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Style notes: How to find and style your perfect shift dress for 2016

Your guide to shopping for shift dresses online

The shift dress (or trapeze dress, as its also known) is a timeless, classic item of clothing that’s both functional and versatile, taking you easily from work to bar. Thanks to the body-hugging style of the dress it’s a chic option for most body types because of its forgiving shape and slimming silhouette. A regular on the catwalks season to season, it’s a fashion designer favorite.

Looking to buy shift dresses online? 

Take a look at our style guide before you shop, then head over to our comparison tables on our shopping pages and compare the newest selection of dresses. If you are looking for an investment piece you can search by high-end brands. Or if you’re looking for a whole new wardrobe opt for a cheap shift dress in every color. 

What is a shift dress?

Shift dresses have a clean, sleek silhouette. They are tight around the shoulders and bust and usually fall just above the knee. From the bust it hangs loosely and is either cut straight or in a slight A-line. The shift dress skims the waist and hips and is usually sleeveless with a high neckline. However, long-sleeved versions are also available for cooler weather or for those who are self-conscious of their upper arms.

Traditional shift dresses for women featured little or no detail and a simple boatneck collar. But the latest contemporary designs often feature embellishment or embroidery around the neckline.

A fashionable history of the shift dress

Ladies shift dresses became popular in the fifties, though they originated with the flappers in the 20s. Flappers now-iconic look of a short shift dresses with fringing, feathers and sparkles was the representation of femininity.

Sixties designer Lilly Pulitzer revived the modern-day classic shift dress when she sought a dressmaker to create an outfit for her to wear during her time working at a juice stand in Florida. The bright yellow, orange, pink and green dresses attracted the attention of her customers who asked her to make and sell them, which she did, under the name ‘the Lily dress.’ Shift dress sales have sky-rocketed since and the style remains as popular in 2015 as it was in the twentieth century.

What body shapes does the shift dress fit?

The shift dress is an extremely wearable and flattering option for most body shapes. Even better, it's never dated and will quickly become a go-to staple that will see you through all seasons – the rest of your clothes will get jealous!

Hourglass You have an enviously curvy figure with a defined waist and fuller bust and hips. A shift dress can look fabulous on you. To make the most of your gorgeous figure belt the waist of the dress and draw attention to your middle with a cropped jacket.

Apple You tend to carry weight around your bust and middle and have slim legs and hips. Look for a shift dress that skims the outline of your figure and isn’t too boxy. Wear a statement scarf or costume jewellery to distract from your middle.

Petite A shift dress can look really cute on a smaller frame but make sure your dress fits well and isn’t too bulky so it doesn't drown your petite proportions. Steer clear of overly girlie prints, too.

Boyish If you have a slim, straight up-and-down figure that would make a supermodel weep –BINGO! – you’ve just discovered your perfect dress. Your slim proportions are perfect for the shift dress, which will hang beautifully from your slender frame. 

How should I style my new shift dress for 2015?

The beauty of the shift is its versatility. Wear with opaque tights and a feminine, tailored blazer for work. Or for a night out wear with bare legs, killer heels and some statement jewellery. Add a bit of edge to a plain shift dress with patent ankle boots or brogues and ankle socks - the options really are endless!

What should I keep in mind when shopping for a shift dress online?


Be sure to check the latest size guide on independent retailers’ sites before you commit to buying your new shift dress. Here’s a general guide to look at before you start online shopping:

United States United Kingdom Europe Australia
2 4 32 6
4 6 34 8
6 8 36 10
8 10 38 12
10 12 40 14
12 14 42 16
14 16 44 18
16 18 46 20

Delivery and returns


The time it takes for your items to arrive will depend greatly on which retailer you buy from. Remember if you are buying from outside the U.S. the wait will likely be a little bit longer.

Before buying check to see what that particular website's return policy is. Many websites offer free returns and exchanges. But read carefully, some websites will still require you to pay the shipping and handling if you return or exchange an item.