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Item of the week: the shift dress

By Rachel Douglass


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French Connection, Vero Moda and Na-kd. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

What it is:

Back when it originated in the 1920s, the shift dress was considered a radical fashion piece for its ousting of more restrictive dress codes. Coco Chanel is often credited with being the mind behind the dress, having designed what is typically deemed the first of its kind, as seen in Vogue during 1926. The look regained popularity in the 1960s, when the mini skirt was having its heyday thanks to Mary Quant, and has since become a definitive wardrobe staple for women worldwide. The shift dress itself is typically defined by a silhouette in which the material falls straight from the shoulders with darts around the bust and either a scoop or boat neckline.

French Connection. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

Why you’ll want it:

The shift dress has remained in fashion now for decades, staying relevant among a consumer that regularly returns to the look for both its classic aesthetic and functional shape. As such, the dress transcends categories, offering a wearable option for both evening and daily wear, making the item even more investment-worthy. The piece is also highly adaptable. While retaining its signature silhouette, there have been enough alterations in the use of print, texture and material, meaning that there are expansive available options out there for a wide ranging target audience.

Ella by Rafaella. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

Where we’ve seen it:

This sentiment was only reaffirmed on the autumn/winter 2024 runways, where the shift dress led the way in the category's trends. There were some very traditional takes on the silhouette that also bore a resemblance to eras of the past. Emilia Wickstead, for example, incorporated a floral print into her geometric boat neck design, while Naeem Khan brought together multiple 20s trends into one dress, combining the shift with shimmer, prints and a fringe hem for a look that truly encapsulated the period. More modernised takes could be seen at Tory Burch, who opted for a dishevelled material, and Michael Kors, whose sparkly number was parted at the waist with gold hoops.

Regetta. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

How to style it:

The shift dress is a fun item to style, providing the wearer with an array of opportunities to elevate their look. It is an easy piece to layer for colder days, for example, with anything from collared shirts to turtleneck knits providing an added warmth and a contrasting material. This can then be rounded off with tights, boots and a long-form overcoat to tie the outfit together. For warmer days, the shift dress can stand alone or can be added to with a thinner overlay, such as a linen shirt. Pair the duo with sneakers or sandals for a breezy outfit.

Rafaella. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

With an abundance of history already under its belt, the shift dress is a tried and true wardrobe staple that has retained its relevance for decades. As such, it is a reliable piece to add to a collection, offering consumers an investment-friendly addition that can take them from season-to-season.

Madewell. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

Similar items available for (pre)order can be found in the FashionUnited Marketplace. You can find them by clicking on this link.

Item of the Week