One-Shoulder Dress

AKA:  asymmetric dress, toga dress

How to say it:  wuhn  shohl-der  dress

Traditional Features: 

One Shoulder Dress

  • asymmetric neckline which crosses the torso diagonally from one shoulder to underneath the opposite arm, creating one shoulder strap
  • one shoulder is bare
  • can be long or short, of any style
  • may be sleeveless or have a single sleeve of varying length

21st Century One-Shoulder Dresses

The modern marketplace boasts a huge number of one-shoulder dress styles. From formal to casual, with a variety of sleeve lengths, skirt lengths and silhouette, the style is certainly alive and well in the 21st century.

10 Crosby Derek Lam ASOS

10 Crosby Derek Lam, ASOS

Clover Canyon Halston

Clover Canyon, Halston


…of the style: Whilst the one-shoulder dress does not have a long history as far as modern fashion goes, the look can be traced back to the Ancient Romans and their togas in the early centuries of the last millennium.

Modern one-shoulder styles didn’t really hit the fashion scene with any might until the mid 20th century. The look seemed to begin the 1930s in Hollywood, with actresses portraying heroines of the past in clinging, one-shouldered costumes and exuding a seductive sexuality – check out Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra. In the 1940s one-shoulder styles began to infiltrate the swimwear market with one and two-piece suits sporting the asymmetric neckline. Some sources name Tarzan’s Jane as the inspiration for the look – the sexy cave girl image was apparently propagated through the many sequels to the Tarzan film and even made it onto the printed page in the guise of the comic strip “Cave Girl“. By the end of the 40s the style had begun to creep into formal wear and became a staple look for the full-skirted gowns of the 1950s.

The one-shoulder dress continued to appear on formal gowns, on-and-off, throughout the 60s and came back in a big way in the 70s thanks to designer Roy Halston, only this time it had a much naughtier vibe. Halston is attributed to bringing the cave girl look together with Grecian style gowns to create the sexy, one-shouldered dresses that abounded on dance floors throughout the decade of disco.

However the death of disco did not spell the end of the one-shoulder dress. The versatility of the style has allowed it to change with the trends and spread outside of the formalwear realm into casual, leisure, and even activewear. This has allowed the one shoulder dress to maintain a steady presence on the fashion landscape and lead to an overall revival of the asymmetric style in 2007. A quick look at any store, online shopping site or red carpet event, will show that this revival is still going on and the one-shoulder dress remains a steady favourite of fashionistas everywhere.

…of the name: The dress has only one shoulder strap, hence the name.

Random Facts

  • a search for Tarzan on IMDb returns 200 matches! While not all of them are about Tarzan, King of the Jungle, a lot of them are. That is quite the legacy.

For more info on One-Shoulder Dresses try Suzanne Wexler, SMH, Fashionising or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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