Browsing Tag Lily Pulitzer

Fashion – The Shift Dress

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Fashion Scene 2

The shift dress might have been simple in design but in fashion terms, the word  ‘shift’ summed up perfectly the big changes taking place in British culture – particularly for women.

This loose comfortable style probably had it roots in the 1920s when the flapper girls wore dresses that didn’t cinch at the waist so they could dance about in them.

The ‘shift’ is the antithesis of the so-called ‘wiggle’ dress of the 40s and 50s, as you can actually walk in it or as Mary Quant was often quoted as saying: “Run for a bus in it!” 

This functional form has it’s roots in the sack dress of the late 50s which was designed by Givenchy. The style at this time was more fitted than it’s 60’s reincarnation. But the main elements were there.

The neck would often have a slash or boat neck. There would be no sleeves and there would be a couple of darts sewn in at the bust. Sometimes it would have a kick-pleat for more freedom of movement.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a beach-side juice bar had also cottoned onto the idea that women needed clothes that were functional as well as fashionable.

Lily Pulitzer was an American socialite living the dream in Palm Beach with her husband Peter who owned a number of orange groves there. She decided to start selling juice from the fruits that they grew to then sell to the tourists.

She asked her dressmaker whether she could run her up something that wouldn’t show up the juice stains. The result was a series of shift dresses in bright colours and patterns that suited the relaxed sunny attitudes of Palm Beach at the time.

Soon Lily was selling more dresses than juice and they became known as ‘Lilly’ dresses. Her designs really took off when Jackie Kennedy was photographed for ‘Life’ magazine featuring one of her outfits. Lilly dresses were suddenly all the rage and a fashion brand (which still exists today) was born as a result.

The early ‘shift’ dress wasn’t as short as its later 60s counterpart. It fell somewhere on the knee. It wasn’t until Mary Quant shorted the dress by 7-8 inches that it took on a new life again.

Quant was influenced by earlier modifications of the dress by iconic 60s designer Andre Courreges, a designer that was heavily influenced by modernist design, Courreges, loved the streamlined look the shift lent itself to and would often use the basic outline shape as a tunic to be worn with trousers.

Towards the mid-60s, the outline of the dress started to become more ‘A-line’ and with a flare-out from the waist and modern fabrics enabled this outline to hold its shape. Variations on the shift dress resulted in the so-called ‘tent’ dress and the ‘trapeze’ dress which was almost triangular in shape and flared out at the sides so it would ‘swing’ as you moved.

Designers began to be more playful with the designs – they introduced cut-out shapes such as circles and key holes or panels with plastic or even metal details. The more space-age and utilitarian the better. As the decade progressed the shift became the subject of bright colour and pattern and ‘op-art’ designs. Block colour panels were also a popular feature such as those on Yves Saint Laurent’s, now iconic, ‘Mondrian’ dress which paid a homage to the bold work of the
modern artist.

It’s no surprise then that the shift dress has endured over the ensuing decades. Not only is it a simple dress to make – it’s also simple to wear. All you need are some well-chosen accessories. But most of all it represents as period of emancipation for women who wanted to express their new found freedoms in a shape that didn’t define their gender and instead allowed them to
define themselves.

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Claire Mahoney

At the age of 13 mod made perfect sense to me. I liked the look and the attitude - but most of all I liked the music. Secret Affair was my entry point, but they were soon playing second fiddle in my affections to The Jam. Paul Weller, of course, proceeded to break mine and many others hearts in 1982, when he put an end to that particular musical roller coaster – but what it meant was that, uninterested in anything else that was happening in music at the time, I had to look back. I was lucky enough to be given two plastic bags full of 60s 45s by my uncle who used to stock the jukeboxes back in the day. Their contents included a number of Stax originals, plus the Who and the Small Faces, as well as Motown classics from The Four Tops and the Supremes. So, when Phil Collins charted in the mid 80s with 'You Can't Hurry Love' it was nice to be able to say: “I've got the original of that!” It became quite an irritating habit of mine over the years. These days I still enjoy discovering new, old music, be it soul, rnb or jazz, as well as witnessing mod taken another turn among today's youth with bands like The Strypes. My day job as a journalist means I am lucky enough to be able to write about music and modernism now and again. Other than that you'll find me mostly on the dance floor or on eBay still looking for that perfect A line dress.

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April 29, 2015 By : Category : Articles Europe Fashion Front Page Style UK USA Tags:, , , , ,
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