An evening gown is a type of formal dress designed to be worn for night time events such as the opera, formal dinners, cocktail parties, and wedding receptions. There are many types of these gowns designed with varying levels of formality so that women can always be well dressed, ranging from cocktail dresses to full ball gowns, which are to be worn at white tie events. As a general rule, evening gowns are only worn at night; there are other types of formal wear for daytime occasions such as weddings, day receptions, and teas.
The most formal type of evening gown is a ball gown, which has a skirt that falls all the way to the ankles. Depending on the event, the skirt can be full or more form fitting. At more formal events, women should wear full skirts, especially on occasions with honored guests such as heads of state. The sleeves of a ball gown are usually short, and the dress will usually have a flattering neckline which can also be used to showcase elegant jewelry. Less formal gowns include cocktail dresses, which are shorter and more form fitting, and dancing dresses such as prom dresses.
Evening gowns can be distinguished from conventional or day dresses by a two primary features. The first is the cut, which tends to be couture and in line with the latest fashions, unless the article of clothing is a ball gown, in which case it will tend to be cut along more classic lines. The second distinguishing feature is the fabric. These gowns tend to use luxury materials such as silk, velvet, and taffeta, and they may be richly embroidered or decorated with beads, sequins, jewels, and other ornaments. Wealthy women also prefer to purchase tailored evening gowns, which are designed to flatter their figures. In all cases, these gowns are designed to be worn with high quality jewelry.
Evening gowns are typically associated with glamor and luxury, and appear at events like the Academy Awards in the United States, the opening of the society season in urban areas, and formal receptions. In most instances, these gowns are not designed to be worn more than once, although high profile members of society such as celebrities may auction off gowns which they have worn for charity. In some cases, especially for highly public events, well known designers will lend custom or vintage dresses to famous attendees of the event, in order to showcase their design skills, and then take the evening gowns back at the end of the evening for part of a permanent archive.