1950s cocktail dresses were womens’ special event dresses appropriate for dinners, parties, and romantic dates! Like most ’50s dresses, these came down to below the knee and were made of finer rayons, satins, silks, lace, damask, velvet, and high-end cottons. They were usually solid colors in vibrant colors like emerald green, sapphire blue, and deep red.
Of course, black was a popular color for cocktail dresses, too, which became known as ‘little black dresses.’ Deep navy blue was the next common choice.
These are our favorite 1950s inspired cocktail dresses and party dresses sold online. Most are short, knee or tea length dresses, that were preferred over long evening gowns.
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Cocktail Party Dress History
50s cocktail party dress decoration could either be very minimal with a little glass beading around the neckline or fully covered in sequins. The beauty in most 1950s cocktail dresses was in the design of the pleating, ruching, folds, and gathers. The fabric was bunched and draped in interesting patterns around the bodice and sometimes in the skirt as well. Most dresses had a wide sash band or thin belt in the same material as the dress.
There are two 1950s cocktail dress silhouettes…
1950s Cocktail Dresses: The Swing Dress
The first is what we consider swing dresses. They are full skirts, often worn with petticoats, with tight fitted bodices and either short cap sleeves or no sleeves at all. The sleeveless dress was a new invention in the 1950s and women embraced the fashion.
The circle dress shape was the choice dress for housewives and casual office workers worn without thick petticoats. However for evening wear, the dresses were dressed up with nicer materials and prettier decorations and usually had several very puffy petticoats underneath.
For very special formalwear, these full skirted dresses were longer and had larger amounts of tulle. Read more about full length and tea length prom and formal dresses here.
1950s Cocktail Dresses: The Sheath Dress
The other 1950s cocktail dress silhouette was the sheath dress. These dresses were a bit shorter and very slim around the body. The terms wiggle dress and pencil dress describe sheath dresses, although these variations are tighter than ’50s dresses were. The idea was to make a nice high waisted hourglass shape, yet still be able to walk and sit in them. Sheath dresses were especially popular with city women, Hollywood stars, and wives who married very well. 1950s sheath dresses had subtle design changes throughout the decade.
Today, the sheath style dress is very common for cocktail attire. The TV show Mad Men features most women wearing sheath dresses, which remained popular though the 1960s. With a conservative sophisticated ’50s flair to sheath dresses, they have become new icons for the fashion runways today.
Both dresses can look amazing on any body type. Don’t let the 1950s ads fool you. Many women were quite voluptuous in the 1950s and they looked good in both styles.
More photos of 1950s cocktail dresses