What is shift dress? Is it the right dress for your body type?

Shift dresses have been a popular silhouette for many years. While it’s a popular dress style, because there are SO many different dress silhouettes available, it can get confusing to determine what it means, what it is and how to wear it.

That’s why I wanted to shed some light on the shift dress topic for you, to give you clarity around this type of dress and help you feel more confident incorporating it into your own wardrobe.

how to wear shift dress

First things first…

What IS a shift dress?

According to Wiki, a shift dress is a dress silhouette in which the cloth falls straight from the shoulders and has darts around the bust.

In other words, shift dress hangs straight down. So, they are simple in their shape with very clean lines.

A true shift dress is shorter in length, typically at, around or just above the knee area.

SAM EDELMAN Metallic Trim Long Sleeve Shift Dress, Main, color, BLACK
Sam Edelman $138

Traditionally, shift dresses began as sleeveless dresses, however you will likely find shift dresses in short, long and even off the shoulder sleeve styles.

What a shift dress offers is a looser fitting silhouette, rather than form fitting. The great thing about shift dresses is their timelessness. It’s an incredibly classic silhouette, pending you opt for a shift dress in a classic print/pattern/color.

Should You Wear Shift Dresses

In my opinion, shift dresses are universally flattering, so they work for most body types.

If you are an apple shape, you tend to gain weight on your waist and belly, and shift dress is the perfect choice to hide your midsection. Additionally, shift dresses will draw attention to your legs, which are one of the best assets for apple body type.

If you are an hourglass shape, you have full chests and hips. Shift dresses can balance out your curves. Since it is a billowy design, it is not restrictive in your chest area and you will feel more comfortable with movement.

DRESS THE POPULATION Dahlia Long Sleeve Minidress, Main, color, TAUPE LEOPARD MULTI
Dress the Population $198

If you are a pear shape, you have wider hips and thighs. The straight up and down silhouette of shift dresses will bring less attention to your hips and thighs.

If you are a rectangle body type, shift dresses go with your natural body contour. If you want to add more curves, you can try adding a belt with the shift dress, which I will talk about later.

So, as you can see, shift dress is a good option for most of us, because it is so accommodating.

However, due to the fact that shift dresses are a looser silhouette, there are some styling tricks to keep in mind. Especially for petite women! While the shorter length of a shift dress is great for a petite woman, loose fitting dresses can come with obstacles when styling a shorter frame.

Here is a few tips to make shift dresses more flattering for you!

Make Sure it Isn’t TOO Loose

While the benefit of a shift dress comes from the relax, loose fit there’s a fine line to keep in mind. Remember, when you wear loose fitting clothing, it can add weight to our bodies – something NONE of us want!

That being said, I recommend ensuring that the shift dress(es) you wear are loose, but still show the outline of your natural body shape. This will allow you to be comfortable in the loose fit but also keep from your frame being completely overwhelmed by a fit that’s too loose.

ALEX EVENINGS Embellished Lace Shift Dress, Main, color, BLACK/ NUDE
Alex Evenings Petite $169

Choose Length Accordingly

Most of our readers are petite women, but regardless of your height, paying attention to the length of your clothes is an absolute MUST.

The truth is, whether or not you are petite, length can make or break the way a garment looks on your body.

With a shift dress, I recommend selecting something that rests just above the knee.

HARPER ROSE Tweed Shift Dress, Main, color, BLK
Harper Rose Petite $138
GAL MEETS GLAM COLLECTION Ramona Sleeveless Tweed Shift Dress, Main, color, BROWN
Gal Meets Glam Petite $188

While you’re bound to find shift dresses in various lengths, just above the knee will create an elongated effect to your body to balance out the looser fitting silhouette.

Throw On a Structured Jacket

For our petite women (and non-petites!) who need more structure added to their shift dress styling, structured jackets/outer layers are perfect for you to utilize.

Not sure if you need to enlist the help of a structured jacket?

If you feel like your shape is getting lost or looks bigger than you are naturally when wearing a shift dress, this is the styling trick for you to implement.

The great thing about adding a structured blazer over a shift dress is you are going to get the comfort of the shift dress, but the definition of a structured jacket to keep from getting too overwhelmed by the silhouette. Win-win!

I suggest opting for a structured jacket that rests at or just above your hips in length. Jackets that are longer will drag your shape down and won’t do your body any favors. Keep the jackets shorter and structured!

HALOGEN<SUP>®</SUP> Plaid Tweed Jacket, Main, color, NAVY MULTI TWEED
Halogen Petite $159
BOSS Julira Tweed Suit Jacket, Main, color, PILOT FANTASY
Boss Petite $445

Belt It (Wisely)!

Since a shift dress doesn’t have a lot of natural shape on its own, one of the ways to style the silhouette to give it a whole different look, is to add a belt at the waist.

This might sound like an easy trick, but there is several things I want to mention.

First, this works the best for women with hourglass shape and rectangle shape.

For hourglass, you are blessed with small waist, so adding a belt to the shift dress will highlight one of your best assets.

For rectangle shape, since your body type has a boyish figure and look straight up and down, adding a belt will make the shift dress look more feminine on you.

Could this work for apple shape?

I am an apple shape myself, and I recommend using the belt with caution.

The reason is any time you use a belt, it tends to draw attention to your waist. Apple shaped body tend to accumulate weight on the stomach, so you probably should not bring the focus of your shift dress to the waist.

One way I see it could work for apple shape, is that you can use a belt with the same color as your dress. That way, the belt is not as noticeable and will create a subtle definition of your waist.

LEITH Sparkle Tie Waist Shift Dress, Main, color, METALLIC GOLD
Leith $49

Never use the belt of contrasting color, if you have an apple body type, because that will make your belly the first thing people notice on you!

The same principle applies to anyone who are on the curvy side.

Third, be careful with skinny belt.

A lot of us tend to use skinny belt, when it comes to styling a shift dress. If you have a naturally defined waistline like the hourglass, that is fine. If you are on the heavier side, or if you have a noticeable mid section, I suggest you stay away from the skinny belt.

The irony is unless you are really skinny yourself, skinny belt tend to make people look bulkier than they are. Why? It is because of the contrast with such a tiny belt!

So, if you are a plus size, the skinny belt will just look out of proportion with your size, and really make you look even bigger.

I hope you find these tips helpful. If you have any questions about shift dresses or dresses for petites in general, I welcome you comments and questions.