1950s Cocktail Dresses: Sheath, Circle Skirt Styles

1950s cocktail dress1950s Cocktail dresses were women’s special dresses appropriate for dinners, parties, and special dates! Like most ’50s dresses these came down to below the knee and were made of finer rayons, satins, silks and high end cottons. They were usually solid colors in vibrant colors like emerald green, Safire blue and deep red. Of course black was a popular color for cocktail dresses known as ‘little black dresses.’

Decoration could either be very minimal with a little glass beading around the neckline, or fully covered in sequins. The beauty in most 1950s cocktail dresses was in the design of the pleating, ruching, folds, and gathers. Fabric was bunched and draped in interesting patterns around the bodice and sometimes in the skirt as well. Most dresses had a wide sash band or thin belt in the same material as the dress.

1950s Cocktail Dresses: The Full Circle Dress

1950s style dresses at Modcloth

1950s style dresses at Modcloth

There are two 1950’s cocktail dress silhouettes. The first is what we consider house dresses or swing dresses. They are full skirts, often worn with petticoats, with tight fitted bodices, and either short cap sleeves or no sleeves at all. The sleeveless dress was a new invention in the 1950’s and women embraced the fashion.

The circle dress shape was the choice dress for housewives and casual office workers worn without petticoats. However for evening wear the dresses were dressed up with nicer materials and prettier decorations and usually had very puffy petticoats underneath.  For very special formal wear these full skirted dresses were longer and with larger amounts of tulle.

1950s Cocktail Dresses: The Sheath Dress

50's cocktail dressThe other 1950’s cocktail dress silhouette was the sheath dress. These dresses were a bit shorter and very slim around the body. The terms wiggle dress or pencil dress describe sheath dresses  although these various are tighter then 50’s dresses were. The idea was to make an nice high waisted hour glass shape yet still be able to walk and sit in them. Sheath dresses were especially popular with city women, Hollywood stars, and wives who married very well. 1950’s Sheath dresses had subtle design changes throughout the decade.

Today the sheath style dress is very common for cocktail attire. The TV show Mad Men features most women wearing sheath dresses, which remained popular though the 1960s. With a  conservative sophisticated 50s flair to sheath dresses they have become new icons for the fashion runways today.

Both dresses can look amazing on any body type. Don’t let the 1950s ads fool you. Many women were quite voluptuous in the 1950s and they looked good in both styles.

Here are some 1950s style cocktail dresses for sale from around the web. Also check out 1950s Dresses , 1950s Plus Size dresses, and 1960s/Mad Men dresses for more options:

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About Debbie Sessions

Debbie Sessions is passionate about wearing history through fashion. She and her husband, Oscar, have turned their hobby into a career by teaching others how to re-create vintage style with affordable new vintage inspired clothing and accessories. We connect shoppers to the best vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories and teach fashion history as it was worn by everyday people. Need more help? Contact us anytime.