Signifying social status and rank through visible displays of success, ball gowns were first known as ‘court dress’ due to their creation for the members of royal courts. Donned in the 15th century Burgundian Court of ruler Philip the Good, the ornate dresses proliferated through the Baroque, French Revolution, and Edwardian periods in history. During those eras, rich fabrics such as chiffon, velvet, satin, organza, and silk were the domain of nobility.
Come the 1940’s and 1950’s, gowns began to evolve. Women desired movement for dances of the day, and shorter, full skirts made it easier to “cut a rug.” Shown above, a 1947 Fashion Group show featured gowns by Dorothy O’Hara, Orry Kelly, Al Teitelbaum, and Howard Greer.
Fast forward to the 1990’s, and further evolution brought a resurgence of longer styles, some with trains, as well as separate pieces for galas. Matching coordinates included cashmere sweaters, blouses, or bustier tops, often accenting a cascading skirt. Today, we see opulence resurrected by celebrities through the current red carpet culture. Though few hard and fast wardrobe rules apply in the awards show realm, gowns of today have taken a sophisticated turn for the best.
When dressing for our own red carpet occasions, etiquette can be tricky, especially when it comes to White Tie vs. Black Tie. To wit, White Tie rules state that gowns with fuller silhouettes match the gentleman’s more formal white tie attire. For these events, gloves for the lady may also be de rigueur. Black Tie is less formal, with tea length and cocktail dresses often included as options. The coming social season will also present numerous variations on the latter, including “Creative Black Tie” and “Holiday Black Tie” dress codes.
The formality of gowns at these functions will vary, according to time of day and occasion. They might include formal dinners, opera and theatre premieres, dances, evening wedding receptions, and charity balls. Silhouettes from which we can choose in 2013 range from traditional sheaths, trumpets, and A-line gowns to more elaborate mermaid styles. Length variations abound, including cocktail, flapper, ballerinato, tea length (mid-calf to ankle-length), and full-length.
No matter the specific occasion, this fall season’s evening gowns are hallmarked by structure, sleek modern lines, and unexpected details. Below, we’ll present a sampling of designer highlights, which just may leave you rethinking your next gala gown selection.
Gowns On The Runway
Playful embroidery takes an evening turn at Dior Haute Couture.
Badgley Mischka shows Art Deco glamour.
Intricate detail and plush velvet converge in Zuhair Murad’s creation.
Oscar de la Renta depicts a scene against a gem-toned backdrop.
Christian Siriano’s look adds layers and sparkle to a ballerina’s silhouette.
A cape and bold color equal modern gala perfection from Vionnet.
Valentino’s print evokes the 1970’s, as does full-length ease.
Shop The Trend
Tadashi Shoji’s embroidered lace stunner ($428) features one of fall’s hottest shades.
From Nasty Gal, the Amulet Dress ($68) rocks cut-outs and a sheer skirt for evening edge.
Marie Antoinette film image via Redbookmag.com; red carpet photos via Los Angeles Times. All gown photos credit individual designers.