A gown is so much more that just a dress; it's a story, a memory, a dream, a statement.
Now, as I mature in my corner of the fashion world, I have realized that the significance of a gown far surpasses sheath silhouettes and delicate details of hand-sewn appliqués. Dresses possess the ability to inspire and empower. Over the years, designs have changed and styles have progressed, but today’s evening gowns still pay homage to an era of opulence. To this day they reawaken every woman’s little girl fantasies to be the belle of the ball — no Prince Charming required.
As we head into one of the most anticipated times of the year — holiday season — it’s the perfect excuse to start looking for that next evening gown bound to make an unforgettable statement. From billowing, floor-length skirts and décolleté necklines to luxurious silks and exotically trimmed hemlines, there are plenty of swoon-worthy options that exude regal elegance. We see Hollywood elite strutting the red carpet in the latest designer gowns and most recently Netflix’ “The Crown” has reintroduced us to a generation of exquisite evening wear, which has us interested in paying a visit to the royal fashion archives.
Ball gowns descend from royal origins. Once referred to as court wear, rich silks, delicate lace, and embroidery adorned the nobility as early as the 15th century. It was a symbol of status and social rank. During the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a large focus on the arts. Elaborate dinners, theatre productions, and exquisite dances made the perfect platform for women to flaunt their finery. Although evening gowns have been around for centuries, there is a common consensus that they were first introduced in the mid-1820’s during the age of Romanticism. What’s truly remarkable about evening wear and fashion, in general, is the transgression from visual spectacles to works of art.
From the self-portrait galleries in Europe’s royal palaces to special exhibits around the world, women’s finest gowns have been immortalized. Just like any form of art, there’s more than meets the eye. The significance of these gowns goes far beyond the intricate stitches and seams. They are interwoven with unspoken narratives.
I remember the first time I visited The First Ladies dress collection at the Smithsonian. It was fascinating to see the progression of design from a fashion perspective, but the exhibit was really created to expand your thinking and encourage you to consider the changing roles of American women over the past 200 years. Most recently, I found myself at Stockholm’s Royal Palace. At the time, they were showcasing four decades of royal wedding dresses. During the opening ceremony of the showcase, even The Queen started her speech with, “When I look around this room, many wonderful memories are brought to life.” You see, dresses are often intimately associated with joy and celebration. While their intricate details and breathtaking designs are reason enough to celebrate (as I said before), a dress is not just simply a dress. I think what’s so special about evening wear today is that when you first pick a gown it’s simply a beautiful piece of clothing, but later it becomes a work of art. It becomes significant, valuable, and meaningful.
So if you’re looking to make a lasting impression with your next evening gown — whether you have an upcoming wedding, débutante ball, black-tie event, or school formal — interweave creativity, fantasy, and nostalgia by taking cues from Queen Elizabeth or Cinderella. Perhaps you’ll choose an off the shoulder stunner that dominated the 1830s, an empire silhouette of the Edwardian era, or a full-flowing skirt from Dior’s New Look that swept the fashion world in the 40s and 50s. The choice is yours.