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 Navy & White Dot Dolores Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Navy & White Dot Dolores Swing Dress

$72.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Picnic Poise Dress from ModCloth
 

Picnic Poise Dress from ModCloth

$66.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Journey to the Mast Dress in Navy from ModCloth
 

Journey to the Mast Dress in Navy from ModCloth

$46.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Wing Dancing Dress
 

Wing Dancing Dress

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Roses at Your Feet Dress from ModCloth
 

Roses at Your Feet Dress from ModCloth

$84.99

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 Heidi Fitted Wiggle Dress
 

1950s Style Red Heidi Fitted Wiggle Dress

$54.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Guest of Honor Dress in Varsity Stripes
 

Guest of Honor Dress in Varsity Stripes

$46.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Preorder - Unique Vintage Navy Floral Dandridge Strapless Swing Dress
 

Preorder - Unique Vintage Navy Floral Dandridge Strapless Swing Dress

$136.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Bake Shop Browsing Dress in Emerald Dots from ModCloth
 

Bake Shop Browsing Dress in Emerald Dots from ModCloth

$49.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Black 1950s Style Haute Stephanie Swing Dress
 

Black 1950s Style Haute Stephanie Swing Dress

$111.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Blogging Molly Dress in Navy Floral
 

Blogging Molly Dress in Navy Floral

$45.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Dance Floor Date Dress in Scarlet from ModCloth
 

Dance Floor Date Dress in Scarlet from ModCloth

$59.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Peach Vivienne Lace Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Peach Vivienne Lace Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Red & Black Color Block Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red & Black Color Block Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

The Neyla Dress in Rouge from ModCloth
 

The Neyla Dress in Rouge from ModCloth

$189.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Fond Voyage Dress from ModCloth
 

Fond Voyage Dress from ModCloth

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Hearts & Roses Red Polka Dot Sleeveless Dress
 

Hearts & Roses Red Polka Dot Sleeveless Dress

$43.60

Buy at: Hot Topic

Salty and Pepper Dress from ModCloth
 

Salty and Pepper Dress from ModCloth

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Hearts & Roses Blue White Trim Halter Dress
 

Hearts & Roses Blue White Trim Halter Dress

$43.60

Buy at: Hot Topic

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

Preorder - Unique Vintage 1950s Style Navy Rhapsody Swing Dress
 

Preorder - Unique Vintage 1950s Style Navy Rhapsody Swing Dress

$148.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Places to Go, People to See Dress in Floral
 

Places to Go, People to See Dress in Floral

$41.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Black & White Polka Dot Belted Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Polka Dot Belted Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

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

1950s Style Black & White Bats Halter Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Bats Halter Swing Dress

$84.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Beacon of Charm Dress in Plaid
 

Beacon of Charm Dress in Plaid

$124.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Hearts & Roses Black Red Trim Halter Dress
 

Hearts & Roses Black Red Trim Halter Dress

$43.60

Buy at: Hot Topic

Beacon of Charm Dress in Coast
 

Beacon of Charm Dress in Coast

$61.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Saturday Sojourn Skirt
 

Saturday Sojourn Skirt

$59.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Blue & Pink Floral Retro Garden Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Blue & Pink Floral Retro Garden Swing Dress

$94.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Yellow Floral Dolores Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Yellow Floral Dolores Swing Dress

$64.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Red Sara Stretch Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Red Sara Stretch Swing Dress

$83.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Authentic Vintage Pink & Floral Cap Sleeve Swing Dress
 

1950s Authentic Vintage Pink & Floral Cap Sleeve Swing Dress

$98.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Pink & Ivory Floral Bouquet Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Pink & Ivory Floral Bouquet Swing Dress

$92.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Emilie Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Emilie Swing Dress

$80.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Red & White Polka Dot Cold Shoulder Flare Dress
 

Red & White Polka Dot Cold Shoulder Flare Dress

$48.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Navy Floral Halter Swing Sundress
 

1950s Style Navy Floral Halter Swing Sundress

$48.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Navy Floral Fit N Flare Sundress
 

Navy Floral Fit N Flare Sundress

$48.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style White Floral Swing Sundress
 

1950s Style White Floral Swing Sundress

$48.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style White Floral & Bird Swing Sundress
 

1950s Style White Floral & Bird Swing Sundress

$48.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style White Floral Halter Swing Sundress
 

1950s Style White Floral Halter Swing Sundress

$48.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Room for Blooms Dress in Blue
 

Room for Blooms Dress in Blue

$51.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Turquoise Short Sleeve Rita Fitted Wiggle Dress
 

Turquoise Short Sleeve Rita Fitted Wiggle Dress

$90.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Black Cherry Print Misses Swing Dress
 

Black Cherry Print Misses Swing Dress

$54.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Hell Bunny Liv Red Dress
 

Hell Bunny Liv Red Dress

$39.98

Buy at: Hot Topic

Hell Bunny Emilie Dress
 

Hell Bunny Emilie Dress

$78.80

Buy at: Hot Topic

Hell Bunny Red Judy Dress
 

Hell Bunny Red Judy Dress

$39.98

Buy at: Hot Topic

Mint Foxy Mini Fit N Flare Dress
 

Mint Foxy Mini Fit N Flare Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Unique Vintage Lilac Lace 1950s Party Swing Dress
 

Unique Vintage Lilac Lace 1950s Party Swing Dress

$75.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Taupe Lace Darla Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Taupe Lace Darla Swing Dress

$196.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Blue Fiona Petals Beverly Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Blue Fiona Petals Beverly Swing Dress

$116.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Floral Cotton Twill Scallop Brenda Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Floral Cotton Twill Scallop Brenda Swing Dress

$122.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Roses Are Red 1950s Style Haute Milan Swing Dress
 

Roses Are Red 1950s Style Haute Milan Swing Dress

$158.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Cream Summer Rose Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Cream Summer Rose Swing Dress

$136.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & White Polka Dot Heather Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Polka Dot Heather Swing Dress

$122.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Grey Plaid Dorothy Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Grey Plaid Dorothy Swing Dress

$174.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Beyond a Shadow of a Dot Dress
 

Beyond a Shadow of a Dot Dress

$159.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Retro Chic - Swing Dress
 

Retro Chic - Swing Dress

$68.50

Buy at: Torrid

Georgia Gallivanting Dress
 

Georgia Gallivanting Dress

$124.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Humbly Haute Dress in Red
 

Humbly Haute Dress in Red

$189.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Chord-ially Yours Dress in Magenta
 

Chord-ially Yours Dress in Magenta

$44.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Garden Gazer Dress
 

Garden Gazer Dress

$89.99

Buy at: ModCloth

1950s Style Black & Green Vampiress Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & Green Vampiress Swing Dress

$84.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Dance Floor Date Dress in Dots
 

Dance Floor Date Dress in Dots

$59.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Front Perch Swing Dress
 

Front Perch Swing Dress

$112.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Preorder - Unique Vintage 1950s Style Black & Nude Midtown Halter Swing Dress
 

Preorder - Unique Vintage 1950s Style Black & Nude Midtown Halter Swing Dress

$118.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

And Many More Dress
 

And Many More Dress

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Cornucopia of Cute Dress
 

Cornucopia of Cute Dress

$49.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Owls Sleeveless Button Up Flare Dress
 

Owls Sleeveless Button Up Flare Dress

$70.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Navy & Red Hearts Bombshell Flare Dress
 

Navy & Red Hearts Bombshell Flare Dress

$60.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Red Floral Cap Sleeve Greta Flare Dress
 

Red Floral Cap Sleeve Greta Flare Dress

$90.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Cream Day of the Dead Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Cream Day of the Dead Swing Dress

$90.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Guest of Honor Dress in Vines
 

Guest of Honor Dress in Vines

$94.99

Buy at: ModCloth

Retro Chic Gingham Swing Dress
 

Retro Chic Gingham Swing Dress

$51.48

Buy at: Torrid

1950s Style Green & White Dot Megan Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Green & White Dot Megan Swing Dress

$90.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Pink Retro Kitty Cut Out Flare Dress
 

1950s Style Pink Retro Kitty Cut Out Flare Dress

$84.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Pink & Green Larissa Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Pink & Green Larissa Swing Dress

$88.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Peacock Royale Monique Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Peacock Royale Monique Swing Dress

$100.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style White & Pink Rose Poppy Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style White & Pink Rose Poppy Swing Dress

$178.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Mint Floral Marisol Swing Dress
 

Stop Staring! 1950s Style Mint Floral Marisol Swing Dress

$186.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Dark Blue Floral Ophelia Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Dark Blue Floral Ophelia Swing Dress

$72.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & White Dotted Color Block Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Dotted Color Block Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black Belted Sleeveless Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black Belted Sleeveless Swing Dress

$66.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & White Sleeveless Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & White Sleeveless 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 Belted Polly Shirt Dress
 

1950s Style Black Belted Polly Shirt Dress

$68.00

Buy at: UniqueVintage

1950s Style Black & Red Dottie Swing Dress
 

1950s Style Black & Red Dottie Swing Dress

$76.00

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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