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Shift Dress – A Dress to Suit All Occasions

Shift Dress – A Dress for Any Moment

The shift dress is a simple dress that emerged in the 1920s. Short and straight with a simple line and generally sleeveless during the early days, it was made famous by Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy. Today, Michelle Obama, First Lady of USA is known for her shift dresses.

Audrey Hepburn Jackie Kennedy Michelle Obama

Also known by the term ‘sheath dress’, The basic style remains the same today. It is short, generally above the knee and in a straight or A-cut. The most common form is still the sleeveless shift dress with boat neck or one close to the neck. Most don’t have a definition at the waist.
But much has changed. You can play around with the neckline, with turtle necks, scoop necks, off-shoulders and collars making their entry. You can wear a sleeveless, half-sleeve or full-sleeved shift. A cinch at the waist or the use of a belt, thin or wide, makes the dress the perfect fit for you.
Since the dress is simple in style, accessories play an important role in getting just the right look. Audrey Hepburn was known for her pearls. Take a look at Jackie Kennedy with the white gloves and purse. Michelle Obama with the perfect double-strand pearl necklace, pearl stud earrings and a steel watch makes for a perfect image in her official White House portrait.
The shift dress is one of the most versatile dresses that suits business, casual and evening wear. All it requires is that you follow the guidelines for the occasion. Choose colors, style and pattern that flatter your skin tone and body shape.

Business Wear

At the outset, we need to clarify that you can wear a shift dress that defines the waist if that suits you. You can use a collar or retain a round neck, depending on the occasion and the style of clothes that are apt for your office. On fully formal occasions, you can wear a full-sleeved shift dress with a collar. Choose the formal colors of black, grey, charcoal, navy blue. When necessary, a jacket of the same shade completes the look. Make sure the fabric is crisp and firm.







For less formal business wear, you can choose shades in cream, tan or a limited range of pastels like the blue.

The shift does not demand jewellery in business wear, so keep it to the minimum, a pair of stud earrings at best. Complete the formal look with stockings and close-toe shoes.

When you are headed from the workplace to an official dinner, you can change the entire look by complementing the same shift dress with a belt, a soft jacket or wrap, some bright pieces of jewellery and a clutch in addition to open-toe shoes. You will find that with suitable change in the accessories, you can easily make a shift dress suitable for business and semi-social occasions.

Casual Wear

Casual wear has fewer guidelines and greater range that can be confusing. But the choice becomes manageable once you decide upon the look for the day. The question is whether you want the careful casual look or the carefree casual look. There is a big difference between the two.
With the careful casual look, you would project the image of a stable, dependable person while the carefree casual look shows the impulsive, exciting side of you. Know the occasion and the image you need to project before choosing the look.
Let’s suppose you are meeting an acquaintance over coffee in the afternoon, you would do well to choose the careful casual look. Choose the color and fabric based on the season. Winters call for darker colors, dark leggings or stockings and layered clothing. Summers demand pastels and whites. A light-weight jacket in soft fabric can add to that careful casual look. The shift itself has to be in straight lines with carefully matched minimal accessories. You may wear open-toed shoes to retain the casual look.

On the other hand, if you are out for lunch with a friend or are out shopping, you can go for the carefree casual look. Both the dress and the accessories play an equal role in achieving this. The style and pattern of the dress needs to be curved or rounded. A turtle neck can be large without being a symmetrical circle. Use a wide belt that contrasts or brightens the look.

Knee-length boots or open shoes with funky design add to the carefree look. Hair is not groomed to perfection, but can be left free and open. Go for bold accessories like chunky jewellery and jewelled or steel handle bags. The leopard print cap in the image is an example of a bold accessory. Sandals are fun to wear with summer time shift dresses. A bright colored scarf tied around the waist or head would go well with it.

Evening Wear

Black is one of the safest in evening wear. This applies to shift dresses too. While that may be so, your choice of the shift dress depends on the occasion. It depends on whether you are going for a quiet dinner or are headed to a fun party.

For a quiet and formal dinner, you would project chic and poise with a touch of softness about you. From satin to lace, the fabric can be sheer and soft. You can pair it with a soft jacket or wrap. A choice of lace and embroidery can give a touch of brightness to your evening wear shift dress.

When you dress for an evening of fun and frolic, you would want to project the excitement and the complete ease with which you move in the surroundings. Bold prints or a long-sleeved mini shift would be right for a happening evening for the youth.


In either case, complement the dress with a black, sequined, jewelled or matching clutch, a pair of high-heeled, fun-design shoes. The shoes can be quirky and still meet the demands of both styles of evening wear.

In conclusion, shift dresses are popular with the youth and the middle-aged for the freedom of movement they provide while providing a stylish look. They generally do not contour the body although that’s more a guideline than a rule. Buy a shift dress that suits many occasions and use accessorises to project a different look with the same dress and enjoy the day or night.

We are doing a series of blog posts related to the shift dress to meet the needs of your business, social and evening commitments.

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