How many types of dress do you know?

posted in: Designing | 16

I wrote a post about how many different types of skirts there are, which is one of my most popular posts!

As I am studying dresses this term I thought I might zip through the main types of dress. With a dizzying array of patterns available sometimes it is easy to forget that there are just a few basic shapes that the designer plays with.

I have already written about the difference between a shift and a sheath dress, two of the most basic one piece dress designs. And just last week I covered the princess line dress. The word one-piece includes all dresses with no waist seam. Let’s just have an image of each.

  • The shift tends to fall from the upper chest with some volume towards the hem (A line or wider) with minimal shaping into the waist from darts. It is fairly easy fitting with a very simple almost childish shape
  • The sheath is fitted around the bust waist and hips – usually tracing the outline of the figure closely.
  • The princess line is made up of horizontal sections, seamed across the bust and hips, often comprising six panels. The dress can be close or loose fitting but will follow the contours of the bust and waist, but may or may not flare out towards the hem. Many fit and flare dresses are created as a princess line dress. Of the three dresses this is the one that lends itself to the closest fit as it avoids the limitations of darts.
  • The shirt dress is another very distinctive style which looks like an extended shirt, ie it has a collar, buttons down the front often to the hem and usually has shirt sleeves with cuffs. It was originally created (in the 1940s) by joining a skirt and shirt together, but it developed into a one piece dress.
  • The easy fitting dress often omits darts in the body. This dress is based on a looser fitting dress block.


Turning to the two piece dress, ie dresses which have a vertical seam, usually at the waist (although this can be higher or lower too). This allows all the versions of bodices/tops to be combined with all the versions of the skirts. Here are some common options.


  • The full skirted dress. Here the bodice is often fairly fitted with darts or princess seams and the skirt is gathered or pleated
  • The empire line dress – the seam is placed under the bust allowing a close fit and often a more flowing skirt
  • The dropped waist skirt – the waist line is closer to the hip, usually involving a fairly loose fitted bodice and a fuller skirt

Finally there are draped and asymmetrical dresses which defy the rules to some extent. These modern dresses put seam lines in unusual places to create structure, fullness or novel silhouettes. I include the technical drawings so you can see how they are shaped.

Have I missed any important categories? And which type of dress do you like making?

16 Responses

    • fabrickated

      I was wondering about the wrap dress Ruth – especially as the Donna Karen above is sort of one. Then I thought it was a version of the shirt dress really – but I am not sure if my classification system makes much sense really!

  1. ChaCha

    I wish I could just find a style of dress that suited my figure but was equally modern! Difficult when your hips and waist are two sizes apart from each other 🙂

    • fabrickated

      I think I am roughly the same shape as you ChaCha and I am going to try a sheath dress and a princess dress to see what works with my shape. But I would say fit and flare is the perfect look, as is any dress with a fitted bodice and a fuller skirt.

  2. Sheryll

    First things that come to mind are: bias cut, t-shirt dress, pinafore/jumper, japanese kimono, coat dress – depending on the style some of these could fit into your existing categories though!

    • fabrickated

      Ah yes! Thanks Sheryll for developing the theme. I guess the T shirt dress might be an easy fit, the pinafore/jumper could go with most of the other styles (the full waisted dress, and the dropped waist above are varied with blouses underneath), and a coat dress is possibly a version of the shirt dress? However I think the kimono – actually the kimono sleeve which is extended from the bodice – could be an additional category.

  3. Judith Cheney

    I remember back when it was the thing, I wore the sack dress. It suited my short waisted figure & was very comfortable (as well as chic at the time). It was narrower at the hem & a little more volume through the torso.

  4. DementedFairy

    All good [except I had a mathematical twitch at you mixing up vertical and horizontal tut tut]. To me, a 2-piece dress is precisely that, two separate pieces worn as a dress. Not very common these days of course. I’m glad you agree with my definition of fit-and-flare, I’ve debated that recently elsewhere!

  5. jay

    I’ve never thought about how many dress types there might be – even though we use these definitions more or less precisely. There’s the hemline thing too – mini, midi, maxi, (sounds like something Caesar might have muttered in a less boastful moment). I’ll try most styles, but sackish doesn’t usually work on me.

    • fabrickated

      Mini, midi, maxi – yes very funny. Although hem length is such a basic issue and one that can be changed so easily it matters very much to our overall view of a dress. I often see people with a dress too short or too long (in my opinion) – and I am talking about the balance of the look rather than the shape of someone’s body or legs. I think it may have something to do with our instinct for “correct” proportions – something Demented Fairy has been looking at.

  6. seamsoddlouise

    Shifts suit me and included in that loose sack dress styles. I love the look of fitted clothes on me but I feel uncomfortable about an hour after I leave the house! Empire style is good for me too. Great post again Kate, I love how you get us all thinking each week.

  7. Stephanie

    Yes, it’s kind of fun to think this way, although I tend to think of dresses in broad style categories such as fitted/unfitted, swishy/crispy, sporty/dressy. 🙂 I think I’m becoming more of a dress person than I realized, as I feel an impulse to make more..

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