Baby Doll Dress

AKA: babydoll dress, baby-doll dress

How to say it:  ba·by·doll dress

Traditional Features: 

Baby Doll Dress

  • round or scoop neckline, often high
  • can have an empire waistline or be more of a tent silhouette with a high yoke over the bust
  • hem finishes well above the knee
  • loose fit through the body

21st Century Baby Doll Dresses

21st century baby doll dresses (for the most part) seem to have found a way to bypass the childish connotations of the style. More casual than ever before, and more sophisticated with less frills and more prints, the modern woman can now don this comfortable, airy dress without worrying about looking too ‘young’.

American Apparel BB Dakota

American Apparel, BB Dakota

BCBGeneration River Island

BCBGeneration, River Island


…of the style: The baby doll dress began life as a negligee – a short, sleeveless nightgown with an empire waist or tent silhouette, usually made from a soft flowing fabric and often accompanied by a pair of matching panties, that was popular in the 1930s and 40s. The style was similar to the dresses worn by young children and well, dolls in the 1930s, and brought a certain childish playfulness to the bedroom. This is also thought to be where the name originated.

The style crossed over into mainstream fashion in the mid 1950s, following the release of the film “Baby Doll” starring Carroll Baker. In the film Baker portrays a 19-year-old virgin who wears short, nightgown-like dresses as daywear, and uses her innocence to taunt her husband. The look was picked up by women who liked to dress in a ‘younger’ style (rather than looking like their mothers) and the baby doll dress was born.

By the 1960s British fashion designers were including baby doll dresses, with high boat necks and simple, sheath-like silhouettes, in their collections; closely followed by French designers with their more frilly, hippie versions in the 1970s. Dropped in favour of strong, Power-Dressing in the 1980s, the baby doll dress had a massive comeback in the 1990s.

The Grunge Movement and the alternative music scene saw the rise of female musicians like Courtney Love and Christina Amphlett, who brought with them the ‘Kinderwhore look’ – a style that often featured a baby doll dress paired with heavy boots (Dr Martens or combat boots usually), ripped stockings, unkempt hair and smudged lipstick. The overall look was that of a broken doll; a statement against popular culture of the times.

As the decade rolled on, baby doll dresses appeared in heavier fabrics like velvet and velour, acquired long sleeves, and featured large floral prints – particularly sunflowers and daisies.

The baby doll dress faded from fashion at the end of the millennium, but as 90s fashions came back on trend in the early 21st century, so did the baby doll, with designers like YSL featuring baby doll dresses reminiscent of the Grunge era in their Fall 2013 collections.

As a flow on effect from these collections, the style is still available in the fashion marketplace, but in a more casual, feminine version of itself. The 21st century baby doll dress is simple and pretty, without being too young, too sexual or too angry.

…of the name: The style was originally copied from the clothing worn by babies and dolls in the early 20th century, and this is thought to be where the name came from. However, the term ‘Baby Doll’ became firmly associated with the dress style in the 1950s thanks to the film Baby Doll.

Random Facts

  • The baby doll dress is a very popular maternity style as it allows ample room for the growing belly

For more info on Baby Doll Dresses try Zappos Blog, wiseGeek, Gertie’s Blog  or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion



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