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The History of the Shift Dress

The shift dress has become a timeless silhouette. It can be dressed up or dressed down, and can be adapted to wear in any season. The simple styling of the shift dress makes it a versatile piece, lending itself to a variety of fabrics and accessories. A shift dress is a simple, short, above-the-knee dress. The bust is fitted with darts, and the skirt is either cut straight or with a narrow A-line. The dress doesn't provide any definition to the waist, and the neckline is usually a fairly high scoop neck or boatneck. A shift dress is typically sleeveless, although short-sleeve and long-sleeve versions are also popular. A shift dress can be created in a variety of styles.

Flappers--young women who were defying social norms, first wore the shift dress silhouette in the 1920s. The classic flapper dress was a short shift dress, often decorated with fringe or other types of embellishment. The shift dress became popular because it was comfortable and easy to dance in. At the time, the silhouette was a breakaway from cinched-waist styles that had been in Vogue for women. Because of its narrow cut, shift dresses are easiest to wear for women with a boyish shape. The straightness of the dress fits tightly at the hips but loosely at the waist, making it hard to fit an hourglass shape. It is commonly worn with a belt to provide waist definition. Cotton sleeveless versions are popular in summer, and a shift can be paired with tights to wear in winter. 43 Hubert de Givenchy has been credited with designing the shift dress. He designed the black shift dress Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in 1961 and the dress (along with the film) went on to become a legend. He went on to design most of Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe for her movies, and had many famous clients including Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco both great fashion icons in the sixties and both fans of the shift dress. However the story we love the best is Lily Pulitzer’s. Lily was an American socialite from New York.

In 1950 she eloped with Peter Pulitzer and they settled in Palm Beach, Florida, where Peter owned several fruit groves. She set up a fruit stand by the roadside in Palm Beach and the juices were very popular. Lilly asked a dressmaker to make her some dresses that would help cover the stains from the fruits. The design was simple, a sleeveless dress with two front darts and the length falling just below the knee. They were made using brightly coloured, patterned cottons. Her customers loved the dresses as much as the juice and some wanted to buy them, so Lily started selling dresses too. The design became a ’classic’ shift dress and at the time were affectionately called “Lilly” dresses.