Most agree cocktail dresses reached their height in the 1950s. After the end of World War II, a surge in the popularity of "at-home" cocktail parties created the need for women to have a short dress suitable for more formal occasions - in essence, a short version of an evening gown. Dior is said to have first coined the phrase "cocktail dress" in the late 1940s.
French designers released cocktail-specific dresses. Less expensive ready-to-wear dresses were eagerly embraced by American women. A great many sewing patterns for cocktail dresses were also produced in the 1950s. High fashion was now available to everyone.
Cocktail parties helped define women's roles as wives and hostesses. They were also a means to promote or further their husband's career.
The beauty of most 1950s cocktail dresses is the design of pleating, ruching, folds and gathers.
There are two main cocktail dress styles: the bouffant skirt dress and the sheath dress. The full skirted dresses were always worn with a petticoat or two. The sheath dresses were slim around the body. The hourglass silhouette of both styles required the wearing of bullet bras, waist-cinchers, corselets and girdles.
By the mid-1960s, formal dress for cocktail parties began to give way to more casual attire. By the late 60s - 1970s, hostesses wore a "hostess dress" - a full length dress with a simpler design than those of the 1950s. Hostess dresses are sometimes called patio dresses as cocktail parties moved outdoors.
The Pattern Patter Team on etsy offers a large variety of cocktail dress patterns.
McCall's 4357 @ BluetreeSewingStudio
Vogue 199 @ ViennasGrace
McCall's 3781 @ Redcurlzs
McCall's 6044 @ CloesCloset
Vogue 4218 @ VintagePatternStore
Vogue 1881 @ VogueVixens
Butterick 7648 @ TheTinThimble
McCall's 3827 @ ThePatternSource
Butterick 6095 @ FindCraftyPatterns
Butterick 5557 @ PurplePlaidPenguin
Modes Royale 1883 @ kinseysue
McCall's 4417 @ honeymoonbus
Vogue 4963 @ sewbettyanddot
Butterick 5557 @ retroactivefuture
Modes Royale 1749 @ stitchingbynumbers
Advance 110 @ SewAsItWasPatterns