Cocktail party dresses from the sixties

Written by vivienne lydamore
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Cocktail party dresses from the sixties
In the mid-1960s, many cocktail dresses had bold graphic prints. (Chris Clinton/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Fashion in the 1960s mirrored the decade of experimentation and cultural change. At the beginning of the decade, cocktail dresses maintained the fitted waistlines and full skirts of the 1950s, but by mid-decade, the waistline had disappeared and the mod look and minidress reigned supreme. Cocktail party dresses of this era reflected and exaggerated popular fashion trends.

Wiggle Dresses

Form-fitting wiggle or sheath dresses hugged the body, and as the name implies, emphasised a woman's movements as she walked. The wiggle dress tapered to a slender hemline. The hemline of the wiggle dress rose to mini-length in the mid-1960s.

Tent Dresses

The tent dress became popular in the mid-1960s. Tent dresses fell from the shoulders into a wide above-the-knee hemline. Cocktail style tent dresses featured fabrics such as lightweight brocades, lame or a chiffon layer over a straight sheath. Embellishments included sequinned or beaded neck bands or feathers at the hem. Some designers used flamboyant multicoloured chiffon. Tents could have long full sheer sleeves, cap sleeves, no sleeves or the body of the dress could meet the neck band to reveal the shoulders.

Cocktail party dresses from the sixties
Tent dresses sometimes had a band of sequin trim on the neckband. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Kite Dresses

In the mid-1960s, Rudi Gernreich designed kite dresses made with straight wide panels of fabric extending to the elbows with side seams tapering from the elbows to a slender mini-length hem. Made from a variety of fabrics including op-art inspired geometrics, one version by James Galonos featured a printed chiffon tent worn over a solid coloured sheath.

Paper Dresses

Originally created as a publicity tool by the Scott Paper Company, paper dresses had a short run of fame in the mid-1960s. Designer Tsaims Luksas created handpainted paper formal wear, and a 1967 "Look" magazine featured an article on elegant gold and silver metallic paper cocktail minidresses adorned with faux gemstones. A multicoloured strapless paper cocktail dress by designer Elisa Daggs sold for £3.

Op Art, Pop Art and Psychedelic Fabrics

Regardless of the silhouette of a cocktail dress in the 1960s, a significant trend involved the use of bold multicoloured psychedelic fabrics, op-art and pop-art graphics typical of the "mod" look inspired by artists like Piet Mondrian and Andy Warhol. The fluid flow and surface sheen of jersey knit fabrics could add movement to printed mod cocktail dresses.

Cocktail party dresses from the sixties
In the mid-1960s, cocktail dresses had psychedelic and op-art inspiration. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Disc Dress

In the mid-1960s, designer Paco Rabanne designed the plastic disc dress and sold kits for those who wanted to assemble the dress themselves. Suitable for cocktail wear, the dress featured plastic discs wired together, and it required a body stocking underneath.

Romantic Dresses

The late 1960s saw the return of the waistline, ruffles, décolletage, a variety of hem lengths and a romantic twist influenced by revolutionary Russia. Dominant cocktail fabrics included lace, organza and sumptuous fabrics like velvet and satin.

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