The Subtle Variations of 1950’s Sheath Dresses

dior's new look

Dior’s New Look

When you think of dresses in the 1950’s what do you imagine? Most people would think of the classic house wife  dress that Lucile Ball or Mary Tyler Moore wore  in their respective 1950’s TV roles with large, puffy, skirts and snug fitting blouses, paired with cute coordinating accessories and perfectly groomed hair. While this style of dress was certainly popular there is another style, the opposite look of the 1950’s, that has been overlooked until now. Because of TV shows like Mad Men and Pan Am the slim fitting 1950’s style sheath dress is just as popular as its full figured sibling.

This other silhouette of the ‘50s was somewhat opposite of the full skirted look, although the main features of the New Look remained. The bodice was the same – tailored, fitted and nipped in at the waist. But the skirt of this type of dress was very closely fitted to the body from the waist down. This was the lean sheath dress, also known as the wiggle dress.

1950's dress mad men dress

1950’s Sheath Dress

The bodice was usually tailored and either sleeveless or with short or elbow-length sleeves. The neckline was often a scoop or boat-neck. The skirt was what we’d call a pencil today. It curved over the hips and tapered down to mid-calf. There was a vent or kick-pleat added to the back of the skirt so the wearer was able to walk – that’s how fitted they were! Wiggle dresses zipped up the back. The bodices were often decorated with small collars and bows. The skirts often featured welt pockets on the sides or two oversized front patch pockets. Big buttons could be used to decorate the front too.

 The 1950’s Bell Shape Dress

Late 50's Bell Shape Dress

Late 50’s Bell Shape Dress

A trend that emerged towards the end of the decade was the bell dress – a kind of combination of the two skirt shapes. The bodice was tailored and fitted as usual, and could follow any of the bodice styles found in dresses. However, the skirt started out gathered at the waist, puffed out around the waist, and then tapered back in to be fitted at the calf, creating a bell-shaped skirt. It was often tied in front with a large fabric bow. By the late 50’s the shape of the bell tapered out only slightly creating a full skirt but not nearly as wide as circle skirt dresses.

 The 1950’s Corolla, Tulip, H, A and Y Lines

Dior, and many other fashion designers, started coming out with a new silhouette every season. Although they didn’t stray far from the New Look hourglass silhouette, they offered a slightly different shape each time – enough so that women were pressured to keep up. Although most women stuck with the basic full or fitted hourglass, the most fashionable would have a slightly different one to show off each year. Dior’s most well known collections were the Corolla (his debut) in 1947, the Tulip in 1953, and the H, A and Y lines of 1954-56.

Michael Kors Tulip Skirt Crepe Sheath DressBlack Chiffon Pencil Dress

Tulip Sheath Dress          H Line Dress
   By Design Dress   Polka-dot/Black Retro Flare Polka-dot Dress Top

 A-Line Dress                     Y-Line Dress
The Corolla was the basis for the New Look and was the main silhouette of the ‘50s. The Tulip look was a little bit more exaggerated. A Tulip dress was fitted. The bodice had a large boat-neck collar that emphasized the bust, the requisite tiny waist, and a very round hip bound inside a fitted pencil skirt.

A H-line dress was a little bit different. It was a fitted sheath again, but had a higher scoop neck and a dropped waist. The natural waist was still fitted and small, but the waist emphasized on the dress was much lower, making the silhouette straighter.

The A-line dress was very different – the bodice was very narrow, but the dress was shaped just like an A with a full pleated skirt and undefined waist.

The Y-line went back to the classic Dior silhouette with a fitted sheath, and an added large pointed collar and sleeves.

1950's dress

1957’s Dresses

Now that you know a little bit about the different variations of 1950’s sheath dresses you wont be able to look at a pencil or wiggle dress quite the same. I enjoy seeing the details on dresses in the 1950’s and guessing what Dior line inspired the design. It’s a little game to make your next vintage 50’s shopping trip a little more fun.

As always if you need a vintage style 1950’s full skirted New Look dress or one of the many variations of 1950’s sheath dresses look no further then the women’s 1950’s style dress shopping page or below:

Wing Dancing Dress
 

Wing Dancing Dress

$56.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Dance Floor Date Dress in Scarlet from ModCloth
 

Dance Floor Date Dress in Scarlet from ModCloth

$59.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Salty and Pepper Dress from ModCloth
 

Salty and Pepper Dress from ModCloth

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Like, Oh My Dot! 1950s Fashion Dress
 

Like, Oh My Dot! 1950s Fashion Dress

$53.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Flair Maiden Dress
 

Flair Maiden Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

In the Picnic of Time Dress
 

In the Picnic of Time Dress

$41.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Dance Floor Date Dress in Dots
 

Dance Floor Date Dress in Dots

$59.99

Buy at: ModCloth

And Many More Dress
 

And Many More Dress

$56.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Film Noir Fan Dress
 

Film Noir Fan Dress

$53.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Red & Black Color Block Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red & Black Color Block Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

V-neck Polka Dot Vintage Dress with Spaghetti Straps
 

V-neck Polka Dot Vintage Dress with Spaghetti Straps

$19.99

Buy at: Milanoo.com Ltd

1950s Style Carmine Red Birdy Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Carmine Red Birdy Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Satin Cocktail Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Satin Cocktail Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Too Much Fun Dress in Blue Dots - Long
 

Too Much Fun Dress in Blue Dots - Long

$109.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Red & Black Polka Dot Cap Sleeve Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red & Black Polka Dot Cap Sleeve Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Red & Black Polka Dotted Cap Sleeve Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red & Black Polka Dotted Cap Sleeve Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Voodoo Vixen 1950s Style Coral Pink & White Gingham Chelsea Halter Swing Dress
 

Voodoo Vixen 1950s Style Coral Pink & White Gingham Chelsea Halter Swing Dress

$78.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & White Sleeveless Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Sleeveless Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style White Tulle Dress
 

1950s Style White Tulle Dress

$118.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Serenity Bridge Veronique Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Serenity Bridge Veronique Swing Dress

$144.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Unique Vintage Nautical 1950s Style White & Red Bon Voyage Swing Dress
 

Unique Vintage Nautical 1950s Style White & Red Bon Voyage Swing Dress

$102.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Teal Birdy Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Teal Birdy Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Three-Quarter Sleeve Stretch Bengaline Loren Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Three-Quarter Sleeve Stretch Bengaline Loren Swing Dress

$86.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Iconic by UV 1950s Style Blue Watercolor Floral Halter Flirty Swing Dress
 

Iconic by UV 1950s Style Blue Watercolor Floral Halter Flirty Swing Dress

$81.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Plum Three-Quarter Sleeve Stretch Bengaline Loren Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Plum Three-Quarter Sleeve Stretch Bengaline Loren Swing Dress

$86.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950's Style Black & Orange Print Dotted Paris Swing Dress
 

1950's Style Black & Orange Print Dotted Paris Swing Dress

$144.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Green & Taupe Floral Camellia Swing Dress
 

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Green & Taupe Floral Camellia Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950's Style White & Red Cherry Paris Swing Dress
 

1950's Style White & Red Cherry Paris Swing Dress

$152.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Preorder - Iconic by UV Navy & Yellow Scoop Neck Belted Fleur Swing Dress
 

Preorder - Iconic by UV Navy & Yellow Scoop Neck Belted Fleur Swing Dress

$128.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Cap Sleeve Surplice Scuba Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Cap Sleeve Surplice Scuba Swing Dress

$70.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Sweetheart Cap Sleeve Stretch Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Sweetheart Cap Sleeve Stretch Swing Dress

$62.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Sage Green Francine Apple Print Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Sage Green Francine Apple Print Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Red & White Spring Floral Cap Sleeve Darling Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red & White Spring Floral Cap Sleeve Darling Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & White Polka Dot Cap Sleeve Button Up Picture Day Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Polka Dot Cap Sleeve Button Up Picture Day Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style White & Black Polka Dot Halter Wendy Swing Dress
 

1950s Style White & Black Polka Dot Halter Wendy Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Hell Bunny Red Tattoo Flocked Dress
 

Hell Bunny Red Tattoo Flocked Dress

$63.60

Buy at: Hot Topic

Preorder - Unique Vintage 1950s Style Red & White Knotted Dash Print Downtown Swing Dress
 

Preorder - Unique Vintage 1950s Style Red & White Knotted Dash Print Downtown Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

eShakti Women's Vintage two-tone cotton poplin dress
 

eShakti Women's Vintage two-tone cotton poplin dress

$79.95

Buy at: eShakti

eShakti Women's Vintage cotton poplin dress
 

eShakti Women's Vintage cotton poplin dress

$69.95

Buy at: eShakti

Vero Moda Posy 50s Tea Dress - Blue
 

Vero Moda Posy 50s Tea Dress - Blue

$57.00

Buy at: ASOS.com USA

Unmatched Panache Dress
 

Unmatched Panache Dress

$99.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Follow Glee Dress
 

Follow Glee Dress

$71.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Blue & Brown Hibiscus Floral Halter Tiki Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Blue & Brown Hibiscus Floral Halter Tiki Swing Dress

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Just in Timeless Dress in Dots
 

Just in Timeless Dress in Dots

$71.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Amour Than Anything Dress
 

Amour Than Anything Dress

$51.99

Buy at: ModCloth

eShakti Women's Scallop neck fit-and-flare dress
 

eShakti Women's Scallop neck fit-and-flare dress

$59.95

Buy at: eShakti

1950s Style Black & Yellow Leopard Textured Stretch Wiggle Dress
 

1950s Style Black & Yellow Leopard Textured Stretch Wiggle Dress

$48.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Coral Pink & White Polka Dot Halter Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Coral Pink & White Polka Dot Halter Swing Dress

$52.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Navy & Pink Garden Floral Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Navy & Pink Garden Floral Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Preorder - Unique Vintage 1950s Style Mint Green Bettie Fitted Pencil Dress
 

Preorder - Unique Vintage 1950s Style Mint Green Bettie Fitted Pencil Dress

$98.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & Red Cherry Pop Rockabilly Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & Red Cherry Pop Rockabilly Swing Dress

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Aubergine Birdy Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Aubergine Birdy Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style White & Red Strawberry Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style White & Red Strawberry Swing Dress

$178.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Light Blue Floral Cap Sleeve Bloomsbury Chiffon Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Light Blue Floral Cap Sleeve Bloomsbury Chiffon Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & White Floral Button Up Honor Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Floral Button Up Honor Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Aqua Blue & White Sea Sparkle Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Aqua Blue & White Sea Sparkle Swing Dress

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Yellow Gingham Cherry Lemon Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Yellow Gingham Cherry Lemon Swing Dress

$170.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Purple Hydrangea Short Sleeve Beverly Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Purple Hydrangea Short Sleeve Beverly Swing Dress

$128.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Navy Blue Cotton Sateen Scallop Brenda Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Navy Blue Cotton Sateen Scallop Brenda Swing Dress

$122.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Tan, Brown & Orange Hibiscus Floral Kaila Tiki Halter Swing Dress
 

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Tan, Brown & Orange Hibiscus Floral Kaila Tiki Halter Swing Dress

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & Pink Painted Rose Floral Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & Pink Painted Rose Floral Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Nothin' But Affectionate Dress
 

Nothin' But Affectionate Dress

$56.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Too Much Fun Dress in Forest Creme
 

Too Much Fun Dress in Forest Creme

$99.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Too Much Fun Dress in White Dots - Long
 

Too Much Fun Dress in White Dots - Long

$65.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Jukebox DJ Jumper
 

Jukebox DJ Jumper

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

You Totally Rockabilly Jumper
 

You Totally Rockabilly Jumper

$84.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Voodoo Vixen 1950s Style Green & Red Floral & Apple Print Belted Keira Swing Dress
 

Voodoo Vixen 1950s Style Green & Red Floral & Apple Print Belted Keira Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Guest of Honor Dress in Rose Garden
 

Guest of Honor Dress in Rose Garden

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Voodoo Vixen 1950s Style Hunter Green Floral Lace Three-Quarter Sleeve Patricia Swing Dress
 

Voodoo Vixen 1950s Style Hunter Green Floral Lace Three-Quarter Sleeve Patricia Swing Dress

$98.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Blue Francine Apple Print Swing Dress
 

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Blue Francine Apple Print Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Any Way You Intern Dress
 

Any Way You Intern Dress

$107.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Hell Bunny 1940s Style Blue Vintage Bicycle Penny Lover Swing Dress
 

Hell Bunny 1940s Style Blue Vintage Bicycle Penny Lover Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Iconic by UV 1950s Style Navy & White Dot Golightly Bow Swing Dress
 

Iconic by UV 1950s Style Navy & White Dot Golightly Bow Swing Dress

$98.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Collectif 1950s Style Navy & White Dot Belted Caterina Shirt Swing Dress
 

Collectif 1950s Style Navy & White Dot Belted Caterina Shirt Swing Dress

$108.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Up, Opera, and Away Dress in Cream
 

Up, Opera, and Away Dress in Cream

$169.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Broaden Your Fleur-izons Dress
 

Broaden Your Fleur-izons Dress

$194.99

Buy at: ModCloth

The Keyhole to Success Dress
 

The Keyhole to Success Dress

$64.99

Buy at: ModCloth

About the Artist Dress in Aqua Plaid
 

About the Artist Dress in Aqua Plaid

$69.99

Buy at: ModCloth

About the Artist Dress in Grey
 

About the Artist Dress in Grey

$69.99

Buy at: ModCloth

CEO My Darling Dress
 

CEO My Darling Dress

$174.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Era of Romance Dress
 

Era of Romance Dress

$119.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Pine All Mine Dress in Midnight
 

Pine All Mine Dress in Midnight

$179.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Pleasing to the Aye Dress
 

Pleasing to the Aye Dress

$189.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Black & Pink Floral Haylie Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Black & Pink Floral Haylie Swing Dress

$178.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style White & Black Polka Dot & Bow Beila Wiggle Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style White & Black Polka Dot & Bow Beila Wiggle Dress

$158.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Little Black Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Little Black Swing Dress

$182.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Black & White Gingham Off Shoulder Mary Ann Swing Dress
 

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Black & White Gingham Off Shoulder Mary Ann Swing Dress

$72.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Blue Rose & Sparrow Lacey Swing Dress
 

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Blue Rose & Sparrow Lacey Swing Dress

$78.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Taupe Floral Marilyn Chiffon Swing Dress
 

Hell Bunny 1950s Style Taupe Floral Marilyn Chiffon Swing Dress

$78.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

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About Debbie Sessions

Debbie Sessions is passionate about wearing history through fashion. She and her husband, Oscar, have turned their hobby into a career by teaching others how to re-create vintage style with affordable new vintage inspired clothing and accessories. We connect shoppers to the best vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories and teach fashion history as it was worn by everyday people. Need more help? Contact us anytime.

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