Formal Gowns

As the economies of Western countries began to recover after the end of World War I (1914–18), people began to be able to afford more luxurious clothes. The wealthiest women began to show off their riches through their clothes. Formal gowns, worn mostly for evening events, were their most elaborate outfits. Women's formal gowns during the first half of the 1920s were characterized by ornamentation. The most glamorous evening gowns were covered in jewels or intricate beadwork and swept the floor.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. The most glamorous evening gowns had flowing lines and elaborate ornamentation and swept the floor. Reproduced by permission of .

The taste for luxury spread from evening events to afternoon parties. As a result afternoon fashions made of expensive silk, brocade, satin, velvet, taffeta, and gold lamé, a shiny golden fabric, were soon as formal as evening wear. Dresses were embellished with lace, embroidery, ropes of pearls, and fur trimmings. Sashes, bows, ruffles, and drapes of sheer chiffon also added to the glamour of the gowns. As afternoon gowns became more formal, the hemline of the formal gowns could be anywhere from knee to floor length.

Gowns featured the long straight silhouette of an uncorseted thin figure, softened with occasional flounces, or strips of decorative cloth, gathers, or trailing panels made of long pieces of fabric that hung lower than the hem of the gown in back. By the mid-1920s gowns had developed flowing lines to show off and flatter the female figure. One feature of these gowns was a deep V-neck in the front and a deeper V in the back. Although the front was covered with an inset of contrasting fabric, the back showed off women's bare skin from shoulder to waist. By the late 1920s the gowns of the wealthiest women were spectacular, but women of more modest means could also wear beautiful, ready-made dresses from the retail stores that were scattered across the United States and Europe.


Mulvagh, Jane. Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Viking, 1988.

[ See also Volume 4, 1919–29: Hemlines ]

User Contributions:

I was very pleased to see a more traditional wedding dress that does not look like a coctail dress or a prom dress. I wish there were more dresses that cater to the girls and young women who want a more traditional wedding. It is very difficult now to find gowns that are not styled to accentuate the bustline. Hoping to see more gown in the future that are designed for the modest types young woman. Thaks for providing this space.

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