Happy days are here again: the resurgence of the cocktail dress

After catching a glimpse of the fashion shows that have recently taken place in New York, London, Milan and Paris to unveil what women’s wear designers have in mind for Spring/Summer 2014, one thing seems certain: a sense of glamour and hedonism is definitely on the cards for the warmer months of next year. This was evident not only in the choices of luxurious fabrics and embellishments but, most importantly, in the unapologetically curvy silhouettes that conjured a celebration of femininity with an intensity that had not been seen on the runway for decades. And for fashion designers worldwide no garment seemed to embody this idea any better than the perfect cocktail dress.

Rumoured to have been first used by Christian Dior in the late 1940s as a term to describe suitable early evening wear worn at cocktail parties, the cocktail dress has been reinterpreted over the years while always retaining its original connotations of semi-formality and affluence. If the initial designs for cocktail dresses featured long lines with hems often touching the ankle, over time these guidelines became less rigid and knee-length shorter cocktail dresses started appearing. From the 1960s onwards, floral patterns, sheer fabrics such as lace and tulle, bustier lines and fitted waists that enhanced the shape of the female body became increasingly more prevalent in the design of the cocktail dress. And in present days, designers certainly address the need for personal glamour by creating cocktail dresses to suit you.

Showing the enduring influence of representations of women and femininity during the 1950s and 1960s, for Spring/Summer 2014 many designers have adopted the you cocktail dress as the quintessential garment that is able to evoke images of affluence and sophistication while carefully straddling the line between stylish daywear and luxurious attire for an evening reception. In many ways, it isn’t difficult to understand the reasons behind this phenomenon: in the face of an unwavering global financial recession, the cocktail dress is a reasonably affordable garment that allows the wearer a momentarily escape from hardship to experience constructed perceptions of beauty and happiness normally associated with the carefree lifestyle of the rich and famous.

For Spring/Summer 2014, Roberto Cavalli’s collection featured a number of cocktail dresses inspired by 1920s silhouettes and replete with seductive embroidery and beadwork. At Peter Pilotto, Christopher De Vos and Peter Pilotto opted for a geometrically structured interpretation of the cocktail dress by exploring patterns that suggested the influence of Russian abstract art of the 1920s and Art Deco architecture. Even though his prints were unquestionably summery, Antonio Marras also investigated the potential of geometry by incorporating slightly boxier shapes in the cut of his cocktail dresses.

At Temperley London, cocktail dresses featured elaborate black lace and waist lines highlighted by floral adornments, whereas Moschino chose bright red fabrics and details such as pleating and bows to define femininity in his cocktail gowns. Detailed pleating could also be seen in Zac Posen’s collection, where a cocktail dress made of a delicate sheer fabric in pale yellow evoked warmer and more relaxed days. At Blumarine, patterns inspired by nature were worked not only in print but also in the shapes of detailed lace fabrics to create stunning cocktail dresses. And at DSquared2, the hybrid cocktail dress/bathing suit that Dean and Dan Caten’s created to tightly hug the curvaceous figure of model Catherine McNeil not only defined the collection but was emblematic of a general celebration of womanhood and of the expectations for happier times for Spring/Summer 2014.