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Vintage Shirtwaist Dresses - Comfortable Chic Style

Updated on December 21, 2012

Shirtwaist Dresses are a classic 50's favorite

Think of the 50's and you'll probably picture a fitted waist dress with a full circle skirt. It's a classic look known as the shirtwaist dress.

Add some pearls and a nice heel and you're set for a night out, dinner or just to go out looking nice. This style is chic and comfortable. The dresses are usually made of rayon, cotton, a cotton blend or even silk. The details can change - buttons, cuffed or uncuffed sleeves, peter pan collar or no collar but the silhouette remains. Shirtwaist dresses have a fitted bodice that usually buttons in the front, a defined waist, full or circle skirt and short or three quarter length sleeves.

A Short History Of The Shirt Waist Dress

Fashion Classic Dress

Today the term "shirtwaist dress" is used loosely to mean any type of dress that has a fitted bodice and waist with a flared skirt. In the 1800's into the Edwardian era shirtwaists for women were a type of tailored women's blouse which was worn separately from a skirt and was patterned after a man's shirt. It gave women some practical fashion freedom because it wasn't as fitted as other garments and had a plainer less fussy look.

This look later evolved into a dress that still mimicked the clean lines of a man's shirt with a crisp collar and button front. The length was just below the knee or longer and they tended to be made from lighter fabric such as cotton. They became associated with working women because they were comfortable, practical, and professional looking.

In the 1940s, the shirtwaist dress became even more popular as more women entered the workforce. By the 1950s, thanks to Dior's New Look with tight waists and full circle skirts the shirtwaist dress evolved into the tucked waist and full crinoline skirt look that had a more exaggerated silhouette.

The shirtwaist dress still retains the basic qualities that have made it so popular through the years. It has clean, crisp lines that project a comfortable and confident look. The sleeves can be short, ¾ length or full length but they allow for freedom of movement. The fabric tends to be lightweight and easy to care for. Embellishments are usually in the fabric patterns or small design details that enhance the simple styling. Shirtwaist dresses will always be in style and will remain a fashion staple.

Our Favorite Dress Fashions on 1950s TV

The Stylemakers

1. Donna Reed "The Donna Reed Show" 1958-66

Loving homemaker Donna, (dressed impeccably) along with her pediatrician husband Alex, and their children Mary and Jeff go through life's ups and downs together. Donna often wore a carefree neck scarf, another 50's fashion staple.

2. Lucille Ball- "I Love Lucy" 1951-57

Don't you love each and every outfit she wore?! What style, even in a house dress.

3. Barbara Billingsley "Leave It To Beaver" 1957-63

Everyone's favorite TV Mom, June Cleaver could do anything in her shirtwaist dresses and trademark pearls.

Sassy Silhouettes from the 50s

Good illustrations showing the look and styles (ok a little idealized) but great inspiration

Hey Viv ! Retro Pin Up Dresses
Hey Viv ! Retro Pin Up Dresses

Retro Dresses at Hey Viv !

Retro 50's Style Dresses - pencil dresses, fit and flare and full skirt styles

Why Do You Love Shirtwaist Dresses?

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    • HeyVivRetro profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I love them because they are comfortable. I can wear one to work and then out to dinner afterwards and feel like I'm dressed just right :)

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 

      6 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Sassy silhouettes from the 50s definitely include these women's vintage dresses.

    • ClassyGals profile image

      Cynthia Davis 

      6 years ago from Pittsburgh

      Sassy silhouettes from the 50s definitely include these women's vintage dresses.


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