Dresses are to a contemporary woman’s wardrobe, what popcorn is to movies. Comfortable, indispensable and the ultimate fashion onesie, the ‘dress’ has had a long and illustrious history through the years.
While fashion choices for women are endless and varied today, this was not always the case. Dresses for women for most of history were the penultimate garb. However, the ‘dress’ has gone through a dramatic evolution from the times of corsets and petticoats.
Some notable moments in the historic journey of the ‘dress’ and its evolution to the types of dresses that are worn today include:
- Sheer linen sheaths that were worn by women in ancient Egypt, are noted by many as the origins of the modern dress.
- The 2-fold dress of the 18th Century, worn by common folk, that combined an inner petticoat dress with another open-front dress became the inspiration for wrap dresses & layered garbs.
- Types of dresses worn by European royalty and pageantry – that featured an extreme corseted waist, with a large rounded inner structure made of boning much like cancan dresses from the contemporary world.
- Empire waist dresses of the late 18th Century opened gates for a relaxed style that provided more comfort, fluidity and movement.
- Gone With The Wind-esque types of dresses that were made in just one material (a necessity in simplification for 19th Century war-torn years). These featured layered ruffles and other notable detailing, such as the morning coat collar.
- The gothic style black and white high-neck dresses of the Victorian era set stones for the punk & edgy styles.
- Chiffon dresses of the earlier 20th Century, that featured elaborate beading, intricate detailing and fluid silhouettes became the muse for modern ball gowns & wedding dresses.
- Shortened hemlines came into style in the roaring 20s of the 20th Century, with flapper types of dresses. These prominently featured a drop waist and a just-below-the-knee length or calf length. These dresses were comfortable, fluid and fun.
- Chanel’s revolutionary use of supple jersey knit fabric and abhorrence for corsets played a major role in changing dress styles in the early 20th Century.
- The hour-glass shape dominated types of dresses in the mid 20th Century thanks to Dior’s ‘New Look’ that set new parameters in fashion.
- The 1970s saw a short pinafore or jumper dress come in style. Evolved from the mini-skirt, this dress was most notably worn over a turtleneck top or sweater.
- With a greater number of women entering the corporate workforce, dresses with high, pointy power shoulders became all the rage in the 80s.
- Popularized by Hollywood actresses – sleek, polished and minimalist slip dresses and spaghetti strap dresses became the ‘it’ style in the 90s.
- From the new millennium, types of dresses became less about silhouette and more about color, prints, patterns and subculture-influenced styles.
As you can see, the way we view dresses in fashion today has evolved as a part of the historic fashion cycle. ‘Nostalgia’ being the most dominant fashion trend throughout the 21st Century so far, these points in stylistic evolution have shaped the landscapes of dress design.
With these insights in mind, let us dive into 10 of our favorite styles of dresses and notes on their nostalgic style origins. So without further ado, here are 10 types of dresses you need to know for an elevated wardrobe:
1) The Slip Dress
The Slip dress is one of the most fashionable types of party dresses today. Often sported by major fashion influencers and celebrities at hot and happening events, this is a comfortable option for those who want to have a fun and stylish dress in the ‘special’ section of their wardrobes.
A slip dress looks stunning when styled with:
- An oversized clutch.
- Heels and strappy sandals.
- A blazer or a stole.
On A Nostalgic Note: The slip dress is one of the types of dresses that was wildly popular in the 1990s, notably worn at big events and parties by the likes of Gwenyth Paltrow and Demi Moore.
2) The Bodycon Dress
Striking, sleek and powerful in its appeal, the ‘bodycon’ dress is not for the faint-hearted. Bold and fashion-forward, a well-structured bodycon dress hugs the curves of the body in all the right places, giving the wearer a very put-together look. This one’s a fan fave.
A bodycon dress looks stunning when styled with:
- Stiletto heels for maximum power.
- A statement strappy purse or a statement handbag.
- Solid-tone colors.
On A Nostalgic Note: Types of dresses like these are bold and bombastic. This is a silhouette that would not be as popular today, if not for Coco Chanel’s revolutionary use of jersey material in her prime as a womenswear designer. Popularized by movie and pop stars in the early 21st century, this is a style of dress that will endure into the future as more innovative fabrics and materials are invented.
3) The Skater Dress
A ‘skater’ dress typically features a full, fluid and flared skirt on the bottom, with a more well-fitted top and cinched waist. These types of dresses are a wonderful option for those who have a ‘pear’ or ‘hourglass’ shaped figure as they provide ample room in the bottom, with structured silhouettes on top.
Lovely for any occasion, these are available as casual dresses for women, as well as dresses for more dressy events.
A skater dress looks stunning when styled with:
- Boots, gladiators and strappy heels.
- Tote bags for a casual, and a strappy clutch for formal events.
- Halter necklines and crew necklines.
On A Nostalgic Note: Popular in the 80s as a part of the fitness game, this dress was named as ‘skater’ as it was originally modelled around outfits worn by female figure skaters. These types of dresses have grown in popularity since the late 20th Century.
4) The Maxi Dress
The maxi dress hardly needs any introduction. Well loved by women across all sizes, shapes and tastes, the maxi is a universally popular option. Giving a certain glam quotient to all your travel photos and #wanderlust outfits, this fluid, diaphanous style of a casual dress is just what you need to take your wardrobe to the next level.
Opt for fun prints, textured fabrics and ethereal silhouettes for an OTT appeal.
- A maxi dress looks stunning when styled with:
- Delicate charms and pretty jewellery.
- Flats and sandals.
- Basket bags.
On A Nostalgic Note: Types of dresses worn in the hippie subculture of the 1970s were usually in the ‘maxi’ style. Reflecting the peaceful, free-flowing and spiritual nature of those who followed this subculture, the maxi dress is a retro icon.
5) The Bardot Dress
A Bardot dress typically features an off-the-shoulder neckline and works well for the Social Media age of fashion. Often worn in music videos, movies and influencer posts, this is an OTT style you simply can’t skip for a chic and updated dress collection.
A Bardot dress looks stunning when styled with:
- Hoop earrings.
- A statement necklace.
- A broad belt.
On A Nostalgic Note: This is one of the types of dresses that was wildly popular in the 50s. Mainly popularized by the French starlet Bridgette Bardot, as the name suggests, this was all the craze in the party and formal wear.
6) The Sheath Dress
An easy slip-on, the ‘sheath’ or ‘shift’ dress is extremely popular amongst office-going women. Different dress styles have other parameters and come in-and-out of style according to the fashion cycle, but this is a timeless dress silhouette for the modern times.
Great for sneakers with dress combination, this one’s a must-have for any woman’s wardrobe.
A sheath dress looks stunning when styled with:
- Sneakers, Boots, Flats.
- Messenger and cross-body bags.
- Minimal jewellery and a watch.
On A Nostalgic Note: Types of dresses like these are always fashionable and have been interpreted in many ways across the late 20th and early 21st Century. Made iconic by the supermodel Twiggy in the 60s, this one’s a fan fave.
7) The Pinafore Dress
Some dress styles don’t need history to evoke nostalgia and pinafore dresses are a prime example of this. Featuring a sleeveless structure that resembles school uniforms, and a 2nd layer of a top or blouse underneath, this is a retro style that is massively popular today.
A pinafore dress looks stunning when styled with:
- Ballerina flats or Mary-janes
- A high neck or turtle neck top.
- Shorter hairstyles or a high-pony.
On A Nostalgic Note: These types of dresses were very popular in British fashion in the 80s. Worn in a variety of plaid and flannel printed fabrics, they were well-loved for their preppy appeal.
8) The Mermaid Dress
A bridal favourite, mermaid dresses feature a well-fitted bodice and are further well fitted just above the knee. The dress then fans out into a flare, resembling the shape of a mermaid.
Stunning for a formal or ceremonial event, mermaid dresses are known to naturally highlight the curves of the female form in a gracefully elegant manner.
A mermaid dress looks stunning when styled with:
- Statement jewellery.
- A formal clutch.
On A Nostalgic Note: Types of dresses like the mermaid dress have their origins in the striking creations of designers like Madame Gres, and Madeleine Vionnet of the early 20th Century who constructed this shape through their experiments with the bias drape.
9) The Ballgown Dress
The Ballgown is hardly a new invention, but was viewed with a fresh perspective when pop-star Taylor Swift popularized it in her mega-hit ‘Love Story’.
Romantic, diaphanous and elegant, the ballgown dress features a structured bodice, with a large, rounded, full skirt.
A ballgown dress looks stunning when styled with:
- OTT up-dos for the hair.
- Luxe jewellery.
- A sheer stole.
On A Nostalgic Note: Types of dresses that featured a full-boned structure underneath fuller skirts in the medieval times have today evolved into the formal ballgown dress.
10) The Shirt Dress
Out of all the different types of dresses featured in this article, the most recent invention, which is also a fixture on online shopping apps, is the shirt dress. Basically the dress version of a classic shirt, the shirt dress is everything you need for well-put-together workwear inspired style.
A shirt dress looks stunning when styled with:
- Sneakers and flats.
- Oversized clutches, cross-body bags.
- Stud earrings and a watch.
A Nostalgic Note: One of the most modern types of dresses, the shirt dress actually has its origins in another type of garment – the classic white shirt. Also sometimes referred to as the ‘dress shirt, the white shirt has birthed many contemporary styles in womenswear today.
We sure enjoyed deep-diving into various styles, histories and origins of dresses with you! Pick the ones that you resonate with the most and be sure to add them to your wardrobe to elevate your style quotient in 2021