Young woman in shift dress outside

The shift dress has become a timeless silhouette. It can be dressed up or dressed down, and can be adapted to wear in any season. The simple styling of the shift dress makes it a versatile piece, lending itself to a variety of fabrics and accessories.


A shift dress is a simple, short, above-the-knee dress. The bust is fitted with darts, and the skirt is either cut straight or with a narrow A-line. The dress doesn't provide any definition to the waist, and the neckline is usually a fairly high scoop neck or boatneck. A shift dress is typically sleeveless, although short-sleeve and long-sleeve versions are also popular. A shift dress can be created in a variety of styles.


The shift dress silhouette was first worn in the 1920s by flappers--young women who were defying social norms. The classic flapper dress was a short shift dress, often decorated with fringe or other types of embellishment. The shift dress became popular because it was comfortable and easy to dance in. At the time, the silhouette was a breakaway from cinched-waist styles that had been in vogue for women.

Growth of the Shift Dress

The shift dress silhouette experienced a revival in the 1960s. Lilly Pulitzer, who operated a juice stand in Palm Beach, Florida, often wore brightly colored, patterned shift dresses when she worked at the stand. At customers’ requests, Pulitzer began to also sell shift dresses. “Lilly” dresses, as they came to be known, surged in popularity after first lady and friend Jackie Kennedy was photographed wearing one in Life magazine. Pulitzer went on to create her eponymous fashion line, which still features the classic shift dress.

How to Wear a Shift Dress

Because of its narrow cut, shift dresses are easiest to wear for women with a boyish shape. The straightness of the dress fits tightly at the hips but loosely at the waist, making it hard to fit an hourglass shape. It is commonly worn with a belt to provide waist definition. Cotton sleeveless versions are popular in summer, and a shift can be paired with tights to wear in winter.

Famous Shift Dress Wearers

Actress Audrey Hepburn famously wore black sleeveless shift dresses, both on-screen and off. First lady Michelle Obama wore a sleeveless black dress in her first official White House portrait. Obama has become known for pairing shift dresses and cardigans.