Cocktail Class - the finest cocktail dresses in cinematic history

We don't know about you, but one upside to come out of lockdown 3.0 has been our refamiliarisation with the cocktail trolley, which despite sitting lonely in the corner all week, nevertheless serenades us with its dog-like servility come 5 o'clock on a Friday evening. Naturally, we have been rewarding its obedience with a full and proper exercising of its glass limbs, and have discovered a number of wonderful sides to its character, hitherto unexplored. The gimlet, prompted by the Netflix series, The Queen's Gambit, has been a soul-jolting revelation, while the Boulevardier - a bourbon bastardisation of the classic Negroni - spirits one away to hot summer nights gazing up at the stars (well, after you've had three anyway).

"We hope that these stunning creations will inspire you to cast off your loungewear in a fit of passionate self-realisation, and put on your finest cocktail dress before mixing yourself a nepenthe of such sweet fortitude that you'll forget you were ever locked down in the first place!" 

But a good cocktail is not quite the same without a great cocktail dress. The dress, rather than the drink, announces the evening as one to delicately savour. And while we may not have friends around us right now, we can at the very least maintain a sense of occasion by slipping into something worthy of celebration. We needn't remind you that we have numerous such marvels here at Favourbrook, but we thought we'd entertain you with some of our favourite iterations of the cocktail dress from the reels of cinematic history. We hope that these stunning creations will inspire you to cast off your loungewear in a fit of passionate self-realisation, and put on your finest cocktail dress before mixing yourself a nepenthe of such sweet fortitude that you'll forget you were ever locked down in the first place! 


Elizabeth Taylor - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The Queen of cocktail dresses, there was no question about including Elizabeth Taylor's fashion ode to a Grecian goddess in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  This dress was so famous it was even given a name: 'The Cat'. The waist-cinching white chiffon dress with a Grecian bodice and short full skirt set a trend throughout the US in 1958 and Taylor herself loved it so much that she supposedly had a number of replicas made. Its secret is in its simplicity and the glamorous angles it creates from Taylor's shoulders to her waspish waist.






Marilyn Monroe - The Seven Year Itch

Her husband Joe DiMaggio hated it, but the white dress that was created by costume designer William Travilla for Marilyn Monroe's iconic sidewalk scene in The Seven Year Itch is perhaps the most famous dress of all time. In 2011, it sold for $4.6 million at a Beverly Hills auction. According to biographer Donald Spoto, it features a "halter-like bodice with a plunging neckline and is made of two pieces of softly pleated fabric that come together behind the neck, leaving the wearer's arms, shoulders and back bare. The halter is attached to a band situated immediately under the breasts. The dress fits closely from there to the natural waistline. A soft and narrow self belt was wrapped around the torso, criss-crossing in front and then tied into a small neat bow at the waist, at the front on the left side. Below the waistband is a softly pleated skirt that reaches to mid-calf or below the calf length. There is a zipper at the back of the bodice, and tiny buttons at the back of the halter." 

The dress has been the single biggest catalyst for women exposing themselves over New York subway vents ever since. Apparently.


Goldie Hawn - Death Becomes Her

Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her

Something of a curveball perhaps, but we couldn't resist Goldie Hawn's stunning red dress in the 1992 deranged black comedy Death Becomes Her, directed by Robert Zemeckis. The entire wardrobes of both Hawn and co-star Meryl Streep are well worth revisiting, with some absolute gems in strong-shouldered tailoring and punchy eveningwear, but it's Hawn's elegant pillar-box red dress that takes the plaudits. With a subtle sculptural bodice, it accentuates her statuesque frame beautifully, complementing her riot of red hair. The red nails and gold cuffs are the icing on a resplendent cake.






Grace Kelly - High Society

Grace Kelly in High Society

Costume designer Helen Rose features once again on our shortlist, having created this dreamy number for Grace Kelly in High Society. While not strictly a cocktail dress (more of a ball gown), we're not going to be pedantic about its inclusion because it's simply wonderful. Rose would actually go on to design Kelly’s famous wedding dress to the Prince of Monaco.

In this scene of the film with Frank Sinatra, Kelly's dress is the perfect complement to the actress, thanks to its light, diaphanous fabric, replete with embroidered flowers. Perhaps a little much for a sneaker sundowner on a Friday night in the sitting room but take inspiration from the chiffon and floral elements anyway.


Keira Knightley - Atonement

It's true that Keira Knightley has the type of figure that would make a patchwork of soiled dish cloths fashioned into a primitive poncho look like a million dollars but there is no arguing that the emerald green dress she wears in Joe Wright's Atonement is the equal of her. The sumptuous bare-back gown is a visual marvel, fluid and powerful yet delicate and ambiguous all at once, and features elements of 30s dresses combined with more contemporary touches.

The creation was the genius of costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who said of the dress: "I’m under no illusion that the dress that I’ve created isn’t a true 1934 dress. It’s a combination of elements that has been made up by someone with a modern perspective. Any time you’re not taking elements and recombining and interpreting and creating, you’re going to move outside of what is exactly the correct period. But everything within the dress is from the period; it’s just recombined in a modern way. For sure, I think that the spaghetti straps coming out of the front of the dress and running down the back gives us a more noted back than most ’30s dresses, even though it was fashionable to have bare shoulders and back at the time."

Knightley wears it with such grace and seductive power that it has surely become one of the most recognisable dresses of modern cinema.




Michelle Pfeiffer - Scarface

The feisty filleted hairpin that is Elvira Hancock is transformed into a beguiling, hard-talking goddess when she first steps onto the scene, disrupting the conversations of three Miami gangsters in Brian de Palma's cult film, Scarface. Played by Michelle Pfeiffer, this divine apparition steals the minds of men in a stunning blue silk dress that reveals her slender figure beneath. Therein lies the genius of it - the powerful voluminous nature of the silk dress juxtaposed against the light-as-a-feather figure beneath. The plunging neckline - as deep as the dress is blue - the open back, as expansive as the sea, the head-spinning slit from the top of the thigh to the ankle, like a fissure in the earth, and beneath it all this delicate, dangerous snarl. Don't let the girlish blonde bob and maxi bangs fool you. If Elvira Hancock were a cocktail, she would be a Death in the Afternoon.


Naomie Harris - Skyfall

In Bond films gone by, Miss Moneypenny - played almost entirely by Lois Maxwell - was quite the chic dresser, favouring a bright silk blouses, extravagant tailoring and long slender dresses for her largely desk-bound role. Naomie Harris's Moneypenny prefers to get her hands dirty in the field however. In Skyfall, it's Harris with the license to thrill as she steals the casino scene in Macau by wearing a gold silk bias-cut strapless crepe back satin maxi dress designed by Amanda Wakeley. Bond himself even compliments her choice. What makes it so powerful is how it accentuates the scene palette, which is cast in a smoky golden light and punctuated with mahogany furniture.  


Click here to explore Favourbrook's stunning collection of dresses.