For history’s actresses, celebrities, and royalty, too, dressing up has played a key role in helping them fulfill their larger-than-life personas.
For centuries, dresses were the classic choice of clothing for women across all cultures. Dresses were practical in many cases, but were also used as visible symbols to convey your status and wealth. The many possibilities of dress styles make this article of clothing the ideal way to convey attention to detail, color, quality material, and ultimately, elegance in a way that only dresses can.
Since the popularization of movies in the 1920s, pop-culture became a centerpiece in society, and with it, the clothing choices of its stars gained a new level of significance. Each decade had its own fashion trends and its own “it-girls” at the helm. Now, let’s take a journey back in time to enjoy the most spectacular dress of each decade from the past century.
The flapper girl and actress, Clara Bow, wore this unusual Travis Banton dress with petal-like ruffles in the 1928 silent film Red Hair.
Ginger Rogers wore this iconic ostrich feather dress designed by Bernard Newman in the 1935 musical, Top Hat. She starred alongside her dance partner, Fred Astaire.
Rita Hayworth’s famous sleek black satin sheath gown from the 1946 film Gilda was created by costume designer Jean Louis and helped define the femme fatale archetype in fashion and film.
Grace Kelly looked timelessly elegant in her high-neck lace wedding dress when she married the Prince of Monaco in 1956. The dress, which was designed by costume designer Helen Rose, was a gift from the MGM studio to the actress. The gown, made from "twenty-five yards of silk taffeta, one hundred yards of silk net, peau de soie, tulle and 125-year-old Brussels rose point lace," has continued to influence fashion for decades, even serving as the inspiration for Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.
First lady Jackie Kennedy wore this gorgeous peach dress with pearls and white elbow-length gloves on a diplomatic trip to India in 1962. The bow-waist A-line dress was designed by Jackie’s personal stylist, Oleg Cassini.
Bianca Jagger made headlines in 1971 when she wore an unconventional Yves Saint Laurent blazer and skirt during her marriage to performer Mick Jagger. The real reason she chose a bridal suit instead of a dress was out of comfort. Bianca was secretly four months pregnant with her daughter on her wedding day.
Princess Diana wore an unforgettable gown to her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981. The dress, designed by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, was made of silk taffeta and included hand-sewn embroidery, sequins, and 10,000 pearls. Diana’s wedding gown set the standard in wedding dresses for the rest of the decade, and continues to be one of fashion’s most influential designs.
Supermodel and actress Cindy Crawford wore a classically stunning, red bodycon Versace dress with a plunging neckline to the 63rd Academy Awards in 1991. The dress had a major influence on fashion, inspiring many recreations and similar designs in its wake.
Julia Roberts wore this memorable vintage black and white Valentino gown to the 2001 Oscars, where she received the best actress award for the film Erin Brockovich.
Rihanna’s extravagant yellow 2015 Met Gala Guo Pei gown quickly became an internet sensation. The Met Gala’s theme that year was “China: through the looking glass.”
Billie Eilish stunned in this fairytale peach tulle gown by Oscar de la Renta at the 2021 “America: A Lexicon of Fashion” themed Met Gala. Her dress was particularly statement-making because the ethereal ball gown was such a divergence from her usual oversized, goth-inspired fashion.
Throughout history, dresses have been the epitome of glamor. The most eye-catching and trend-setting pieces from the past century still offer aesthetic appeal, even though the events for which they were worn are part of the past. With their sheer excess and decadence, these dazzling dresses and gowns from the 1920s to the 2020s continue to inspire the fashion industry to this day.
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