A shift dress is a dress in which the cloth falls straight from the shoulders and has darts around the bust. It frequently features a high scoop or boat neck. Shift dresses are often confused with the sheath dress, which is form-fitting and shaped by tucks on the waist area. Shift dresses became popular in western fashion in the1920s and were revived in the 1960s. They are most flattering on body types that are more like columns.
The shift dress gained popularity during the western flapper movement in the 1920s. Changing social norms meant that young women could choose a style of dress that was easier to move and dance in, and the shift dress marked a departure from previously fashionable corset designs, which exaggerated the bust and waist while restricting movement.
It went out of fashion during wartime, and the post war era, where western women’s fashion was typified by Christian Dior’s New Look, which again featured an exaggerated bust, hips and waist at the expense of comfort.
The shift dress made a comeback in the 1960s, popularized by Hubert de Givenchy‘s design for Audrey Hepburn‘s Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress, and Lily Pulitzer‘s designs for Jacqueline Kennedy. This coincided with the start of second wave feminism which brought in a renewed desire for freedom and versatility.
Simply put, a shift dress refers to a short dress that hangs straight down from the shoulders with clean, simple lines. Typically, a shift dress is sleeveless, though some styles have short sleeves or off-the-shoulder variations. Above all, a shift dress should hang loosely from the body without a fitted cut. Shift dresses typically feature little to no embellishment—again, minimalism is key with the shift dress. A common question about the shift dress is how it differs from a sheath dress. Both dresses convey clean simplicity and tend to land short to mid-length. But while a shift dress is loose and comfy, sheath dresses are formfitting. Shift dresses are comprised of panels made to hang with a vertical line, whereas sheath dresses follow the curves of the hips, waist, and bust.
The shift dress has many manifestations. It can be worn in all seasons with sandals in the summer, with boots and coats in fall, tights and sweaters in winter and scarves and heels in spring. It can be dressed up with a jacket and pearls, glamorized with gloves and diamonds, dressed down with comfy flats or sneakers and thrown on over a bathing suit for a day at the beach.
Depending on the fabric, color and texture, a shift dress can create a variety of looks.A plain white or black shift is chic and seductive and a brightly colored shift in bold patterns is fun and flirtatious, while a pastel shift with bows is innocent and girlish.