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One Dress to Rule Them All

September 03, 2013


No matter how old we get, September always evokes that back-to-school feeling—a distinct mix of excitement, dread, and sartorial panic. When you’re a working woman, the question is no longer, “What will I wear on the first day of school?” but rather, “What versatile pieces will get me through the season?” For many, the answer is the all-important shift dress.

History indicates that early shifts were based on the straight flapper dresses that became popular during the jazz age, but the style took particular hold in the sixties, when icons like Jackie Kennedy made the shift’s simplicity synonymous with understated chic. Here, we take a look at the enduring style’s many iterations, from the typical straight knee-length, sleeveless varieties, to slightly more embellished and experimental versions (like the Mondrian-inspired numbers by YSL pictured above and below).

If there was ever any doubt, here is incontrovertible evidence that a simple dress can make a big statement.

YSL shift dress1965. Piet Mondrian shift by YSL. Photo: AFP.

Jackie Kennedy offsets a patterned Oleg Cassini shift with simple white gloves:

Jackie Kennedy shift dress

And Brigitte Bardot wears hers extra short and sequined:

Brigitte Bardot shift dress

Brigitte Bardot sequin dress

Mia Farrow opts for a floral, summery number:

Mia Farrow

And British model Twiggy goes for a mod, leg-bearing look:

Twiggy shift dress

French chanteuse Françoise Hardy rocks hers with a scalloped neck and hemline:

Françoise Hardy shift dress

Kate‘s lace number by Erdem is fresh but formal:

Kate Middleton in Erdem shift dress

Style maven Alexa Chung goes prim in short Chanel:

Alexa Chung in Chanel

Photo via

And Michelle Obama, reigning queen on the shift, goes bold in red:

President and Michelle Obama

Photo via Reuters (Jim Young)

Ready to get your shift on? Start with the Sarah:

The MM.LaFleur Sarah dress

Or opt for the ultra-versatile Clara:

The MM.LaFleur Clara dress

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Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.

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