A Simple Glossary for Vintage Dress Styles – Part 1

Can you tell a flapper dress from a shift dress? Do you know what a drop waist is? Or can you distinguish what era a dress might have been from just from it’s neckline? The construction and style of a dress can tell us a lot about which era it was made in. That’s why it’s important for any vintage fashion fancier to be clued up on all the various terms when it comes to vintage fashion! So to keep you in the know, here’s a really easy to understand fashion glossary, so you too will be able to spot vintage a mile off!

Michael Kors Flapper Dress

Flapper Dress – Flappers were women of the 1920s who were happy to throw conventional styles out of the window. They wore loose, boyish dresses without corsets that were cut slightly higher on the leg than other dresses of the era. They were often decorated with bugle beads!   Drop Waist – Where the waist of the dress sits lower on the body than the natural waist, usually just above the hips. This was another poplar 20s style.


'Patience' Wedding Gown, Bias Cut.

Bias Cut – A dress cut from fabric laid on the diagonal, so the grain is from corner to corner. It leads to a dress with a more flowing and elegant fit. Popular in the 30s.   Circle Skirt – A skirt cut from a circle of fabric so it has lots of volume. Popular in the 1950s and 60s. Petticoat – A fluffy netted underskirt worn under a dress or skirt to give it plenty of volume. Popular in the 50s.   Sweetheart neckline – A neckline shaped like the top of a heart, popular in the 1950s on rockabilly dresses. Wiggle dress – A dress so tightly fitted to the figure that you have to ‘wiggle’ into it. Popular in the 40s and 50s.   Shift Dress – A simple, short, above-the-knee dress without a fitted waist or bodice. Popular in the late 60s as part of ‘mod’ style fashion.   A Line Dress – A dress shaped like a capital ‘A’ with a flared skirt and fitted top. Peter Pan Collar – Cute, rounded collars often found on 60s blouses and dresses.   Maxi Dress – A casual, floor-length dress made popular in the 70s, often made of chiffon or cotton, and in a bohemian style.   Boning – plastic or metal bars used to shape the bodice of a dress to the body. These are sewn into the bodice and help the dress keep it’s shape.   Lining – An extra layer of fabric used on the inside of a dress, more expensive and authentic vintage dresses are nearly always lined. Sometimes with polyester, but the best are lined with silk.   Cap Sleeve – A sleeve that covers the shoulder, but is shorter than a ‘t-shirt’ length sleeve. Epaulets – Popular in the 80s, these were decorative shoulder pads, and were often made in a military style. Imagine what Victorian military officers would wear on their shoulders, and you’ll get the idea.   Hourglass Silhouette – a dress or clothing shaped like an hourglass; bust and hips in equal proportion with a nipped in waist. This figure was desirable in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s.

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