What’s the Difference? Shift Dress vs. Sheath Dress

As a follow-up to last week's "Dress for Your Body Shape Series," I thought it would be appropriate to shed some light on a question that frequently befuddles even the most conscious fashionista: What's the difference between a "shift dress" and a "sheath dress"? A feature article published by the Washington Post a few years back offered a great explanation:
"A shift is commonly confused with a sheath, and the two words have more in common than the way they sound. Both refer to uncomplicated-looking dresses that end somewhere around the knee. The difference is that a shift tends to be less fitted around the waist and hips. Its straight lines are sweet and waifish in a way that the sheath, with all of its body-clinging tenacity, never will be."
According to Fashion 101: A Crash Course in Clothing, the sheath was so named because it straight lines resembled a knife sheath. Huh. For me, the best way to remember the difference is that a shift dress actually shifts - with the bottom having a wider skirt than the top; meanwhile, a sheath dress is narrower, with pretty much identical measurements at the bust and the knees. Here is a visual tool to help illustrate the difference:
Shift Dress vs. Sheath Dress

As the ultimate Triangle, I was so grateful to finally learn the difference. These days I skip trying on the sheath dresses altogether (as they never fit me quite right) and to make the shift dress a staple of my business wardrobe. UPDATE! Recently, I've discovered the perfect solution for rocking a sheath dress with a curvier, bottom-heavy frame: knits! Check out this post for more ideas about how to style a sheath dress using knit pieces!







You might also be interested in...