No longer in tune with the scaled-down entertaining of the '90s, the long, foufy ball gown is an endangered species. Today's summer evening wear is soft and flirty and less formal than its predecessors.
Good news for many of us who dreaded the often uncomfortable and unmanageable formal wear. Even better news, however, is that this summer's evening wear options are wide open.
They include both sleek and swingy dresses, as well as sequined suit ensembles and soft pants and halters.
The color spectrum is open as well: black-and-whites, bright fuchsias or lemon yellows or even pastels.
In short, the choice is yours.
"Whatever the fashion, women make their own decisions, especially about evening wear," says Tom Marotta, vice president of Nan Duskin. "They know what look they want [for a special occasion]."
At Saks Fifth Avenue in Owings Mills the most popular choices include both strapless chiffon empire-waisted dresses and body-conscious knits studded with crystals. At Woodward & Lothrop some of the favorite evening choices are halter dresses in such fabrics as crepe and pique.
"A short, body-skimming strapless dress, in a silk organza or pique, with a perky bolero jacket is one of our most popular styles," says Diana Lee, buyer for Octavia Inc. "We also are selling a lot of fit and flare dresses (body-conscious dresses that flare out slightly at the hips)."
"A lightweight metallic gold lace jacket paired with a short skirt is a nice, cool look for those who prefer the suit ensemble," says Mr. Marotta. However, "although suits are hot for spring evening wear, the sequined jackets may be too heavy and uncomfortable for the summer heat."
The '60s influence this season has brought with it silhouettes more lenient than the snug night looks so prevalent for the past few seasons.
"In addition to body-conscious, strapless dresses, simple floats in sequined pastels are very popular," says Elaine Suls, buyer for John Sims. "It's a very simple look, like Calvin Klein, that has a round collar and is sleeveless. It's darling."
Another great look, says Mr. Marotta, is the sarong-style, one-shoulder dress made of a flowing crepe. Or, pair a barely there dress with a soft, silky long jacket. He also likes the look of soft, chiffon evening pants with sequined halter tops.
One detail that dominates this summer's silhouettes is the cut-out back. Whether it be a strapless dress, a diamond cut, a peek-a-boo closure, a lattice cut-out, a criss-cross back or a halter top, be prepared to see a lot of backs this summer.
"We're selling more strapless dresses than low-cut, off the shoulder necklines," says Ms. Lee. "But, we also are seeing keyhole cut-outs and backless dresses."
While styles may reflect the '60s influence, the flowing fabrics give outfits the soft look of the '90s. Linen, usually a staple for summer wear, is less in evidence this summer, replaced by chiffons, silks, and crepes.
"I'm leaning toward lace and chiffon for this summer. It's very flirty," says Mr. Marotta. "Perhaps a navy chiffon dress with a white or red lace top and a white lace jacket."
In the lace genre, the Spiegel catalog also reports that one of its best sellers is a peach lace dress with an off-the-shoulder neckline.
Organza and silk organza fabrics also enhance this summer's styles. "We're selling a number of sheer organza coats," says Ms. Suls. "They're good, lightweight cover-ups."
As far as color goes, black and white are still big sellers for evening wear, but unless it's a serious cocktail party, the black fabrics are giving way to softer pastels, says Ms. Suls. Bright colors, such as hot pink and bright orange, are also on the summer list.
The bright colors may appear as solids or in color blocks, such as purple, pink and black or yellow, red and black, combined to create a bold pattern, says Octavia's Ms. Lee.
Floral patterns and geometrics are still good choices for garden parties, but are less visible for more formal party wear.
"We have a lot of prints in spring suits and day wear, but not in the evening wear," says Mr. Marotta.
For summer '91, short is the key word in hem lines. "Summer fashions always tend to go a little shorter," says Ms. Lee. "This summer, depending on your age and legs, hemlines are just above the knee or 3 inches above the knee."
But, as with the colors and styles of this summer's silhouettes, length is just another option.