The Shirtdress: a curated history

I‘m a total sucker for shirtdresses (or you may be a bit old fashioned and call them “shirtwaisters”). I like the idea of a dress with a collar, or a dress that looks like one long shirt. And even if it’s fitted, it’s not telling you it is. One’s figure is definitely there, but not screaming at you. It’s so simple, so, I don’t know, 50s screen beauty sipping lemonade on the veranda.

I started thinking about them again when I saw this Stella dress last spring.


{photos: style.com and net-a-porter.com}

I know, I’ve posted about Stella before, but I am always inspired by her uncomplicated breezy chic. And how she gets away with such direct rehashing of the 70s and 80s. (We don’t mind, we just go along under the McCartney spell, and now she’s telling us stirrup pants are in. Oh boy. I really thought she was done putting the worst of the 80s in front of us.)

And then I saw this lovely dress for fall. Normally this might be a bit too hippie for me, but tartans are everywhere now, and it appeals to my inner Scottish warrior. (I dream of what this might look like in a MacDonald tartan.)



{photos: freepeople.com}

My fascination with shirtdresses was brought on about seven years ago by a floaty striped cotton number in a local boutique. It had this 40s/50s film star appeal, it fit me beautifully, and it was the last one left. I’m still killing myself for not buying it.

In my hunt for the perfect pattern to replicate the lost shirtdress, I’ve gotten lost in a sea of decades and vintage pattern sites. These are my favorite three so far, from the 40s, 50s, and 70s, respectively:



I picked these for their special details, like the unusual raglan sleeve seams on the red dress, the tucks on the 70s dress, and the big house-wife pockets on the 40s dress. It’s pretty fun traveling through the decades to see the shapes change, so here ya go:

A curated gallery of shirtdresses from the decades!

(Click to view an image description and scroll the whole gallery.)

1940s

Hollywood 1665, 1945

1950s

Kate Marchbanks 8454, 1950sMcCall's 9745, 1954Simplicity 4960, 1955Advance 7993, 1956Vogue 9397, 1958Advance 8730, 1958

1960s

Spadea A-2128, 1962Butterick 9941, 1960sButterick 5557, 1968

1970s

Vogue 8300, 1970sSimplicity 5398, 1972Butterick 6557, 1970sSimplicity 7050, 1970sButterick 3927, 1970sButterick 6809, 1970s

1980s

Butterick 5927, 1980sMcCall's 4140, 1980Vogue 1785, 1986 (Yves St. Laurent)Simplicity 7889, 1986

{Credits: These patterns were found at Out of the Ashes Collectibles, Heavens to Betsy Vintage, and Etsy sellers. Some I already own.}

A parting shot here from the 80s, in a glamorous ease worthy of Stella:

Vogue 2610, 1980s

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  1. I saw a shorter version on the tartan shirtdress in the By George window today. Your accuracy in perceiving fashion trends amazes me. Oh, and I have to pitch Common Threads again. I went in today; they have some really unique fabrics.

    • Uh oh, I might find myself gravitating toward By George. I haven’t been in there in ages. As for trends, ha ha, I just read fashion magazines a lot. You should see the pile in my office! Tartans are in, too, which Hannah noticed. So that dress mixes two really good things.

      Okay, I definitely have to visit Common Threads. I wish there were more fabric stores here. The only other indie fabric store, Silk Road, moved this summer to the east side in the Flatbed Press building. Expensive, but it is so fun to look at all their silks!

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