Formalwear is attire that was designed for a particular occasion. The history of formal dress began in the Middle Ages with a gown called the kirtle. The kirtle was a loose-fitting dress that was often worn on a weekly basis. But because it was quite plain, women often added a train to it to make it suitable for formal occasions. These gowns were typically worn at weddings or to other religious ceremonies. Hochzeitskleider Berlin/Hochzeitskleid Berlin
The world’s very first formal gown was the mantua, which was introduced in the early 18th century. With a thick overskirt, a petticoat, and a long train that was often allowed to trail, the mantua was a heavy and uncomfortable gown. But because it was the most elaborate dress of its age, it was worn to all the best parties, especially those at Court, in the presence of a monarch.
Formalwear for females got evermore elaborate with dresses like the sack-back and the ball gown. It was not until the 19th century that the term evening gown was used to describe a dress that women could actually comfortably wear. These evening gowns ranged from ornate floor-length numbers with flounces and puffy sleeves to off-the shoulder dresses with low necklines and no sleeves. Even the hemlines rose a bit from floor to ankle length.
The greatest leap forward, or backward, depending on your perspective, occurred during the 1920s. It was the age of the flapper and girls just wanted to have fun. They wanted to move and dance and have a good time without being encumbered by heavy, elaborate dresses. Fashion designers were quick to accommodate them with shorter, simpler gowns that used less fabric and fewer layers. In other words, these dresses were lighter and cooler, which meant that women were finally free to move around like men. It was at this time that the arbiter elegantiarum finally accepted party dresses as formalwear.
Where are we now?
The modern evening gown is available in any silhouette and is generally worn to only the most formal events, such as an opera, a wedding, or a formal dinner. Of course, the evening gown is not the only type of party dress. As dress codes have been relaxed in recent years, more and more gowns have been accepted as formalwear. It really does depend on the occasion.
A white tie event is the most formal of the formal affairs. Dress codes are strictly enforced and fashion faux pas run rampant. According to etiquette, ball gowns are the only appropriate choice for female guests at a white tie event. But that has changed a bit in recent years. It is now considered permissible to wear a full-length evening gown. However, the gown should be more elaborate than those that are worn to less formal events