Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Focus On: Sheath Dresses

by Sherri, sewbettyanddot

What could be more simple and elegant than a sheath dress?

By definition, it is a dress that is close-fitting and (mostly) unadorned; it should be below the knee in length. (The name comes from the holder for a sword, a sheath, which fits tightly around the weapon to keep it safe.) Narrow silhouettes were seen in the 1940s, but the sheath dress as we know it appeared in the 1950s and continues to be popular today--in fact, it's having a fashion moment right now.

These two photo collages show the evolution of the body-conforming shape that evolved into the sheath in its most simplified silhouette, beginning with the body-hugging underdress of the 1930s dress.


What has come to be called a "wiggle dress" (it's not clear exactly when this term developed) is in fact a sheath dress that is narrower at the hem than at the waist; this constriction forces the wearer to walk with her legs very close together, which creates a "wiggle" in her walk. Marilyn Monroe popularized this style of sheath dress.

Sheath dresses are usually nipped in at the waist by darts--in facts, the darts are an integral part of the design and shape--and they serve to accentuate an hourglass figure. Strictly speaking--to my surprise--they are not worn with belts, so the patterns below are all sheaths without belts (I think that definition is a bit restrictive...lots of sheath dress patterns with little belts or sashes abound.) Sheaths can be sleeveless or have sleeves of any length--or even one-shouldered, as seen below (fantastic Pauline Trigere designs). By the way, the sheath is often confused with the shift, another simple dress silhouette...we'll "focus on" shifts in another post.

The classic Little Black Dress (LBD) was originally a simple sheath dress that could be worn unadorned or dressed up with pearls or a brooch. According to Italian Vogue.com, "...perhaps more than any other designer, Coco Chanel was the one who made it ubiquitous. She did not invent the concept, of course, but according to Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life...,'the little black dress was not formally identified as the shape of the future until 1926, when American Vogue published a drawing of a Chanel design.… It was an apparently simple yet elegant sheath, in black crêpe de Chine, with long, narrow sleeves, worn with a string of white pearls; and Vogue proved to be correct in the prediction that it would become a uniform.…'” Of course, it's a quite a journey from that garment to Audrey Hepburn's long black sheath in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," one of the most classic examples of this oh-so-flattering style.

Let's have a look at some shapely sheath dress patterns from the Pattern Patter team!

Top row, left to right: McCall’s 7081: BluetreeSewingStudio
A sheath dress is figure hugging and typically to the knee.It will fit tightly to your body but not as tight as body conscious styles/ bandage dresses. This style has a defined waist and its name comes from "sheath of sword" because it encases or secures the body. - See more at: http://www.commecoco.com/2013/07/difference-between-shift-dress-and.html#sthash.AtGoczf0.dpuf
  sheath dress is figure hugging and typically to the knee.It will fit tightly to your body but not as tight as body conscious styles/ bandage dresses. This style has a defined waist and its name comes from "sheath of sword" because it encases or secures the body. - See more at: http://www.commecoco.com/2013/07/difference-between-shift-dress-and.html#sthash.AtGoczf0.dpuf
  sheath dress is figure hugging and typically to the knee.It will fit tightly to your body but not as tight as body conscious styles/ bandage dresses. This style has a defined waist and its name comes from "sheath of sword" because it encases or secures the body. - See more at: http://www.commecoco.com/2013/07/difference-between-shift-dress-and.html#sthash.AtGoczf0.dpuf

11 comments:

  1. Love all but the McCall's 4928 is beautiful, love the bust details!

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  2. Wonderful article. I enjoyed reading about Coco Chanel's making the LBD a part of every woman's wardrobe.

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  4. I love the Fitted Sheath! My Favorite would have to be the third one top row - Marian Martin. The sheer simplicity of it.

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  5. Beautiful dress patterns! I love them! Now, I will have to list some of my sheath dresses, someday.

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  6. My fave is the Butterick (3rd one, 2nd row, 2nd from left). I love the neckline and chic look.

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  7. This is my favorite: https://www.etsy.com/listing/184161720/vintage-1950s-mccalls-4928-jr-miss

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  8. Great article, and great featured designs! I'm long in love with that Trigere dress, but I'm with vintageneedle - the one I'd really love to wear is McCall's 4928. I love that neckline!

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  9. Gorgeous featured dress patterns!

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  10. Love the article and the featured design pattern. The Sheath style dress always reminds me of a mystery love story......Perfect for summer and springtime wear!

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