Monday, July 24, 2023

What is a Shift Dress? One of Summer's Top Dress Trends

The notorious shift dress and where it came from

Image courtesy of Pacific Landing

From the beginning of time, women’s fashion has shifted from practicality to style. Today, women’s fashion choices are unlimited. Want to wear sweats? That’s fine. Suits are in and it is more than acceptable to sport some biker shorts and an oversized t-shirt for almost any non-professional summer occasion. But where do our choices stem from? 

  • Glad you asked, because in this article we’re going to discuss: 
  • The evolution of women’s dresses 
  • How to wear a shift dress 
  • Where to buy a shift dress 

The Evolution of Women’s Dresses 

How did we get to the popular shift dresses? 

Alt text: A picture of the painting “Birth of Venus” 
Caption: The history of women’s fashion generated from the birth of florals and silk. 


The femme fatale archetype, Egyptian queen Cleopatra was not only influential to the development of Roman politics, but greatly coerced the development of women’s clothing. Linen and sheer clothing covered in gold and stones were what her main outfits consisted of. Soft, flowy designs were taken advantage of in ancient Greece where clothing was designed for the blistering heat and smoldering temperatures. Silk and linen sheet-like dresses served as a feathery, light fashion statement. 

15th-19th centuries Europe 

Clothing started to show off wealth in the thirteenth century. Heavy fabric was layered in medieval times, velvet as the main material utilized. Square necklines and high-waisted silhouettes emphasized the chest and the waste and showcased any jewelry worn. Women’s fashion altered in later times, highlighting the airy designs like in Greece. High necklines and ruffles complimented the light layers. Full skirts and ruffled sleeves with large floral embroidery became popularized for a more conservative look. Corsets and ruffles showcased a woman’s waist. 

Twentieth century 

In the early twentieth century, Hemlines rose as fabric became heavier. Then, the 1920s flowy and fun flapper dress made sleeveless gowns flourish. After the Great Depression, women’s dresses loosened in fabric and structure, became less formal, often paired with a belt and buttons up the front. Accessories became the forefront of plain dresses, fitted to silhouettes but relaxed with fabric. The sheath dress (aka the shift dress), became widely popularized when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis styled her high hemlined, silhouette with tight-fitting sleeveless shift dresses in the 60s. 

How to Wear a Shift Dress 

What works best with a shift dress? 

Alt text: Jackie Kennedy wears a magenta sheath 
Caption: Jackie Kennedy showcases her pink shift dress at a public function. 

Jackie Kennedy increased the popularity of this liberated, relaxed dress. This versatile, knee length, boxy dress is normally made from soft, casual fabrics like cotton. Usually styled sleeveless and short, these dresses are great for a warm weather day with a touch of professional nature. To achieve a 60s look, accessories look great with this neutral dress. Scarves, hats, gloves and belts can be styled with this dress. 

Shift dresses work great with heels or platform shoes to give a boost of height to complete the high-hemline leggy look. For an elegant fall look, pair an autumn shift dress with a collar and a belt. 

For a sleek summer look, pairing a brightly colored, vibrant shift dress with light silver or gold jewelry. Paired with sandals and a light jacket, this can be a great summer barbeque outfit. 

Why “Shift Dress?” 

How did the shift dress get its name? 

The shift dress got its name originally from the Middle Eastern word “schift” which means to move or change direction. This loose, boxy dress moved to the shape of your body, making it ideal for any semi-professional occasion. 

My grandma, a young woman during the 60s, said she and her girlfriends used to call the notorious dress simply a “shift” normally wearing them to work with high heels. 

These flapper-like dresses were created in the 1920s by designers like Chanel to create a loose-fitting but stylish box dress but ushered into the look we know today by 60s icons like Jackie O. 

Where Can I Buy a Shift Dress? 

What is the best 

Alt text: three 1960s women sport shift dresses in different patterns 
Caption: Shift dresses are available in all different patterns to wear for any event. 


Shopbop sells shift dresses in multiple patterns, colors, textures and lengths as perfect summer wedding dresses. 

Tweed Shift Dress

Alt text: a pink and black plaid tweed shift dress is worn by a model 
Caption: Best for colder autumn and winter, this look can be styled with black tights, heels or boots, and a long sleeve turtleneck. Image courtesy of Shopbop

Made with non-stretch tweed fabric and frayed edges, this look is timeless and retro. Made of cotton and polyester, this is a more fragile material worn for specific more professional events. 

Night Shifter Dress 

Alt text: A model wears a bedazzled floral multi-colored black shift dress 
Caption: Made with non-stretch cotton, this dress is best worn in the fall or autumn. 
Image courtesy of Shopbop

This iridescent sequined floral dress is made with satin lining and polyester. Paired with neutral accessories and jewelry, this look can be worn for a night out in the summer or spring months. 

Luca Shift Dress 

Alt text: a model wears a short white and yellow beachy shift dress 
Caption: Shift dresses have evolved into more shapes and sizes for all events and people 

For a beachy look, this shift dress is lightweight, light colored, and easy to throw over a suit while in the sand. The v-neck and quarter length sleeves add a touch of chicness for a relaxed summer event.

Banana Republic 

For a classy look, Banana Republic sells a basic sleeveless thigh-length shift dress. With a slightly professional feel, this dress comes in a “trailblazing” orange, black, or flax tan. 

Nordstrom Rack 

Nordstrom Rack sells a flowy shift dress that can easily contort to your body with a brief button hole opening at the back of the neck. Available in red, navy, peach, and more, this is a great outfit to pair with some flat sandals for a relaxing–and now comfortable– summer dinner party night. 


JCPenney provides a plethora of summery designs and different styles of shift dresses for the warm months such as babydoll, long sleeve, and layered. 

The Last Stitch 

The evolution of women’s fashion has gone through amazing changes, from the most extravagant floral layered linen designs to the most ethereal, flowy simple white dresses. Perfect for any semi-formal summer event, shift dresses are the perfect combination of professional, classy, and flirty.

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