We see these Modern Classic dress silhouettes every season. Although the silhouettes are very different from one another, I frequently see them confused. Retailers aren’t always accurate about their descriptions, leading to more confusion. 

Here’s how I describe the differences between these three dress silhouettes.

Sheath Dress

A sheath dress is form-fitting from bodice and hips to hem, thereby accentuating the contour of the figure. The tailoring nips in at the waist, and the skirt portion is narrow. Some sheaths are more form-fitting than others, and these days have a little or a lot of stretch for increased comfort. Sheaths can be sleeveless or sleeved, knitted or woven, and patterned or solid. They come in a variety of lengths and necklines. Some have belts. Some have extra detailing on the waist like ruffles and flounces. Some have elaborate attached cape detailing. They can be dressy or smart casual, depending on the fabric and how they are styled. Here are some visual examples.

Shift Dress

A shift dress is straight or A-line, fluid, loose, and does not accentuate the contour of the body. It is waist-surrendering. Shifts drape against the contour of the body instead of hugging it. The frock gets its name by simply being a silhouette that is easy to shift or move around in. Shifts can be sleeveless or sleeved, knitted or woven, and patterned or solid. They come in a variety of necklines. Lengths are usually on the knee or shorter. They can be dressy or casual, depending on the fabric and styling. Here are some visual examples.

Shirt Dress

A shirt dress borrows design details from a traditional man’s button-through shirt. They usually have a structured shirt collar, buttons down the centre front, sleeves, and cuffs. Some versions have banded collars, some are pull-on styles sans buttons, and others have no sleeves at all. Their silhouettes can be tailored and narrow, fit-and-flares with belts that accentuate the waist, straight shift styles, A-lines, and sack dresses that are roomy or very voluminous. In some instances, you can wear the same shirt dress with or without a belt. Lengths vary from mini and knee-length, to midi and maxi lengths. Most shirt dresses are woven, although knits exist too. Most shirt dresses have fun side entry pockets on the skirt component. Here are some visual examples.

Eloquii
Utility Shirtdress
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Top Pick
1
Shopbop
A.L.C. Emma Dress
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5
Mango
Striped Shirt Dress
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1
Mango
Cotton Shirt Dress
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5
Mango
Belt Shirt Dress
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3
Zara
Jacquard Shirt Dress
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2
Mango
Denim Shirt Dress
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3
Mango
Midi Shirt Dress
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3
Zara
Belted Shirt Dress
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2
Zara
Oversized Shirt Dress
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1
Mango
Midi Shirt Dress
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2
Zara
Striped Shirt Dress
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2
Mango
Striped Shirt Dress
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1
Zara
Denim Midi Dress
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Top Pick
4

Let’s throw in a poll too. Do you bat for Team Sheath, Shift or Shirt Dress? You can bat for more than one team today! I don’t wear sheaths anymore because I find them too constricting. I used to wear shifts but these days find them too short. I wear shirt dresses in all their variations most of all, and bat for Team Shirt Dress. Over to you.