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:

1950s Style Black Metallic Dotted Dolly Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Metallic Dotted Dolly Swing Dress

$100.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Wing Dancing Dress
 

Wing Dancing Dress

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Black & White Dotted Color Block Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Dotted Color Block Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Dance Floor Date Dress in Scarlet from ModCloth
 

Dance Floor Date Dress in Scarlet from ModCloth

$59.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Fond Voyage Dress from ModCloth
 

Fond Voyage Dress from ModCloth

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Unique Vintage 1950s Style Black & Nude Lace Claudette Swing Dress
 

Unique Vintage 1950s Style Black & Nude Lace Claudette Swing Dress

$50.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Salty and Pepper Dress from ModCloth
 

Salty and Pepper Dress from ModCloth

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Green & White Dot Megan Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Green & White Dot Megan Swing Dress

$90.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Like, Oh My Dot! 1950s Fashion Dress
 

Like, Oh My Dot! 1950s Fashion Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Hit the Sail Dress from ModCloth
 

Hit the Sail Dress from ModCloth

$54.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Author Outings Dress in Rouge
 

Author Outings Dress in Rouge

$79.99

Buy at: ModCloth

All Occasion Pass Dress
 

All Occasion Pass Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Hearts & Roses Black Red Trim Halter Dress
 

Hearts & Roses Black Red Trim Halter Dress

$43.60

Buy at: Hot Topic

Beyond a Shadow of a Dot Dress
 

Beyond a Shadow of a Dot Dress

$159.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Green Ruffled Vintage Dress
 

Green Ruffled Vintage Dress

$34.99

Buy at: Milanoo.com Ltd

Georgia Gallivanting Dress
 

Georgia Gallivanting Dress

$124.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Humbly Haute Dress in Red
 

Humbly Haute Dress in Red

$132.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Garden Gazer Dress
 

Garden Gazer Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Dance Floor Date Dress in Dots
 

Dance Floor Date Dress in Dots

$59.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Winter Wonderland Veronique Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Winter Wonderland Veronique Swing Dress

$144.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

And Many More Dress
 

And Many More Dress

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Film Noir Fan Dress
 

Film Noir Fan Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Swell-Heeled Dress in Floral A-line
 

Swell-Heeled Dress in Floral A-line

$79.99

Buy at: ModCloth

A Very Speckled Occasion Dress
 

A Very Speckled Occasion Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Red & Black Color Block Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red & Black Color Block Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Delectable Detour Dress
 

Delectable Detour Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

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

Stand Collar Velvet Vintage Dress
 

Stand Collar Velvet Vintage Dress

$50.99

Buy at: Milanoo.com Ltd

1950s Style Burgundy Winter Orchid Cut Out Flare Dress
 

1950s Style Burgundy Winter Orchid Cut Out Flare Dress

$67.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Carmine Red Birdy Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Carmine Red Birdy Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Taupe Metallic Dotted Dolly Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Taupe Metallic Dotted Dolly Swing Dress

$100.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Short Sleeve Kim Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Short Sleeve Kim Swing Dress

$75.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & Leopard Winnie Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & Leopard Winnie Swing Dress

$108.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Blue & Pink Posies Dotted Belina Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Blue & Pink Posies Dotted Belina Swing Dress

$95.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Blue Tartan Plaid Sunday Morning Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Blue Tartan Plaid Sunday Morning Swing Dress

$144.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Guest of Honor Dress in Vines
 

Guest of Honor Dress in Vines

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Black Dotted Davina Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Dotted Davina Swing Dress

$71.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Satin Cocktail Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Satin Cocktail Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

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

1950s Style Black & White Sleeveless Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Sleeveless Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Eggplant Emilie Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Eggplant Emilie Swing Dress

$90.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Green Abbey Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Green Abbey Swing Dress

$158.00

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

1950s Style Green Emilie Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Green Emilie Swing Dress

$90.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Mint Floral Marisol Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Mint Floral Marisol Swing Dress

$140.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Red Sara Stretch Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red Sara Stretch Swing Dress

$83.00

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

$136.00

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

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

1950s Style Ivory & Black Houndstooth Two Tone Belted Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Ivory & Black Houndstooth Two Tone Belted Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Midnight Rose Monique Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Midnight Rose Monique Swing Dress

$104.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Delight Me Dress
 

Delight Me Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

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

1950s Style Red Keyhole Bow Woven Lucille Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red Keyhole Bow Woven Lucille Swing Dress

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Ivory & Multicolor Vintage Bikes Monique Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Ivory & Multicolor Vintage Bikes Monique Swing Dress

$110.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Seafoam Green Fabi Chiffon Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Seafoam Green Fabi Chiffon Swing Dress

$100.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Fabi Chiffon Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Fabi Chiffon Swing Dress

$144.00

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

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Navy & White Dotted Halter Mariam Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Navy & White Dotted Halter Mariam Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1940s Style Beige & Purple Dragon Fly Eloise Swing Dress
 

1940s Style Beige & Purple Dragon Fly Eloise Swing Dress

$68.00

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

Profesh Opinion Dress
 

Profesh Opinion Dress

$74.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Spectacle Spectacular Dress
 

Spectacle Spectacular Dress

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Sage Green Francine Apple Print Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Sage Green Francine Apple Print Swing Dress

$75.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Belted Sleeveless Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Belted Sleeveless Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Ivory & Black Houndstooth Two Tone Belted Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Ivory & Black Houndstooth Two Tone Belted Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Fuchsia Cap Sleeve Surplice Scuba Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Fuchsia Cap Sleeve Surplice Scuba Swing Dress

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Red & Black Sleeveless Cut Out Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red & Black Sleeveless Cut Out Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Teal & White Dotted Halter Mariam Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Teal & White Dotted Halter Mariam Swing Dress

$88.00

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 Black & Red Rose Halter Sweetie Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & Red Rose Halter Sweetie Swing Dress

$94.00

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

1950s Style Red Cap Sleeve Surplice Scuba Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red Cap Sleeve Surplice Scuba Swing Dress

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Fuchsia Cap Sleeve Surplice Scuba Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Fuchsia Cap Sleeve Surplice Scuba Swing Dress

$82.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & White Sleeveless Cut Out Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Sleeveless Cut Out Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Navy & White Dotted Halter Mariam Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Navy & White Dotted Halter Mariam Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Teal & White Dotted Halter Mariam Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Teal & White Dotted Halter Mariam Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & Red Plaid Houndstooth Button Up Dollface Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & Red Plaid Houndstooth Button Up Dollface Swing Dress

$138.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Dancing Date Dress in Rouge
 

Dancing Date Dress in Rouge

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Let's Go to the Shop Dress in Black
 

Let's Go to the Shop Dress in Black

$79.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Get Up and Bow Dress
 

Get Up and Bow Dress

$79.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Like, Oh My Dot! Dress in Forest
 

Like, Oh My Dot! Dress in Forest

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Hell Bunny Red Tattoo Flocked Dress
 

Hell Bunny Red Tattoo Flocked Dress

$63.60

Buy at: Hot Topic

1950s Style Red & Black Dottie Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red & Black Dottie Swing Dress

$76.00

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

Preorder - Iconic by UV 1950s Style Black & Purple Knotted Scenic Print Downtown Swing Dress
 

Preorder - Iconic by UV 1950s Style Black & Purple Knotted Scenic Print Downtown Swing Dress

$118.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

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

$118.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Ivory & Black Houndstooth Two Tone Belted Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Ivory & Black Houndstooth Two Tone Belted Swing Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Take Me Wish You Dress
 

Take Me Wish You Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Bake Shop Browsing Dress in Blooms
 

Bake Shop Browsing Dress in Blooms

$99.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Wing the Blues Dress
 

Wing the Blues Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

The Show Must Glow On Dress
 

The Show Must Glow On Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

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

This entry was posted in 1950's Fashion History on by .

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.

Ask a question or leave some comment love....