What Party Girls Looked Like In 10 Different Points In History

We may not all be so practiced in our day-to-day uniforms, but almost everyone has a signature style for getting dressed up. There are people who stick to party-ready basics like a little black dress, those who go slightly unexpected in a menswear-inspired suit or matching set, and the type to get wildly festive with a ton of sequins or showing lots of skin. If you haven't quite nailed down your aesthetic for this holiday-party season, what better way to get inspired than by looking back at party girls (and their signature outfits) throughout history?

Since the party dress was first conceived of hundreds of years ago, the cuts, colors, and stylistic selections have changed dramatically with each passing decade. One thing has stayed constant, though: When you show up to party, what you're wearing matters.

Long for the days of fringed dresses or wish the halter tops of Studio 54 would make a comeback? Click through for a hefty dose of nostalgia. Then, ask yourself one question before you outfit-plan for the party circuit: Why not bring some of these styles back to life?
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Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
Okay, so not everyone in the early part of the 20th century dressed like Italian socialite Marchesa Luisa Casati, but when it came to party looks, no one did it better. Historians have said her goal in life was to be “a living work of art,” so it's no surprise that her going-out wardrobe consisted of the most expensive and elaborate gowns, jewels, and animal furs known to man. Eventually, as Vogue reported, she was recognized by the media as “the most daring and extravagant woman in Europe."

Casati's personal aesthetic wasn't as out-there as it may seem: During the Belle Époque (or Age of Opulence), elaborate couture gowns (from houses like Poiret and Worth) crafted from luxe materials were not uncommon for high society women in cities like London and Paris. For that set, special occasions were meant to be celebrated, and these evening pieces eliminated the restricting corsetry of the past, added ornate embellishments, and encouraged women to dance.
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Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images.
Hike up the hemlines, it's time to party. For more casual get-togethers, skirts and dresses became shorter and more playful in the 1920s, allowing for more movement than ever before. Luxury designers like Madeline Vionnet, Jeanne Lanvin, and Elsa Schiaparelli were proponents (and pioneers, really) of loosened up silhouettes for women — a notion that was translated heavily into evening wear. Iconic flapper-style pieces in velvets and silks (and with fringe or lace detailing) dominated the scene, as did spaghetti-strap, straight-cut silk chemises — both of which encouraged movement and fun (and style, of course).

Since clothing became more simplified in the '20s, accessories were key in completing the ultimate going-out look: think fur stoles and scarves, classic Mary-Janes, stockings that came just below the knee, and lots and lots of hats. This was a time of creative styling and some liberation in fashion.
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Photo: Ralph Crane/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images.
Following World War II and fabric rationing (and the need for functional pieces for women that ultimately followed), the fashion industry as a whole fell into a difficult spot. But as the two H's of the decade — Hollywood and haute couture — gained worldwide popularity, the idea of personal style (particularly when it came to party dressing) began to resurface.

Between iconic actresses like Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, and Katharine Hepburn popping up on the silver screen and red carpets, and the emergence of high-fashion houses like Christian Dior, Balmain, Charles James, and Nina Ricci, prepping a look for any type of celebratory event meant only one thing: glamour. For those still experiencing the economic repercussions of the war, simpler, form-fitting dresses that hit either just below the knee or scraped the floor became the norm for both day and night. But, for those who could afford handcrafted pieces, fuller formal gowns that showed off either the shoulders or chest (and were popularized by Dior's "New Look" collection) were present among the upper class — and were considered works of art.
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Photo: Popperfoto/Getty Images.
Since the war plagued the early half of the '40s, by the time the 1950s hit, people were finally feeling more secure about their spending. The style implication of this renewed comfort was something of a fashion evolution led by designers like Hubert de Givenchy (who made most of Audrey Hepburn's iconic items from the decade).

Clothing was more tailored and form-fitting than the frocks of years past, to show off women's curves (the timeless hourglass figure, of course, was trending). After Dior showed his '52 collection, the industry dubbed the pre-eminent shape, a cinched in waist leading out to a wider skirt, "the wandering waistline." Most party wear gave off that pin-up feel we've become familiar with today (which isn't a surprise, given Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe were two of the decade's most admired stars). It was a period in time when people found comfort and stability in their dinner parties with friends, or sock hop dancing dates — and that fun and ease was reflected in the style.
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Photo: Jack Robinson/Conde Nast/Getty Images.
Enter: the era of the It girl. Marianne Faithfull, Jean Shrimpton, Edie Sedgwick, Diana Ross — these women made partying seem like a profession, and knew exactly how to dress the part. They said fuck the fashion rules and were ready to show more skin in super-short mod shift dresses (designer Paco Rabanne popularized the shiny PVC versions), miniskirts that were revolutionized by British designer Mary Quant, and barely-there crochet pieces. In essence, getting dressed and going out was centered around being young and having fun.

Though there was a serious movement toward femininity and sex appeal, women also weren't afraid to dress more androgynously with — gasp — pants. Menswear-inspired suits, in particular, were made relevant by Yves Saint Laurent's release of Le Smoking, the first tuxedo for women, in '66, proving that a comfortable set as evening wear can be just as sophisticated as the average ball gown (if not more).
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Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty Images.
If you weren't partying at Studio 54 in the '70s, you just weren't doing things right. And if you weren't wearing fitted Biba blazers and trousers, jumpsuits, tie-at-the-waist wrap dresses (created by Diane von Furstenberg in '72), or jersey halter ones (invented by Halston), well, you missed out on some of the most defining nightlife looks in history. Women like Bianca Jagger, Grace Jones (who had a party look all her own), and Liza Minelli set the precedent for a new age of nightlife that wasn't defined by just music or scenery — but by what you wore, too.
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Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty Images.
If there's a motto that works best with '80s style, it's that bigger is always better: bigger hair, bigger shoulders, bigger everything. Pouf detailing, taffeta skirting, and rouching all over the place were huge (literally). These details were embraced by everyone from high schoolers going to prom to brides and red carpet celebrities, like Madonna and Paula Abdul.

Outside the dress area, hot pants, leotards, off-the-shouler tops, and oversized moto jackets became just as party-appropriate because people were on the go, and ready to get down at a moment's notice. Everything came in the brightest and boldest of colors, so whether the scene was a friend's basement or a black-tie soiree, a sartorial rainbow was almost guaranteed.
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Photo: PYMCA/UIG/Getty Images.
The '90s saw a ton of different subcultures, but none made a statement on party-circuit style like the ravers, the underground cool-kid scene that was immortalized in films like Kids and Go. And while the large dance parties were centered around electronic music and coordinating laser light shows, the crowds' costuming played a large part, too. There wasn't a particular look so much as the notion that expressing yourself is the best styling move around. That, or you could just channel Gwen Stefani. That worked, too.
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Photo: RICHARD YOUNG/REX Shutterstock.
#TBT to the days when Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie dominated nightclubs around the world — and when the only thing Kim Kardashian was known for was cleaning out the former's closet.

The 2000s were an iconic moment for party girls everywhere thanks to all-too-revealing paparazzi shots and tabloid headlines (hi, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears!) that focused on — what else — their clothing (or lack thereof). Silk camisoles and corset tops paired with jeans, asymmetrical skirts with crop tops, and way-too-short metallic minidresses were the trifecta of going-out looks that early-aughts girls were all about (Hilton was, of course, a culprit of wearing all of the above, and more). Add choker necklaces, hair chopsticks, or blinged out diamond cross pendants, and we've got a decade of style we'll happily leave in the past.
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Photo: Keith Hewitt/GC Images/Getty Images.
With every single moment of our lives documented on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and more, style has never been more accessible. And though we're only halfway through the decade, we've already seen party dressing take a more understated, laid-back approach: think dresses with cut-outs, upscale bra- and crop-tops with skinny jeans, and leather jackets galore. Really, party looks today are mostly just a slightly upgraded version of our everyday aesthetic. Everyone loves an excuse to dress up — but they also love the opportunity to be comfortable at the same time. How many decades did it take fashion people to figure that out?

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