It’s party season. Time for a look at gorgeous, romantic vintage evening dresses. From the sexy beaded flapper dresses of the 1920s to the sleek Hollywood gowns of the ’30s and full ballgowns of the ’40s and ’50s, there is a vintage style gown with your name on it this year.
Here are some examples of vintage evening gowns and new vintage inspired evening gowns by decade (and some history too).
1920s Evening Dresses
Formal dresses of the 1920s were known for their exquisite hand beading. These tea length bead and chiffon dresses were floating layers of elegance. The silhouette was straight or with a low drop waist so that the emphasis was all on the intricate beadwork or the drape of the fabric. The iconic flapper dress was a bit shorter and had fringe or beaded tassels, but they were not the mini fringed flapper dresses most costumes have.
For your 1920s formal dress, look for short knee length or mid shin length tea dresses made of silk or chiffon that feature beaded decorations all over, around the neckline, waist or bottom edge. All over beaded dresses are gorgeous, too, although some people feel they may be too “costume” looking. The trend for prom goers this year is to wear a dress with a sparkling beaded or rhinestone bodice and long chiffon, tulle, velvet or satin skirt. The sparkle adds just a touch of the “Great Gatsby” party look without being a flapper costume.
Accessorize your 1920s evening dress with a pair of 1920s Style T-strap shoes, seamed stockings, Art Deco jewelry, and a fringe shawl. For some extra wow!, style your hair into rolls of waves and curls around your neck and pin back to one side with a bead or feather headband. For long hair, a simple chignon or faux bob will look stellar. Add simple 1920s makeup and you will be all set for your party.
Buy 1920s Vintage Style Evening Dresses:
- Shop long and short 1920s style formal dresses here,
- short 1920s flapper dresses here,
- 1920s plus size dresses here,
- 1920s Prom dresses here,
- and early 1920s Downton Abbey style gowns here.
1930s Vintage Evening Dresses
When the stock market fell in 1929, so did the hemlines of dresses. Modesty was the way of the ’30s, but you would never know it looking at 1930s evening gowns. These dresses were long, sleek and sexy. They were made of silk or satin and were cut on the bias, which means that the design naturally hugged every curve of the body. They were minimally decorated with clusters of beaded flowers or rhinestones- usually around the neckline. Plain dresses had light draping fabric, gathered with a decorative rhinestone brooch at the shoulder. These gowns were inspired by Grecian and Egyptian goddesses. Colors were rich mattes and pastels.
Today’s women love the 1930s style evening gown for their Old Hollywood glamour. Most long red carpet dresses are still closely inspired the 1930s. My favorite designers of 1930s style gowns are from Mignon and Sue Wong. They are simply beautiful vintage inspired formal dresses without being too modern or too vintage.
For 1930s accessories wear a matching pair of pretty cutout pumps or closed toe sandals. Add some simple earrings, a pair of long satin gloves, and a cute little purse to carry your makeup. For your hair, sleek it back into a low bun or finger wave and curl shorter hair. For a modern look leave long hair down in loose waves.
1940s Vintage Evening Dresses
It was in the 1940s that “junior prom” became an annual event. Because of the war rationing, dresses were no longer cut on the bias since it wasted material. Instead of hip hugging, they were full, A-Line ballgowns or slim column dresses with bolero jackets. Even with the war restrictions, 1940s formal evening wear was glamorous. Dresses could be short, but were mostly long with layers of gathered chiffon that hung down from the high waist. The look was inspired by Victorian dresses, although without quite so much fullness. Dress straps were spaghetti or about 1 inch wide. Strapless gowns became common by the end of the 1940s. Teens liked pretty pastel and jewel tone colors best. Sequins and beads were the one bit of sparkle that adorned every dress, especially around the waist and bodice. The best place to find 1940s style evening dresses is in “mother of the bride” sections. The styles are timeless, flattering, and often have bolero jackets worn over the dresses.
During the day, 1940s hairstyles were curled and pinned back or up. For evenings the long soft and wavy look was in. Part your hair on the side and comb over, pin, curl and brush out so that your waves are bouncy. Add a rhinestone bracelet and small dangle rhinestone earnings. For shoes, choose pretty pumps with thick heels to match your dress.
With the current interest in vintage 1940s-1950s cocktail / bombshell / pinup dresses, you may want to wear one for your party. The look is modern meets vintage and can be either formal or casual. Dresses are pencil shaped with knee length skirts, tight belted waists, and cap sleeves. Evening dresses are often made of satin or velvet. A simple black pinup dress is perfect for most cocktail parties too. Wear this look with a victory roll hairstyle, natural makeup, flower clip, gloves and peep toe shoes.
1950s Vintage Evening Dresses
As the 1950s rolled in, conservatism rolled out. Formal prom dresses were huge volumes of layered tulle and strapless princess cut bodices. These dresses were often floor length or tea length (mid shin). The overall look was inspired by early Victorian era dresses that used layers of petticoats and a hoop skirt to make them fuller. The 1950s evening dresses also used petticoats and hoops to add volume. Baby pink was the hottest color with other pastel hues like teal, purple, yellow, and blue for prom dresses and mature solid colors like white, red, black, and navy for mature women’s gowns. Bodices on both prom and evening gowns were usually strapless and embroidered with silver and gold thread or accented with a cute bow, ruffles, pleats or flowers. A big fluffy bow at the back was also common. This was the era of the princess look for sure!
1950s style prom dresses are some of easiest to find in vintage or modern clothing. Almost any dress described as “princess” or “ballgown” is based on the 1950s style. The most important part of a 1950s evening dress is comfort when dancing. Put on a pair of kitten heeled pumps or adorable flats and take to floor. Keep you hair down but pinned back on either side with a pretty barrette or a thin headband. Add pearl jewelry and long gloves for a little extra wow. Read more about 1950s prom dresses and accessories here.
An alternative 1950s look is to go 1950s rockabilly with short pencil skirts or full circle skirts in bright reds, blacks, and cherry print fabrics. Style your hair like Betty Page and you are good to rock and roll!
If you are the type that prefers pants to dresses, you might like to wear a 1950s hostess gown or pant set. Learn more there.
Shop youthful 1950s style Prom Dresses.
Shop mature 1950s style evening gowns.
1960s Cocktail Dresses
1960s evening fashion was split between the 1950s style tea gown and the sleeveless, sleek fitted shift dress. The 1960s style became very popular with the early seasons of the TV show Mad Men. These short sheath dresses with form fitted skirts and high waists are very sexy in a conservative yet classy way. Rich evening dresses were made of gold and silver brocade or plain satin in white, red, blue, and olive green. As the decade progressed, dresses lost the tightness in favor or a natural or empire waist that fit a bit looser over the hips and narrow at the knees (a slight bubble shape). Dress length returned, too, with floor length column dresses. The simple little black cocktail dress had its heyday in the 1960s.
For your hair – style it up into a bouffant or short beehive with sweeping bangs combed over and around. Add sexy tall pumps or sandals and plenty of gold jewelry. Hold a clutch purse and wear a soft vintage fur coat to arrive and depart it. The 1960s look is simple and classy. It fits naturally into most cocktail parties without looking “too vintage.”
Once you choose your vintage evening wear dress, what about accessories? Each decade calls for a unique set of shoes, gloves, handbags, wraps, and jewelry. Learn more here.