New Look for Cocktails

With his New Look collection of 1947, Christian Dior brought romanticism back to the catwalk. His cinched waists and full, mid-calf length frocks enforced a demure feminine aesthetic (Arnold, p. 102). The cocktail hour began to represent universal social identities for women: the matron, the wife, and the hostess. Cocktail parties rose to the height of sociability, and cocktail clothing was defined by strict rules of etiquette. While invitees were required to wear gloves, the hostess was forbidden the accessory. Guests were obligated to travel to an engagement in a cocktail hat (which had retained the veil made popular in the 1940s), but they were never to wear their hats indoors.

Parisian cocktail dresses were executed in black velvets and printed voiles alike, but they all retained the short-length of the original 1920s cocktail dress. American designers like Anne Fogarty and Ceil Chapman emulated the "New Look" line, but used less luxurious fabrics and trims. Dior, along with Jacques Fath and milliners Lilly Dache and John-Fredericks, quickly saw the advantages of promoting cocktail clothing in the American ready-to-wear market, designing specifically for their more inexpensive lines: Dior New York, Jacques Fath for Joseph Halpert, Dachettes, and John Fredericks Charmers.

Dior was the first to name the early evening frock a "cocktail" dress, and in doing so allowed periodicals, department stores, and rival Parisian and American designers to promote fashion with cocktail-specific terminology. Vogue Paris included articles entitled "Pour le Coktail: L'Organdi," while advertisements in Vogue out of New York celebrated "cocktail cotton" textiles (Vogue Paris, April 1955, p. 77). Cocktail sets, martini-printed interiors fabrics, and cocktail advertisements all fostered an obsessively consumer-driven cocktail culture in America and, to some extent, abroad.

Though Pauline Trigere, Norman Norell, and countless Parisian couturiers continued to produce cocktail models well into the 1960s, the liberated lines of Gal-litzine's palazzo pant ensembles and Emilio Pucci's

Norell Norman Dress 1960

Chanel cocktail dress. In 1926, Coco Chanel originated the concept of the "little black dress," which, with the addition of certain accessories, could be worn for the evening cocktail hours. © Condé Nast Archive/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Chanel cocktail dress. In 1926, Coco Chanel originated the concept of the "little black dress," which, with the addition of certain accessories, could be worn for the evening cocktail hours. © Condé Nast Archive/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

jumpsuits easily replaced formal cocktail garb in privatized European and American social circuits. Often direct appropriations of midcentury designs, the cocktail dress and its partner accessories exist today on runways and in trendy boutiques as reminders of the etiquette and formality of 1950s cocktail fashions.

See also Chanel, Gabrielle (Coco); Dior, Christian; Little Black Dress.

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