind! Seeing all of the options, as well as possibly trying a few on, can give valuable insights about what you would ultimately like to wear to the event as well as other occasions going forward.
No matter what event you are preparing for, Helen Ainson has an excellent selection of dresses for all occasions. If you are curious about different styles of dresses, or already have something in mind, do not hesitate to get in touch by giving us a call at (203) 655-9841 or visiting our website. Check out our selection of dresses online, or stop by our store at 1078 Boston Post Road, Darien, CT to see for yourself how we make dress shopping a breeze!