Ball gown by Dior, silk taffeta, 1954. Indianapolis Museum of Art.
A ball gown is the most formal female attire for social occasions. It is traditionally a full-skirted gown reaching the floor, made of luxurious fabric, delicately and exotically trimmed. Most versions are cut off the shoulder with decollete necklines. Such gowns are typically worn with a stole (a formal shawl in expensive fabric), cape or cloak in lieu of a coat, "good" (couture or vintage) jewellery and opera-length gloves. Standard accessories are dancing shoes and a clutch style evening bag. Where "state decorations" are to be worn, they are on a bow pinned to the chest, and married women wear a tiara if they have one. The ball gown shape has changed little since the mid-19th century. Although artificial fabrics are now sometimes used, the most common fabrics are satin, silk, taffeta and velvet with trimmings of lace, pearls, sequins, embroidery, ruffles and ruching.
For their debuts, debutantes wear long white dresses that were once similar to ball gowns. They also wear long white leather gloves that go well above the elbow and that close with small pearl buttons at the wrist, even though nowadays it is very common for girls to wear long satin gloves. Their jewellery is understated and suitable for a young lady about to be formally presented to society for the first time.