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V&A


Cocktail & Early Evening

Daywear was followed by formal afternoon dresses (robes après-midi habillées), cocktail dresses (robes de cocktail), semi-evening (robes demi-soir) and short evening dresses (robes du soir courtes). These distinctions became simpler as the decade progressed and social codes began to break down.

Cocktail dresses first appeared in the 1920s and gained a new popularity after the war. They were worn at early evening or '6 to 8' gatherings, where guests usually stood and mingled. The gowns could include complex bustles and skirt details, which would be crushed if sat on.

In his book The Little Dictionary of Fashion (1954) Christian Dior described cocktail dresses as 'elaborate and dressy afternoon frocks', preferably in black taffeta, satin, chiffon and wool. These confections became the personification of the 'little black dress' and were often accessorised with gloves and small hats.


Cocktail dress by Michael Sherard. Lace and appliqué lace flowers, London 1958. Museum no. T.403-1974 Info.

Cocktail dress by Michael Sherard. Lace and appliqué lace flowers, London 1958. Museum no. T.403-1974


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