The shift dress is one of fashion’s most iconic and enduring silhouettes. The distinct shape has a long, storied history—starting from the drop-waist flapper frocks of the ‘20s to the shapeless sack dresses that took off in the ‘50s. In the ‘60s, the style evolved into the short, straight-cut shift dress that we’re so familiar with today. Considering how this versatile silhouette flatters everyone and allows plenty of room for movement, we’re all for it. Read on for how to identify a shift versus sheath dress and the keys to pulling off this timeless look—no matter your shape.
What Is a Shift Dress?
Typically, a shift dress is simple, short (above the knee), and hangs straight from the shoulders, though many modern interpretations have sleeves or subtle embellishments. The shift’s hallmarks are its roomy, boxy fit (no shaping or tailoring at the waist) and simple lines. It’s designed to shift, or move, with you—meaning the silhouette helps conceal any problem areas and looks great on all body types. No wonder the shift has maintained its popularity for decades!
Shift Dress vs. Sheath Dress
It’s easy to confuse the shift and sheath dress because of some shared similarities: Both are streamlined with short to mid-length hems. But while the former is known for its loose fit—which skims across the bust, waist, and hips—the latter boasts a form-fitting silhouette designed to closely hug your curves.
How to Wear a Shift Dress: Apple Figures
This forgiving silhouette cleverly diverts attention away from the tummy area while also highlighting other parts of the body through subtle details such as a ruffle sleeve or an unexpected neckline. Look for slippery, loose fabrics like polyester crepe or silk blends that flow over your body’s outline.
How to Wear a Shift Dress: Pear Figures
Pear figures will look fantastic in slightly A-line shifts that don’t stretch or pull tightly across the hips. As a bonus, opt for layered panels or color-blocking (a light color on top and a darker one on bottom) to flatter your shape.
How to Wear a Shift Dress: Athletic Figures
Classic shift dresses are usually known for clean simplicity, but straight, athletic figures will benefit from today’s trendy versions—which feature patterns and embellishments. Lower necklines, busy prints, beading, and texture will add the illusion of curves, so go for playful shift dresses in every color of the rainbow.
How to Wear a Shift Dress: Hourglass Figures
Contrary to what you may be thinking, shift dresses are perfect for hourglass shapes as well. Look for a shift dress with a slightly flared hem that balances out the proportions of a large bust and smaller waist. Ideally, you’ll also want simple vertical lines and unfussy seams to create a long, lean shape.
Comfortable? Check. Flattering? Check. Fashionable? Double check. Don’t underestimate the power of a shift dress. This insanely versatile silhouette is perfect for any body type.