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Sheath or shift?

2010 August 17
by elizabeth_admin

I’ve noticed lately that the terms sheath and shift have been used interchangeably.  I’ve always thought of them as vastly different styles, with sheaths being fitted dresses and shifts being almost shapeless a-line dresses.

So I did a little interwebs research and this is what I found. 

“Shift dresses have no waist definition and are not snug against the body which makes them favorable for hot days as well as various body shapes.  Theses dresses do a better job at softening the body shape by producing a sleek outline on the outside instead of aligning with individual body shapes.  The dresses are easy to slip on and the comfort level is a total plus.”  From

“A sheath dress features a figure-hugging silhouette with a defined waist (no belt or waistband).  From

This started me wondering whether wiggle dresses were sheath dresses or a class of their own.  And here’s what I found.

“The sexier option for women’s dress was the wiggle or pencil skirt. The shape of the wiggle skirt is high and tight pleated waist, form fitting through hips, and slightly tapered through the knee.”   From

Butterick 5147

Interesting, eh?  So the woven dresses I have been making, B5147 are definitely sheath dresses.  I guess I could make them into a wiggle dress if I tapered the skirt near the hem.  Hmm…  That might be a good idea for the dress I’m making for the wedding in a couple of weeks.  And no, I haven’t started it yet.  I am a very busy girl these days.  I’ll tell you why later.  😉

7 Responses leave one →
  1. August 17, 2010

    Those are helpful definitions! I never even heard of a wiggle dress. That clinches it though – sheaths are my friend….shifts, not so much.

  2. August 17, 2010

    That’s interesting! I’m on the hippy side, and I’ve found that the shift style makes me look HUGE, while the sheath actually slims. I’ve never tried a wiggle dress–will have to do that after this baby gets here…

  3. August 18, 2010

    Elizabeth, I really enjoyed participating in the sheath dress sewalong, and learned a lot. I hope you do another one sometime soon!

  4. August 18, 2010

    Ok, that’s what I thought, glad to know I’m not on crack :). I like the sheaths, too… shifts just make me feel (even more) shapeless. Which makes me wonder who they actually flatter, if the curvier ladies don’t like them either… 😉

  5. August 18, 2010

    I did not know that there was a definition for a wiggle dress! Sounds so sexy!

    I posted over on the PR board about the NYC trip next Saturday – I completely missed the post back in June, so I’m glad I read about it on your post below, as I was going to take a day off of work to visit the stores that are closed on the weekends (mainly Elliott Berman and Kashi). Thinking more about it though, I’d be happy even just going to Metro (in fact it’d be better if I didn’t go to EB – I’d get my credit card into a lot of trouble). If Kashi is definitely opening for us on the 28th, I’m in. Looking forward to meeting you! Peter (@ MPB) has said that you are just lovely. 😉

  6. August 18, 2010

    Oh this is good to know! I have always called a fitted dress a shift dress, and thought sheath was an American term for the same thing! (I should clarify that here in NZ we use UK English as opposed to American English, so our ‘English’ often varies!)
    Funny that I have recently made a real shift dress, ie very straight through the waist, and while I was making it I was thinking “this is going to be a shapeless sack” but it actually suits my rectangle shape much more than I thought it would! It probably wouldn’t suit a pear shape. It was a 60’s pattern, when they had a lot of shapeless shifts , with the ‘youthful’ look was in fashion – not that it makes me look any more youthful!!

  7. August 25, 2010

    Ah nice! Thanks for clearing this one up. Now I want to look back through my blog to make sure I didn’t use the wrong one by chance!

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