Through my years of selling women's vintage clothing, I have come across dresses in all shapes and sizes. However, most fall into a certain key look or silhouette. Here I list my top 12 common vintage dress styles. The women's vintage collection featured was available to buy online from Revival Vintage at the time of publishing.
1 The A-Line Vintage Dress
May as well start with letter A. Popular in the 1960s, as the name implies this simple sleeveless dress gets wider towards the hem so that the skirt finishes up broader than the shoulders in an obvious A shape.
The simplistic silhouette is an ideal blank canvas for vibrant highly patterned fabrics. Many sixties knee-length dresses can be found with this silhouette.
2 The Bias Cut Vintage Dress
This style of dress screams Hollywood glamour. Popular in the 1930s, the fluid drapes are achieved by cutting the dress fabric pieces on the cross-grain of the fabric rather than parallel with the warp or weft grain. It allows the fabric to cling to the figure and fall in folds like a Greek Goddess. Best suited to silk and fine Jersey knits. These Art Deco dresses make a reappearance every once in a while for evening gowns, bridal wear and lingerie. When the dress is fitted to the hips with a sharp flare at the hem or train they are often referred to as fishtail or mermaid dress.
3 The Dropped Waist Vintage Dress
We associate this dress style with the 1920s and early 1930s. They were also some around in the 1960s and 1980s where a blouson style drop-waist version became a popular dress style complete with sash. A drop waist dress comprises of an extended bodice with a shorter, usually gathered, pleated or godet set skirt. You won’t find many vintage drop-waist dresses to buy online at Revival vintage because we specialise in 1940's and 50s clothing but we do have a few at the moment.
A timeless example of a drop-waist dress is a sailor dress with sailor-style collar and ribbon trim.
4 The Empire Line Vintage Dress
The opposite of a drop waist vintage dress is, of course, the Empire line dress which has a straight, curved or V-shaped seam just below the bust. We usually associate this type of Antique dresses with the start of the 1900s. They were a more comfortable alternative to the earlier more corseted styles.
The shape of the dress helps to lengthen the body's appearance. Here the word Empire refers to the period of the First French Empire.
The Empire line dress re-appeared in the 1960s along with other doll-like silhouettes. The sixties and seventies Empire mini dresses were constructed in less floaty fabrics such as Crimplene. They often had puffed, balloon or leg ‘o’ mutton sleeves.
5 The Fit and Flare Dress
A classic vintage or retro dress style that has remained popular through most decades from the 1940s onwards. This flattering dress suits most figure types and is one of my own favourites. The fit and flare dress usually has a simple bodice with darts from the waist into the bust-line. The necklines vary - round, square, sweetheart necklines to name a few. The skirt is flat over the tummy and flares out with extra fabric towards the hem. If laid flat the skirt would be half-circle, commonly known as a semi-circle skirt or a full-circle skirt. This style of vintage dress is often associated with 1940's and 1950s dances. If the skirt extends from a higher than the natural waistline it is usually called a Swing dress. This cut allows lots of movement potential…. the dress will “swing” when you walk or dance!
6 The Mini Dress
The mini dress as we know it today emerged in the early 60s. Mary Quant was at the forefront with her Chelsea look mini dresses but other designers followed her lead. Sold firstly in Kings Rd boutiques and promoted with models like Twiggy with her lean figure they soon became a hit with young and older alike. The mini dress has continued to turn heads ever since. Modern versions include the satin slip dress which is also inspired by lingerie designers.
7 The Maxi Dress
At the other end of the scale, we had full-length maxi dresses which skimmed our floors during the 1970s. Laura Ashley was a popular designer of these milkmaid, prairie style frocks, breathing new life into Victorian and Edwardian floral prints. When other designers got on board we started to see more glamorous halter neck party versions in silver and other lurex fabrics. We associate Kaftan style maxi dresses with hippies of the decade.
8 Midi Vintage Dresses
For those who like to hedge their bets. A calf-length flared dress also extremely popular in the seventies and pretty much for most day dresses since. Ossie Clark and his wife Celia Birtwell designed some fabulous midi dresses in the late 60s and 70s.
9 The Sheath or Wiggle Vintage Dress
A fitted dress style that extends below the knees, therefore limiting the width of your stride. More suited to dainty steps rather than a dash for the bus. Modern fabrics for this type of retro dress have elastane added to compensate a little.
10 The Vintage Shift Dress
We definitely associate these with the swinging sixties mini dresses.Similar to the sheath and wiggle frocks but they stop at the knee or shorter! Again the basic darted or Princess seamed shape suits bold fabrics as there is little detail to get lost in the pattern, which was typically a psychedelic, stylised floral or an abstract, geometric design. They have a variety of sleeve styles but long straight sleeves were regularly teamed with this dress cut.
11 The Shirt Waister or Bouffant Vintage Dress
Similar to the fit and flare styles with the same type of fitted bodice with a round or boat neckline. However the skirt is Dirndl style, gathered or pleated from the waist seam. A style worn by many women during the 1950s and early 60s. The bodice usually has a basic round or boat neckline. A parallel look was the ‘shirt-waister' style dress which was similar other than it had a button-through bodice and rever collar. You will also see a good range of these dresses online at Revival or at our showroom in Huddersfield. They are often made from cotton but later in the 1950s, you’ll find them in nylon fabrics which were considered a substitute for pure silk.
12 TheTent or Trapeze Vintage Dress
Like the A-line vintage dress, these start out with a simple bodice shape. However, rather than a straight widening towards the hem, they flare out dramatically. They suit fluid lighter weight fabrics such as a fine jersey. A shorter version of this dress is often referred to as a baby doll dress.
We all know which of the dozen suits us the most. Another benefit from choosing a vintage dress over a new mass-produced one is that you can buy what you feel good in without being governed by the latest looks - which tend to change overnight anyway! Not only are you being kinder to our planet, like cream cakes you can have a little of what you fancy and create your own unique looks.