Everything You Need to Know About Special Occasion Dresses

A classic dress is the go-to solution for events large or small, mundane or remarkable. There are work dresses, casual dresses, night-on-the-town dresses, and so many other options. Of course, you can’t just toss on a work dress if you’re celebrating a special occasion – your outfit needs to fit the gravity of the moment. That’s where special occasion dresses enter the picture.

What Are Special Occasion Dresses?

If you’re like most women, you have your standby options for different needs. There’s that little black dress that you love to wear out on date nights. You’ve probably got a favorite dress for spring, and one for those long, sultry summer nights. Do those qualify as special occasion dresses? Yes and no.

Special occasion dresses are those reserved for certain events. They’re often worn just a few times per year, and they stand out from all the other options in your wardrobe due to their design, fabric, form-fitting silhouette, or some other quality. Simply put, special occasion dresses are the ones you pull out when only the best will do.

What Types of Occasions Are “Special”?

Here’s where things get a little tricky – what’s a “special” occasion? What events have sufficient gravity to merit breaking out that certain dress? The truth is that many events can fall into this category. Think weddings and communions cocktail parties and proms, red carpet walks and first dates, wedding anniversaries, and graduations.

It isn’t so much the type of occasion as it is the focus and importance you place on it. For some women, a once-a-month date night with their spouse might be a special occasion. For others, it could be something that only happens occasionally – a gallery opening or a gala, for instance. From weddings to proms and everything in between, you put the “special” into the occasion.

However, no matter what the occasion might be, you want to look your best. Achieving that requires something special – a unique dress that fits the specialness of the event but also puts all eyes on you.

The Evolution of Special Occasion Dresses

Special occasion dresses have been with us for a very long time. In medieval times, women would pull out their very best for holy days and special events. In the 17th and 18th centuries, gala events and masquerades demanded lavish dresses and costumes. In more modern times, women have still found the need for the perfect dress for important occasions.

Of course, what constitutes a special occasion dress today is not the same as it was a century ago, or even a decade ago. Fashion, for all its cyclical nature, always moves forward. Understanding the evolution of special occasion dresses can help you learn more about the options available today.

In the early 1900s, dresses were pretty formal, whether we are talking about everyday wear or outfits for special events. The rules governing dress design, acceptable accessories, and even the amount of décolletage you could show slowly relaxed, though, and by the 1920s, dresses had changed substantially.

It was the age of the flapper. The style of the time called for boyish silhouettes and dresses were slim and cylindrical. Fringe was everywhere and pearls were the height of fashion.

Jump forward a decade or so and we find things changing again. The ostentatiousness of the Roaring 20s was slowly being replaced by something a bit more austere – rumors of war (and then outright war) led to more somber colors, squared shoulders, and “prim and proper” dresses.

In the 1950s, special occasion dresses evolved yet again. Designers like Christian Dior were largely responsible for this shift, which saw sleeveless designs with thin straps and narrow waists take center stage. Skirts were fuller than in the 20s, but they were a world away from the massive things that required steel hoops for support in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

By the 1960s, skirts and slimmed yet further and waists were trim but not tight-fitting. Spaghetti straps were the norm and the bust line had descended several inches from where it had been. The 1970s saw that trend continue, but with some exceptions. The cocktail dress, which had been a fashion staple for decades at that point, fell out of favor. Jumpsuits and pantsuits took their place, although special occasion dresses still held a place of honor for other events, gatherings, and needs.

Today, cocktail dresses have re-emerged, but they are just one among a sea of other special occasion dresses. So, if the type of occasion or wear is not the primary deciding factor in determining what sets a special occasion dress apart from other options, what does? Many factors come into play and we’ll explore those below.

Setting Special Occasion Dresses Apart

Cocktail dresses, prom dresses, wedding dresses, ball gowns – these are all defined “types” of dresses. Arguably, they could also be considered special occasion dresses, but there’s so much more on offer in this fashion category.

Cut

One thing to consider is the cut. Most special occasion dresses are more form-fitting than other dresses. Consider our Stevie; made with sequined lace, this sheath dress features flowy sleeves and a waist-hugging design that stops just above the knee. Our Gracie design shares a similar waist design, but lacks the long sleeves and is designed to hug your body’s contours like a second skin. However, these dresses don’t have to be short. You’ll find plenty of floor-length specialty dresses, such as our Grace in dusty rose or rosewood sequin lace.

Material

The material will also play a role in setting special occasion dresses apart from others. You’ll find that most run-of-the-mill fabrics are out and specialty fabrics are in. Think lace, sequins, chiffon, and metallics.

The Ability to Make a Statement

From the red carpet to the dance floor, special occasion dresses make a statement. It might be sleek and sexy, or it could be bold and confident. It could even be fun and lighthearted depending on the event and your personality. However, in all cases, these dresses are designed to make a visible statement and draw the eye of onlookers, making you the center of attention.

How to Choose between Special Occasion Dresses

Given the wide range of events that could be considered special occasions, and the host of dress styles that might be able to fit your needs, it’s important to know how to choose the right option. While it’s not as simple as finding a color that accents your eyes, it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable hurdle, either. Here’s what you need to know.

Event Type

First, consider the type of event. Is it a formal affair or is it a little more relaxed? You’ll find different norms and expectations between various event types. For example, you would choose a different dress as a wedding attendee than you would if you were opening a new art gallery. The same thing applies to hosting a cocktail party at your home or attending the premiere of a new stage production.

Event Venue

In addition to the type of event, give some thought to the venue itself. Will the wedding be held at a small, local chapel? Will the gala be held at a museum or some other location? Different locations will require different levels of formality. For instance, a Met Gala will have a very different dress code than a beach wedding.

Event Scope and Audience

What is the scope of the event and who will be in attendance? If you’ll be rubbing shoulders with leading theater critics, you will want to wear a different dress than if you were chaperoning at your child’s high school prom. Always consider both the audience and the scope of the event. Smaller, more intimate affairs may allow for a little more relaxation than larger events.

Your Personality

There’s also your personality – you’ll want to ensure that your dress ties into that. For instance, Amal Clooney’s personality always comes through in her outfits, whether she’s walking the red carpet with husband George in a floor-length, green sequined gown or decked out in luscious red for a charity event. She manages to perfectly combine playful and professional, yet communicates her unique, individual tastes at the same time.

The Right Accessories

Finally, it is not just about special occasion dresses. After all, the most opulent dress in the world is incomplete without the right accessories. Which ones, though? The sky’s the limit! With that being said, resist the urge to overcomplicate things. You want to create a single, cohesive look and feel with your dress and accessories, but give a thought to:

  • Footwear – Strappy sandals? Platforms? Something a bit more substantial? Need the commanding attention of stilettos? The right footwear will actually complete your ensemble.
  • Jewelry – In many cases, less is more when it comes to jewelry. Choose a couple of pieces that really tie into the outfit but that also help to accentuate your features. Wearing a low-cut dress and want to accentuate your neck? The right necklace can do wonders. From bracelets to rings to tiaras – accessories help augment and amplify the look you begin creating with the dress.
  • Bag – No outfit is complete without the right bag. However, evening bags (the most common option for pairing with special occasion dresses) come in a broad range of styles and designs. Find a bag that ties into your dress’s design, whether that’s through rhinestones, color, trim, or something else.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule to accessories, either. Get creative and let your personality shine through.

Make Sure You Get the Right Size

Whether you’ve never measured for a formal dress before, or you’re an old hand at it but are considering changing your options in terms of special occasion dresses, it’s important that you’re able to get the right fit. One thing that often surprises first-time buyers is that their dress size has nothing to do with other clothing. You might wear a 10 in blue jeans, but that does not translate well to cocktail dresses.

Finding the proper size will require taking four measurements:

  • Your shoulders at their widest point
  • Your bust at the widest point
  • Your waist at the narrowest point
  • Your hips at their widest point

These numbers will give you a starting point. However, even with the right size, you will still need to choose from amongst the many dress styles. This is where understanding your body type and how various styles will fit is important.

Apple: If your body is apple-shaped, your bust is wider than your hips. You’ll want a dress that flatters your upper half, defines your waist, but also adds volume below the waist.

Hourglass: If you have a classic hourglass shape, a contoured dress is likely the better option, as it will hug your curves and accentuate your body.

Pear-Shaped: Women with pear-shaped bodies have hips that are wider than their busts. Look for a design that adds volume above the waist to create a balanced look.

Rectangular: If you have a rectangular body shape, your shoulders, waist, and hips are probably all close to the same proportions. A blouson dress may be the better option here to provide the definition that you want.

Don’t see your body type listed? Don’t worry. There’s a dress out there for you. The trick is ensuring that it flatters your best features and helps you create an amazing look. We offer a great guide to finding the perfect fit for you.

Connected Apparel’s Offerings

At Connected Apparel, we’ve designed and manufactured stunning special occasion dresses for over 70 years. Our selection offers the best of modern style and design for any event you might have planned, from galas to cocktail parties and everything in between. We also offer a cut for each body type, from petite to plus-size, curvaceous to tall and willowy.

Whether you love the sparkle of sequins or adore the form-hugging capabilities of lace, our special occasion dresses help you make the right statement every time. Prefer something different from a dress? We offer special occasion jumpsuits, as well as separates to help you create your perfect look.

Shop Connected Apparel for the perfect special occasion dresses and jumpsuits for your next event or night on the town!