Dressing & Cocktail Culture
Evening gowns can be distinguished from conventional or day dresses by two primary features. The first is the cut, which tends to be couture and in line with the latest fashions, unless the article of clothing is a ball gown, in which case it will tend to be cut along more classic lines. The second distinguishing feature is the fabric. Evening gowns tend to use luxury materials such as silk, velvet, and taffeta, and they may be richly embroidered or decorated with beads, sequins, jewels, and other ornaments. Wealthy women also prefer to purchase tailored evening gowns, which are designed to flatter their figures. In all cases, evening gowns are designed to be worn with high quality jewellery.
Evening gowns are typically associated with glamour and luxury, and appear at events like the Academy Awards in the United States, the opening of the society season in urban areas, and formal receptions. In most instances, evening gowns are not designed to be worn more than once, although high profile members of society such as celebrities may auction off gowns which they have worn for charity. In some cases, especially for highly public events, well known designers will lend custom or vintage dresses to famous attendees of the event, in order to showcase their design skills, and then take the evening gowns back at the end of the evening for part of a permanent archive.
The modern definition of a cocktail dress is commonly taken to mean a shorter dress around knee length. It must be smart, such as the little black dress, and may have sequins or lace as a feature.
At semi-formal occasions, a less elaborate, shorter-length cocktail dress may be worn. Prior to the mid 20th century this type of dress was known as 'late afternoon'. When gentlemen are in business suits, ladies also wear dress suits or "good" afternoon skirt and dresses.