This past weekend I went to a Big Band Lindy Hop dance right here in Toronto and I decided to wear my favorite 1940s reproduction Shirtwaist Dress by Trashy Diva in honour of the evening. This dress gets so many compliments every time I wear it and people are surprised when I tell them it’s a dress not a shirt. Hence why it’s called a “Shirtwaist Dress”.

Trashy Diva 1940's Shirtwaist Dress
The dress and me a couple of years ago doing some silly dance move. Can’t tell I’m a dancer here can you? lol!

My other Shirtwaist dress from Trashy Diva.

Shirtwaist Dress Trashy Diva

The shirtwaist dress is not just a 1940s style, in fact the 1950’s is really where it found its popularity and it’s place in fashion history.

History of the Shirtwaist Dress

The 1940s shirtwaist got its name from how it combined a blouse top and a skirt bottom into one dress and had as its basis the wartime, utilitarian appeal.

The shirtwaist skirt was always an A line cut, flared just enough to be loose over the hips and wide enough for easy walking. It was also light on fabric quantity which met the rationing restrictions during the war years. As rationing lifted more gathers were added to skirts for even more fullness. Long knife pleats were also in style and added to the straight military inspired look of the 40s. The long pleating also slimmed down the A-line skirt into a rectangle tube which was a trendy shape going into the late 40’s (Source-Vintage Dancer).

The dress was considered a useful ensemble for most daily activities, evening-wear, and even participating in sporting events.

In the late 1940’s Christian Dior popularized this style with his “New Look” collection in the famous fashion year of 1947. Dior focused on the “nipped-in” waist and a full (often very) full skirt. The iconic “Shirtwaist Silhouette” is born (and can be seen in almost every decade after this).


For my post I’m going to show you the 2 styles of dresses from the two most popular era’s, 1940s and 1950s.

First up..1940’s.

Simple design, but still so beautiful.

1940's Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Etsy-DesignRewindFashions

Wonderful flared skirt with front pleats. Great hair flower inspiration as well in this pattern.

1940s Vintage Shirtwaist Dress pattern
Source: Etsy-BluetreeSewingStudio

See the ladies during the 1940’s may not have had the ability to wear extravagant gowns but they did know that it was all about the accessories to take that outfit to the next level. These hats are perfect examples of that!

1940s Shirtwaist dress pattern
Source: Etsy-momandpopcultureshop

While not 100% exact the dress below looks very similar to the pattern above.

1940s Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Ebay-e-collectique.runway

The Side pocket in this dress is something I look for when I buy dresses. I love a one pocket dress. Don’t know why..I just do.

1940s Vintage Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Etsy-TulleandTiaraVintage

I do love green but I did not think I would love this green at first sight due to it being slightly neon like. But I think the breast pocket detail makes this green very wearable. Isn’t it marvelous?

1940s Vintage Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Etsy-MotherOfVintage

I will now leave the 1940s but not before posting an unbelievably stunning Shirtwaist Dress. This by far has been my favorite of all the images I have seen while working on this post of dresses you can buy right now.

1940s Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Ebay-Marneys Vintage Co

Love the embroidered detailing on the upper bodice.

1940s Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Ebay-Marneys Vintage Co


Now lets venture into the 1950’s where you will see a very drastic change in the silhouette compared to what I was just showing you from the 1940s (thanks Christian Dior!).

1950’s Shirtwaist Dresses

See what did I tell you?! Nothing like what we were seeing above. Not even close. Aren’t these simply gorgeous (especially that green one)?

1950's Shirtwaist Dress full skirt
Source-Etsy: bellaloona

The below style is EXACTLY what I think of when I think 1950s Shirtwaist Dress.

1950s shirtwaist dress pattern
Source: Etsy-NostalgiaVintage2

Below is a real life similar version to the pattern above. Such warm colours.

1950s Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Etsy-ModernMillieShop

Add some red accessories to this outfit and your ready for a night out on the town.

1950s Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Etsy-PollyandBandit

All you need is a fantastic pattern to add spice to a simple style.

1950s Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Etsy-ModernMillieShop

Spring yet? The Apples and flowers on this dress sure do make me wish spring was here.

1950s shirtwaist dress
Source: Etsy-jumblelaya

And lastly I will leave you with this 1950’s L’Aiglon diamond print shirtwaist dress as another wonderful example of this style during the 50s.

1950s Shirtwaist Dress
Source: Etsy-CapsuleVintage


So out of the examples I showed here, did you have a favorite? Or maybe you own your own shirtwaist dress that is your favorite. Do tell friends.

Liz 🙂



14 comments on “The Shirtwaist Dress of the 1940s and 1950s”

  1. Really fun post and look at one of the most classic ladies wear garments of the last 100 years. Shirtwaist dresses are beyond a wardrobe staple for me. I love that they’re often both (at least a little) roomy and also fitted (or easily made so). I have scores of this timeless style in my closet and wear them more than any other kind of dress all year round, but especially in the spring and summer.

    Love this post, dear gal!

    ♥ Jessica

    • I have seen some of your collection Jessica and it they are wonderful. Shirtwaist dresses are the best! Truly the best 🙂

      Have a super day!

  2. I wish I could wear those every day. I love the apples. I think the one pocket design is cool; you have to pare down your essentials to fit in that. And the neon green is for someone in charge! I have a brown and cream polka dot shirt dress hanging in my closet, waiting for me to lose weight. Oh, I do want to get in it!

    • I just love how versatile a good shirtwaist dress is. Add a cardigan to it and you have something for work or going to the store. And you don’t always have to add a crinoline to one either. The apple one is so fun, I love it 🙂

  3. Great post! I love a shirtwaist dress. They’re so wearable and always look beautiful. I love the 1950s purple/burgundy one from Modern Millie Shop. That’s definitely my favourite.

    • 3 Cheers for Shirtwaist dresses! They are super fantastic and a real must in every gals wardrobe. The purple burgundy one is stunning, I agree.

  4. wonderfully informative article! I love shirtwaist dresses. another bit of trivia that might interest your readers:
    the modern shirtwaist, the type you think of when you think of a shirtwaist dress and like you pictured above, was actually designed by Dorothy Cox of McMullen Co. a men’s shirt factory in Glens Falls, NY. It was in answer to declining sales of men’s shirts. It was her idea to take a man’s shirt and attach a length of fabric for a skirt and begin marketing to women to increase sales. My grandmother worked at McMullen under Dot Cox from the 1940suntil the 60’s and i remember her well, sitting at the kitchen table sewing even on her off time. Good memories. McMullen became more known for it’s women’s dresses made from shirting than from it’s line of men’s dress shirts after that. I specifically like the 1940s shirt dresses for their sheer utility and the 1950s ones for their cute style. Interesting read. Thanks so much!!

    • ohhhhh that is wonderful information! Makes sense to me and kind of goes along with the lines of “Make do and Mend”. Make do with what you have and make it better. Thanks so much for sharing that information Kim 🙂

  5. Shirtwaist dresses are one of those great styles that I love to look at but also love to actually wear! My favourites here are the apples and the grey-with-spots. Gorgeous!

  6. I only have one shirtwaister but I definitely need more. You have chosen some gorgeous ones to illustrate your post. I love the 1950’s pattern with the plaid dress and the 1940’s women in green. I need to increase my sewing skills!

    • They are wonderful as they are so versatile. If I could sew I would have tons in my closet, since I cannot I have to just buy buy buy 🙂 lol!

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