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Iconic Style – The Shift Dress

There are certain styles that over the years have become wardrobe staples, so classic that there is very little difference between vintage and more modern designs. The sort of look that a vintage lover could as easily pick up on the High Street today as from a vintage store.

One of those styles is undoubtedly the shift dress. More fitted than a sack dress, but less than a wiggle dress, the classic shift has a bust shaped with darts, no shaping at the waist and goes into a straight or slightly A line skirt.


Although drawing on the drop-waisted straight shift styles of the 1920s Flapper, the classic shift really owes more to the 50s “sack dress” and evolved into the 60s into the style we know today.

Lilly Pulitzer
Lilly Pulitzer

Part of the shift dress’ popularity in the 1960s, particularly in the US, was down to a Miami juice bar owner named Lilly Pulitzer. She started to make her own shift dresses in brightly coloured and patterned fabrics to hide the inevitable juice stains. Customers so frequently asked about them that she started to make them to sell. When the ultimate shift dress wearer Jackie Kennedy was photographed wearing one, the whole world wanted one too and by 1961 Lilly had closed her juice bar and was selling her dresses full time.

Jackie O is probably the most famous wearer of shift dresses, but Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy and Mia Farrow were all frequently seen in the style.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy

The shift dress is such an elegant style that it’s rarely gone out of fashion and is often favoured for smart wedding and work outfits. It’s so versatile that changing accessories, colours, prints or lengths can entirely change the whole feel of the dress.

Wear a plain shift with a box cut jacket, pill box hat and big sunglasses for the full Jackie O effect, or a brightly printed shorter dress with ballet pumps and a beehive for a younger 60s style.

The “average” modern figure has a much smaller waist to hip ratio than women in the 1950s, which actually makes them far more suited to this style of dress. If you’re one of those people without a lot of curves, then the shift dress is your easy answer to elegant vintage style.

Shift Dress by Bess Georgette Vintage

Gemma Seager is also known as vintage lifestyle blogger Retro Chick.  Mostly you’ll find her wearing frocks, getting angry about vanity sizing and body image and indulging in fantasy shopping trips.  Visit her blog at: www.retrochick.co.uk

Photo by Ruby DeMuir