Elle’s Great Sewing Bee – The Shift Dress: the low down

Elle's Great Sewing Bee
Elle’s Great Sewing Bee

For my research for the Laurel competition, I googled the definition of a shift dress

What Is a Shift Dress?

A shift dress, is a short, sleeveless garment which hangs from the shoulders.  It is suitable for all body types and sizes.  It is usual worn on it own, but can be worn with tights or stockings.  Popular since the 60s, is it easy to wear and move or shift around in. However the name actually derived from the shift in culture, when young women wanted to wear clothing that differed from the clothes their mothers and grandmothers wore.

The shift dress is short and straight with a simple line and side seams. The dress is sleeveless, with a short hemline.  The neckline is high, usually a boat next collar.  Other features may include an A-line skirt or an empire waist.

The dress has minimal detailing, other than side panels and bust darts to give the item some shape and definition. Popular women of all ages, it is said this dress style has near universal appeal. The design is slimming and relaxed in style, the shit can convert well from day to evening use.


The shift dress can be traced back to the 1920s flapper trends. Dresses of that era, particularly those of Coco Chanel, featured exposed legs and arms, simple cuts, loose shapes and little waist definition. This was a move away from corsets and offered women both style and ease of movement,

According to fashion expert and costume historian Pauline Weston Thomas, the shift dress was derived from the “sack dress” (resembling a food sack)—designed by Hubert Givenchy in Paris—and the fitted sheath dress designs of the 1950s. The shift dress became popular by 1958.

Other historians argue that the shift dress was introduced into popular culture by Lilly Pulitzer, who sold the dresses at her lemonade stand. The Lilly Dress was noted for its bright colors and playful fabrics. The dress was then glamorized by First Lady and fashion icon Jackie Kennedy as well as trendsetting actress Audrey Hepburn.


Shift dresses of the 1960s signified a new trend in women’s clothing. They promoted independence, modernity and a redefinition of the female shape. The design was at once feminine and androgynous, youthful and ageless. Its popularity spanned from the First Lady to the high school student. The shift dress was a hallmark of the Sexual Revolution. It allowed women to dance, move and work at liberty. It united style and comfort. It was sensationally short and revealing.

In many respects, the shift is a symbol of youth culture. The cut is all about mobility, exposure and casual ease. Fans like its trendiness, loose fit and understated style. The dress favors women with small busts, slim frames and long legs, reinforcing the adolescent Twiggy or pixie look of the 1960s. It remains a youth staple.


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. A brightly colored shift in bold patterns is fun and flirtatious. A pastel shift with bows is innocent and girlish. A fuzzy shift in neon says “wild and crazy.” A gray, navy or tweed shift is sensible and elegant. A leather shift is cool and contemporary.

So a shift dress, isn’t as plain and simple as it seems.  Stay tuned for more on Elle’s Great Sewing Bee 🙂


Your thoughts and comments are appreciated, please feel free to say hi, and drop a line or 2 :)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s