The cocktail dress is one of these rare articles of clothing that must be special enough to make an impression at a variety of events, yet versatile enough to be worn time and time again. It’s no small feat, which is why the most famous and popular form of cocktail dress is a true classic—the little black dress.

Coco Chanel was not the first designer to put her clients in a black dress, but she was the first to finally wrench black from its associations with mourning and reinvent it as the preferred color for festive, carefree occasions. In the mid-1920s, her simple, straight, one-piece calf-length dresses received almost universal acclaim, becoming the uniform of sophisticated swells throughout the decade and into the Great Depression, when it was admired as much for its economy as its style.

After World II, Christian Dior did not neglect the cocktail dress when he unveiled his New Look, although his creations used miles more fabric than Chanel ever would have contemplated. By the 1950s, though, the black cocktail dress seemed almost risqué, a crass instrument of seduction when compared to the innocent circle skirts of teenage girls, to say nothing of the frumpy house dresses worn by their stay-at-home-moms.

Even so, sleeveless cocktail dresses from the 1950s ranged from those basic black numbers favored by film sirens and vixens to only slightly less modest wiggle dresses in metallic brocade. Cotton prints with arms that stopped above the elbow, with peekaboo details around the waist, were also common. At some parties, purple lace dresses (tight at the waist, flared at the hem, and accessorized by multiple strings of pearls) would frequently square off against strapless numbers in baby blue chiffon.

For 1950s girls attending the high-school proms, white cocktail or party dresses were widely embraced, but so were dresses in soft pastels. Although it was probably not self-evident at the time, these muted tones paved the way for the bold reds and blues that would become prom favorites in the 1980s and ’90s.

In the 1960s, though, the little black dress came roaring back thanks to a dress Hubert de Givenchy created for actress Audrey Hepburn, who played Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The form-fitting dress she wore for that film, with its thin straps over bare shoulders and a vent at the hem that exposed Hepburn’s leg to the knee, was so legendary that it sold at auction almost half a century later for just under a million bucks.

Givenchy’s cocktail dress for Hepburn is only one example of a prominent designer’s little black dress kick-starting a young actress’s career. For example, Elizabeth Hurley achieved almost equal notoriety in 1994 when she wore a Gianni Versace variation of the little black dress to a film premiere. That post-Punk creation featured a dangerously plunging sweetheart neckline and was held together by nothing but outsized safety pins.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Lot Of 9 Vintage 50s 60s Dresses Formal Cocktail Party Rockabilly Pinup Red BowsVintage 50s Prom Party Dress Cocktail Pink Tulle Lace Full Skirt Metal Zp Belt MVintage 90s Dramatic Avant Garde Oversized Collar Fitted Cocktail Dress Sz S Vtg Dresses Lot Of 14 Vintage 1930s-70s Cocktail Party Pinup Sexy Maxi ResaleGenuine Vintage 40's / 50's Sz 8 Amazing Green Halter Full Skirt Cocktail DressVtg 60s Gray Joan Wiggle Skirt Pinup Cocktail Party Sexy Secretary Shirt DressVintage 90s Sequined & Pearled Midnight & Platinum Silk Cocktail Top Sz M Candice Gwinn Honey Vtg 1950s Style Fit-n-flare Cocktail Dress 8 M -trashy DivaSweet Vintage 50s Powder Blue Tulle Cocktail Party Dress Gown Strapless 8/10 VncVintage 60s Tantalizing Teal Cocktail Dress Sz MVtg Rare 60's 70's Petal Collar Bow Ascot Screen Siren Swing Cocktail Coat Wow!!Raw Silk Vintage 1960s Beaded Cocktail Pristine Dress Sz MSexy Pinup Vtg 60s Tiki Hawaiian Floral Ruffle Mermaid Maxi Aloha Cocktail DressVintage 90s Glamorous Champagne Sequined Dip Back Mini Cocktail Dress Sz SDarling! Vtg 1950s Retro Blue Printed Hourglass Cocktail Party Dress + Bag M LVtg 80s Ruby Red Satin Draped Gathered Glam Evening Party Cocktail Gypsy Dress MVintage 1980s Jet Black Puff Sleeve Cocktail Dress Sz M Vintage 90s Semi Sheer Textured Romantic Garden Cocktail Jacket Sz M Vtg 60s 80s Sexy Pencil Fitted Wedding Cocktail Party Pin Up Joan Wiggle DressVintage 1930's/1940's Black Silk Velvet Lined Cocktail Glam Evening Jacket Sz SVintage 1950s Light Blue With Floral Embroidery Cocktail Sheath Dress Vintage 80s Midnight Floral Mosaic Swing Cocktail Jacket One Size Vtg 50s 60s Sexy Green Full Skirt Lucy Pinup Cocktail Wedding Party Shirt DressVintage 1980s Mermaid Hued Sequined Silk Floral Cocktail Top Sz M Vintage 90s Asian Edge Etched Floral Midnight Black Satin Cocktail Jacket Sz M Vintage 80s Ivory Lace Caged Back Mini Cocktail Dress Sz MVintage 90s Black On Black Marabou Trim Bombshell Cocktail Top Sz L Vintage 80s Jewel Hued Embellished Silk Cocktail Jacket Sz Xl Vintage 90s Does 20s Blouson Onyx & Gold Embellished Cocktail Dress Sz S/m Vtg 1980s Julie Duroche For Neiman Marcs Ruffles Sleeve Velvet Cocktail Jacket Vtg 80s Sequin Fringe Dress Party Prom Cocktail Bandage Bodycon M L Bust 36-44Vintage 80s Brocade Rose Bombshell Cocktail Dress & Bolero Jacket Sz MVintage 60s Pink Beaded Trim Cocktail Dress Long Sheer Accordion Pleat SleevesVintage 1980s Midnight & Platinum Beaded Silk Floral Cocktail Top Sz M Vintage 90s Sequined & Beaded Silk Black On Black Cocktail Dress Sz M Vtg 1950's/60's Black L`aiglon Wiggle Cocktail Dress With Lacy Trim*xs-sVintage 90s Heavily Beaded Silk Fierce Tigress Cocktail Top Sz LVintage 90s Ethnic Medallion Embellished Silk Cocktail Jacket Sz MVintage 1930's Dark Purple Velvet Zip Front Cocktail Dress Size Small 32 BustVintage 1960's Cocktail Dress Hand MadeVtg 80s Ivory Silk Geometric Pearl Design Beaded Formal Cocktail Wedding Dress SVtg 80s 20s Lace Bodycon Flapper Fringe Gatsby Asym Cocktail Dress Xs SVintage 90s Rambunctious Ruffle Semi Sheer Cocktail Top Sz S Vtg Rare 60's Susan Small Plaid Screen Siren Wool Cocktail Swing Dress Wow!!Vtg 80s Flapper Lace Draped Drop Waist Wedding Cocktail Party Dress SVtg 50s 60s 80 Rose Full Skirt Wedding Cocktail Tea Party Pinup Floral Sun DressVintage 1980s Op Art Midnight Floral Silk Swing Cocktail Jacket Sz MVintage 1950s Party Dress Cocktail Emogene Couture Little Black Dress MVtg Abe Schrader Black Chiffon Lace Accordian Pleat Wing Sleeve Cocktail Dress SEvenings By Pantagis Vintage Sissy Glam Cocktail Party Dress Size 22 Ilgwu Vtg Black Column Maxi Dress With Mesh Waist Sleeveless L Xl 16 Poly/spandexVintage Jessica Mcclintock Gunne Sax Black Velvet Ivory Crochet Cocktail DressVintage 80s Black Velvet Peplum Charcoal Lame Tea Length Cocktail Dress1960s Black Cocktail Pant Set -m/l- Mod Tunic Top With Pearl NecklaceVintage 90s Nicole Miller Collection Draped Ribboned Cocktail Dress Sz S Vintage 80s Scarlet & Ivory Embossed Floral Asian Edge Satin Cocktail Jacket SMiss Elliette Dress Size Medium Pleat Chiffon Vintage 70s Formal Cocktail PartyJade Green Taffeta ~1980's Vintage Cocktail/formal/wedding Bridesmaid Dress 8/10Vintage 1950s Red Sequin Hourglass Wiggle Cocktail Party Dress MVintage 60's Gorgeous Black Cocktail Wiggle Dress Bust Lace Scalloped Size S