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

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [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    

1940s Vintage Black Silk Crepe Pearl Beaded Grape Leaf Evening Cocktail Dress#1795, 1900 Gibson Girl Pink Cotton & Lace Party DressVintage 1940s 1950s 1980s 8 Piece Lot Dress Hat Purse Cocktail Eveningwear40 Bust Beautiful Mulberry Crepe 1940's Cocktail Dress W/ Floral Beading V2958Vtg 90s Black Velvet Huge Feather Skirt Cocktail Party Dress Avant Garde1950s 50s Vintage Peggy Hunt Black Lace Rayon Illusion Cocktail Wiggle Dress MTrue Vtg Prom Gown Party Dress Medallions Size S Strapless Fitted Bodice Vintage 1950's 60's Black Crepe Rayon & Net Cocktail Party Dress Size SmallVintage 1950s/1960s Pink Floral Summer Cocktail-party Dress; Size Small - 6Sensational Ronnie 1980s Green Sequin Cocktail Jumper Dress Deadstock! Bnwt! Vintage A J Bari Strapless Silk Colorful Cocktail Dress W Side Slit & Shawl Sz 6Vtg 1930s White Tulle Lace Floral Tea Party Dress Rayon Bias Xs-sVtg 80s Party Trophy Dynasty 100% Silk Deco Gatsby Pink Glam Mini Dress M LVintage 70s Navy Blue Maxi Goddess Evening Dress 10 S 1970s Glamour PartyVintage 1950s Wiggle, Cocktail , Embossed SilkVtg 60s Mod Red White Blue Plaid Acrylic Party Scooter Dress Bleeker Street SVintage 50s Prom Party Cocktail Dress S Bust 34 Waist 25 Chiffon Fred PerlbergVtg 50s 80s Polka Dot Lucy Pinup Party Full Skirt Shirtwaist Day Shirt DressVintage 80s Purple Princess Prom Party Dress 14-16 L 1980s Full SkirtVintage Hot Pink Prom Party Dress Mid-calf Small1930s 30s Style Chiffon Maxi Dress Floral 70s Cocktail Lot Of 10 Vtg 80s 90s Sequin Dresses Beaded Cocktail Sheer Wiggle Velvet Prom Vintage 1950s Black Jacquard Satin Floral Cocktail Dress SVintage 70s Psychedelic Low Waist Hip Hugger Boho Hippie Party Skirt#1791, Lovely 1950's Chantilly Lace Cocktail Over DressVintage 60s Rhinestone Ivory Sheath Wedding Cocktail Saks Fifth Ave Maxi DressVtg 1980's Party Dress Pretty Pink Sequin App Metallic Ruffle Women 80s FashionNew Hearts & Roses London 1950's Style Black White Party Dress Uk 8Vintage 1960s Blue Floral Jacquard Satin Cocktail DressVintage Carol Robins Flapper Cocktail Dress Black Satin Sequin Wiggle Mermaid50s Vintage Women Rockabilly Cocktail Evening Party Cocktail Swing Blue Dress Vintage Dress 60s Cocktail Mod Bow Party Evening Lbd Sequins Mini Retro HolidayVintage Dress 60s Mod Mini Cocktail Evening Party Bow Empire Waist Sequins RetroS Womens Summer Boho Mini Dress Ladies Strapless Casual Beach Party Shirt Dress Vtg 70s Hal Ferman Fifth Avenue New York Magenta Cocktail Party DressM Womens Summer Boho Mini Dress Ladies Strapless Casual Beach Party Shirt Dress90s Vintage Black Silk Ribbed Spaghetti Strap Club Party Mini Dress, Sz MXl Womens Summer Boho Mini Dress Ladies Strapless Casual Beach Party Shirt DressL Womens Summer Boho Mini Dress Ladies Strapless Casual Beach Party Shirt DressVintage Women 50s Rockabilly Cocktail Evening Party Cocktail Swing Blue Dress L