With the new year in full swing and award season upon us, it inevitably leads me to take stock—not just of the year that was, but also my closet. We begin to ponder all of the available options for evening wear. Black tie optional? Creative black tie? White tie?? What does this all mean? And more importantly—how can anyone possibly choose what to wear? To get a better understanding, it would help to understand its origins and influencers.

Baroque fashion plate. C. 1790’s

The History

The tradition of wearing evening dresses have been around for centuries. Participation in the fashion process had been limited to an affluent elite consisting of royalty and their courts, professionals and the well-educated. Before the glossy pages of Vogue came to be the arbiter of style, fashion trends were communicated by interpretation of what the elite wore or from designer “fashion plates” that took months or even years to reach certain parts of the world.  Brighter colors, richer fabrics, and extravagant trims made it clear that one was of noble or established classes. While the same delineations are made today, the quality of fabrics and trim–who made your dress also plays a factor. And unlike centuries past, evening wear is not enjoyed only by the elite.

Madame de Pompadour.

From Dolls To Dresses

In the Baroque and Rococo period, fashion dolls prepared by Parisian dressmakers were dressed in the latest fashions and sent abroad to be circulated amongst the elite. Such dolls could be viewed outside of these circles for two shillings. Seamstresses and homemakers were known to pay up to seven schillings (an exorbitant amount for the time) for the opportunity to spend more time with the dolls as copy the design more accurately.

Don’t Upstage The Queen

The mistress of Loius XV, Madame de Pompadour, was extremely important to the period as she was an early adopter of the light, happy style as referenced above. Women may not have liked her, but it would have been foolish of them not to adopt her style so that they may gain favor with the King.  Toward the latter part of the era, Marie Antoinette and her dressmaker Rose Bertin was the toast of the town, and the rest, as they say, is fashion history. Royals really led the charge and dictated the style and formality of dress. As long as you didn’t upstage the Queen, you would have been fine.

21st Century Fashion

Kim Kardashian Roberto Cavalli Met Gala Dress

The 21st century brings about fashion that is driven by celebrity culture–styles of dress are now dictated by award show attendees and the Kardashians. The days that we look to royalty (with the exclusion of Princess Diana) for our aspirations of dressing…are over. Advancements in technology (television and the internet), allow for au courant styles to be instantly communicated to the world. A far cry from dolls and fashion plates, non? Ultimately, humans are creatures of habit and have just replaced royalty with celebrity and look up to our new-found heroes for fashion inspo. The styles of the past were often rigid, while present-day styles left up to interpretation. With this in mind, I think people become confused or intimidated by the formal dressing.

Navigating Appropriate Gala Attire

So—how do I navigate these seemingly tricky waters of gala dressing you may ask?

When discussing the formality of dress, there are different degrees of formality.  A “white tie” invitation is your most formal and probably something the average person will dress for once in their lifetime—if at all. Reserved for meeting dignitaries and royalty, this level of formality would require full gowns with gloves and your finest jewelry.

 

Black tie invitations are more common. All it is saying to you is “wear a nice dress.” Slim structures, empire waists or more voluminous and floor-skimming styles are all appropriate choices. Avoid anything tight fitting or more than 2” above the knee. (sorry Azzedine Alaia.) When the invite states “optional” it means loosened up variations of the aforementioned styles. If the invite states creative—do just that. Have fun with proportion, volume and texture-but remember to keep it classy!

Tips For Dressing Your Best:

Sarah Jessica Parker in Alexander McQueen is a prime example of a creative black-tie look.

  • Consider the invitation medium—was it printed on heavy stock paper or was it a Facebook invite? The quality of the event invite shouldn’t be the deciding factor ofyour dress; knowing the scope of the event may be a key indicator.
  • Location is everything! Determine the location, and ask yourself: “Are the shoes I’ve chosen appropriate?”
  • Editors at Vogue recommend getting your hands on a guest list; look to other attendees for advice or dress according to the level of dignitaries or glitterati in attendance.
  • Don’t fear color or prints!
  • Dress for your shape and size. Shorter gals like me should channel their inner Dior “New Look” and find dresses just below the knee with a nipped in waist.

Follow these rules and you are sure to be a knockout at your upcoming event! Don’t forget the skin you’re in before heading out–use a super serum like Pevonia Botanica’s Stem Cells Phyto-Elite Intensive Serum to deliver age reversing results while protecting and energizing skin cells.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meg Evans

Meg Evans

Having been gifted her first Vogue subscription at just 6 years old, Meg is a lover of all things sartorial. Originally hailing from Northeast, she has been in the retail and fashion industry for over 20 years. She got her start with Ralph Lauren, then left her heart in Paris after a study abroad and later became the brand representative for labels such as Eileen Fisher and Gianni Bini. She has a passion for entrepreneurship, and has owned her own fashion consulting business among other ventures. She presently works for her local humane society running their retail operations and loves the fact her talents help make a difference in the lives of animals. She is also very active in her community and has produced fashion shows with the likes of Dress For Success. Meg spends her free time from her entrepreneurial and community giving efforts with her boyfriend and 6 rescue dogs. (Because all you need to truly succeed in this life is love and a dog!) She believes that every woman can live a fashionable, beauty full life and that kindness is a look that suits everyone! (Oh! And don't forget to spay and neuter your pets!)