During the 1920s when the cocktail dresses were introduced by Coco Channel, this referred to semi-formal dresses that can be short or ankle length and worn particularly for cocktail parties. They were meant for little “late afternoon “events where finger foods and cocktail drinks were the main menu. Cocktail gatherings them were mostly business in nature or may be connected to an unveiling of an artwork or a showing of an art exhibit.
Conversations were called tête-à-têtes and dwelt mostly on the art exhibit or the business launching agenda. Cocktail dresses were first introduced as soft, figure forming garments in plain cuts or soft silhouettes. Cocktail gowns which reached ankle lengths were slowly taken out of the picture because designers referred to them as ballerina or dancing costumes.
During that era, cocktail dresses can be of any color. The black dresses emerged and slowly gained attraction despite their relation to mourning occasions. The first black mourning dress that saw any occasion was the one Queen Victoria wore for a long time to signify her mourning for the passing away of Prince Albert.
This signaled the ushering of the black dress as the newest trend in cocktail dresses which broke its image away from its mourning relevance. Coco Channel made the Ford cocktail dress in black. Hollywood which was slowly entering its Golden Age, started picking up the black dress for its movies. Movies were basically in black and white and the little black dress registered well on the screen.
Although some restraints were being imposed on how the black cocktail dresses were being fashioned, stars in the succeeding years became more daring and began to wear strapless black dresses. Hence, women who were portrayed in movies as more aggressive and cunning often wore standard black cocktail dresses as a way of depicting their characters to the hilt. Even the voluptuous cartoon character Betty Boop wore her bustier version of the black cocktail dress. Through the years, the black dress became more and more popular as an evening wear and white dresses started to be introduced for mourning ceremonies.
By the 1980s, the “little black dress” became standard apparel that every woman should have as her cocktail dress. They evolved into every fashion trend but were always short and sexy. Every era had a different version of the little black dress as the standard cocktail dress or formal evening wear.
In the 1960s the advent of the miniskirts saw the younger generation trying to outdo the older women by making their little black cocktail dresses more daring by putting slits or plunging décolletage that nearly left them bare to the bones. Older women maintained their class and style with sheath black cocktail dresses although as flimsy and sheer as the younger women’s versions.
Years later, the 1980s started to fashion the black cocktail dress in knits but were slowly replaced by the generation’s penchant for shoulder padded forms. This made the little black dress look more tailored but still short and sexy. As the 1990 ushered in its fashion trend, the grunge look paired the little black cocktail dresses in chemise style with filthy looking patched denim jackets and boots.
As the coming generations slowly cleaned up the grunge look, the little black cocktail dress started reverting back to the simple lines. However, every once in awhile, a celebrity surfaced and made her own fashion statement of her little black dress version. Nevertheless, the recent gatherings in Hollywood showed that celebrities have finally grown tired of the standard little black dresses. Emerging colors of mixed tones are now more in trend. Cocktail dresses are now emerging in the same fashion as Coco Channel originally designed them to be.