As a fashion statement, the sheath dress has long been in existence since the ancient Egyptians when long form fitting dresses were donned by their women. These dresses were cut narrow to the body but did not conform to the curves, allowing the women a degree of free movement. Such dresses were frequently made of linen, a fiber that comes from the flax plant. Flax plants commonly grew along the Nile where the land was fertile.(1) Paintings from ancient Egypt show these dresses as usually being in white and full length, showing that the fabric was rarely dyed. Since then, the sheath dress has been only one style of dress that occasionally made its appearance throughout history, most recently being made popular by Marilyn Monroe. In the 1950’s, the sheath dress became slightly more form fitting, especially if it was made of a knit versus a weave like the ancient Egyptians had. Cotton and wool knit sheath dresses available in many colors could easily be purchased in clothing and department stores by women. Before the 1950’s, however, the sheath dress appeared as both a garment and undergarment during the 1920’s when the flapper style was popular, and in the early 1900’s, long straight dresses resembling a sheath were made by designers like Paul Poiret.(2) This style was definitely more welcome by women who previously had to force themselves into corsets in order to fit the latest dress that was being marketed towards them.
Today the sheath dress is just one style of dress among many that women can choose to wear. Not just vintage sheaths but also the latest ones, as there are fashion designers who have always used the sheath dress in their lines. Mischen, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, and Marc Jacobs are some of the prominent designers who have created sheath dresses for day and night wear.
Sheath dresses, like other dresses, come with a variety of sleeve and collar styles. Most department stores like Bergdorf Goodman or Macy’s will carry at least a few styles of sheath dresses. Below are a few picks for the upcoming season:
A beige cashmere knit dress by Design History is from Saks Fifth Avenue looks stylish with dark leggings. The dress is sleeveless with a medium scoop collar, pullover with no zippers or buttons. Price: $119.20.
This Calvin Klein black sleeveless knee-length dress is a triacetate-polyester blend, lined, and has a zipper in the back. Perfect for parties and is only $99.00.
A Worthington sheath dress with cap sleeves and square neckline has a back zipper closure and a matching belt. Available in the following colors: black, garnet, and houndstooth. Price: $47.99 to $54.99.