Shirtdress

AKA: shirtwaist dress, shirtwaister

How to say it:  shurt-dres

Traditional Features: 

Shirtdress

  • mimics the design elements of a men’s shirt – collar, button front, cuffed sleeves, rounded hem
  • often tailored to hug the figure and can be worn with a belt to further highlight the waist
  • can have a variety of shapes, but modern styles often look like a long, tailored shirt

21st Century Shirtdresses

The shirtdress continues to be a fashion staple in the 21st century with loads of options available on the marketplace. Modern designers have branched out from the traditional design features, utilising a variety of collar styles, lengths and fabrics to produce shirtdresses in all shapes and colours, keeping the style alive and relevant in the new millennium.

3.1 Phillip Lim Halston Heritage

3.1 Phillip Lim, Halston Heritage

Thakoon Addition TOPSHOP

Thakoon Addition, TOPSHOP

Origins…

…of the style: The shirtdress, or shirtwaister as it was known in the days of old, has been worn by women since the beginning of the 20th century, but it was the 1950s when it really made an impact on women’s fashion.

During WWII, the shirtdress was a simple, slimline, utilitarian affair, popular with women of the time because it adhered to fabric rationing and was a comfortable, versatile style in a time of austerity. In 1947, Christian Dior released his ‘New Look‘ collection, which celebrated the post-War era of plenty reintroducing full skirts, corsets, small waists and an overall femininity that had been missing during the War. Amongst his ground breaking collection was the shirtdress, Cherie. This stunning navy garment is considered to be the piece that introduced the shirtdress to the world of fashion. It was fitted in the bodice, with a shirt collar, button-down front, elbow sleeves and a wasp waist. The skirt flared out from the waist in a plethora of hand-pressed pleats that opened towards the hem creating a very full, midi-length skirt (that probably has petticoats or some other form of support underneath). Basically it was the ‘New Look’ silhouette in a dress and it was (and still is) stunning.

From this first exquisitely designed step in 1947, the shirtdress became the quintessential outfit for the perfect housewives of the 1950s, projecting the ideals of domesticity and conformity of the era. It was comfortable, flattering and versatile, allowing a woman to keep her perfect family fed, cleaned and comfortable, OR go to work/school (as more and more women were doing) all in the one beautiful garment.

The elaborate pleating in Dior’s original style was popular through the first half of the 50s, but was soon removed from the style in favour of a smoother (although still full) silhouette. As the decade progressed into the 60s, the skirt on the shirtdress became narrower and the button-down front extended all the way down to the hemline (which did rise significantly in the 60s). The narrow, belted shirtdress remained popular through the 1970s as the hemlines dropped back towards the floor, while the 80s saw the style reimagined with a boxy silhouette, heavy on the shoulder pads in both long and short styles.

The 90s saw a return to a fuller skirt, with the collar often removed, and in the naughties the shirtdress actually began to look like an extra long shirt. With a shirt collar, rounded hemlines (that often dipped more at the back like a men’s shirt does), button down front and breast pockets, the 21st century has taken the style back to its roots, with a lot of artistic license used along the way.

The modern shirtdress has been reinvented over and over by designers wanting to put their own spin on this classic garment. The versatility, simplicity and wearability of the shirtdress is what has allowed the style to withstand a century’s worth of changing fashion trends, and it is these attributes that will no doubt keep the style alive well into the new millennium.

…of the name: The shirtdress has transplanted many of the design features of a men’s shirt into a dress, hence the name.

Random Facts

  • the excessive pleating on the skirt of Dior’s Cherie dress created a huge (HUGE) seam allowance, but Dior was such a master craftsman that he folded the extra fabric under and used it to pad the hips, and thus helping shape the skirt of his iconic design.

For more info on Shirtdresses try Textural, Made by Monet, The Costume Institute  or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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