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Easy shift dress
So iconic and every woman’s best friend but how did it all start, how did it come about?
A quick google search for the shift dress will bring up so many choice options. You can have them with long, short or no sleeves, collars or no collars, round, ‘V’ or square neckline and in virtually any length and colour you choose.
This is a classic and timeless dress shape which is incredibly easy for any woman of any size, shape or age to wear. It is a fabulously simple design which hangs comfortably from the shoulders and is roomy enough to “shift” about over the body rather than cling to it’s curves. Making it the perfect dress for those days when you want something a bit less clingy!
Who conceived the shift dress?
Well there are three contenders who claim that they were the designer of the first shift dress and all have a valid claim in their own way.
Firstly there is Lilly Pulitzer. She was an American socialite who lived in Palm Beach Florida. She had asked her dressmaker to design and make simple dresses for her to wear while she helped out on her fruit farm. The dresses had just two basic bust darts and were made in bright, summery, cotton colours. When her friend Jacqueline Kennedy was photographed wearing one of the dresses on vacation and the picture appeared in Life Magazine, the world started to want them. Lily began selling more dresses than fruit and in 1959 the Lilly Pulitzer clothing label was born.
Secondly is Hubert de Givenchy who designed the famous black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961. It was a simple black Knee length shift dress. He also made very similar dresses for many of his clients, including Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco.
Thirdly is the designer Mary Quant. Famous for creating the mini skirt in 1966, she gave the shift dress a new twist by making it much shorter and bringing the style to a whole new audience.
So why after fifty years is this enduring style still with us? What is it’s appeal?
Just last week at the Mercedes Benz New York fashion week, there were designers sending their shift dresses down the runway. Henry Holland had bold floral designs, Desigual used bright colours as did Vivian Tam and Hanae Mori to name just a few. Even current celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry and Kate Middleton have been photographed recently in versions of the dress.
For the sewist, the style endures because the simplicity of the shift dress means that it is the ideal first dress project to make for yourself as the pattern alterations and fitting are so minimal. For the more advanced dressmaker though, the shift dress lends itself to adaptation and design experimentation. The lucidity of the basic pattern means that it can be easily manipulated to take advantage of changing fashion trends such as a more generous or a slimmer fit. Gathers or pleating can be added, it can be a shorter or longer length, with sleeves or no sleeves and embellishments such as collar, button down front and colour blocking.
The shift dress I’ve made today is in a black and white patterned crepe fabric. I didn’t worry too much about the pattern matching as it is a very busy design but it is matched across the back seam.
There is no zip, Just a loop and button fastenung in the back. It is a dream dress to make, very easy and would work well in most fabrics. I have decided to make this version just above knee length but I have made them longer and shorter before. By changing the type of fabric used, you can ensure that this is truly a dress for all of the seasons.
I am excited to announce that I am calling this dress the Dallia Shift Dress and it is going to be one of the patterns that I make available for you to download from my collection later in the year.