The two types of shirt dresses

I’ve always thought shirt dresses are really cool. One-piece dressing and easier to wear than a full on Dress with a capital D. There’s so many variations as well. Check out this amazing Claire McCardell piece with an obi-style belt and a dramatic collar:

There’s a shirt dress sewalong going on right now at A Fashionable Stitch, but while I do like the pattern they’re using, I don’t want a zip in my dress. It feels like cheating! I want mine to button all the way down the front.

To get some inspiration, I’ve been doing extensive research (okay, browsing The online equivalent of wandering round Liberty’s and pawing all the highly expensive dresses, but without any sales staff to give you the evil eye.)

Here’s what I’ve determined. Shirtdresses currently come in two categories, which with stunning originality I like to call ‘Loose’ and ‘Fitted’. The loose style are MUCH more prevalent at the moment. In fact the ‘no waist’ look seems to be big right now, which is a shame for those of us who resemble a potato in outfits with no waist definition.

The ‘Loose’ category often has a half placket. There’s a lot of interesting sleeve applications, with raglan and kimono styles. There is no waist seam, and normally a self-fabric belt. Sometimes they have a collar, but more often not. Prints are big.

The 2nd category is a lot rarer in RTW at the moment – the classic 50s looking ‘Fitted’ dress. It’s got a waist seam, a big flared skirt, often sleeveless with a notched collar. Lots of cute details like a thin belt, or novelty buttons, or a big old bow, or piping. There’s a lot less of these around, although Miu Miu have come up trumps this season (I love the coral one below, with star-shaped buttons).

Okay, there’s loads of pretty dresses out there to copy, but here’s the problem –  I have serious issues with decision making. I’ve narrowed my options down, and have two possible combos, but I need your help! What do you think of these?

First up, we’ve got Simplicity 2246 (the Lisette Traveler dress), and some gorgeous fabric I bought from Ditto in Brighton. It’s a really light crisp cotton, apparently ex Christian Dior stock. I love the geometric pattern and the mysterious letter A which appears all over (A for AWESOME)

But I’m not 100% sure about the match. I’d make the full-skirted dress, but I wish it just had one waist dart. And a notched collar. I don’t like the girly puffed sleeves either, would have to use the cuffed ones. Also, is this pattern just too boring to do the fabric justice? Help! Too many thoughts!

Okay, second combination:

This is the oil-on-water digital print I got from the lovely people at Our Patterned Hand (pardon the wrinkles – it’s just dried). The pattern is an unknown quantity: McCalls 6520.

Nobody in the world seems to have made this dress, possibly because the envelope styling is hideous (see below). The raglan sleeves could go either way – I love them, but they’re hard to fit. The shaping is loose, but crucially there’s a tie to pull it on at the waist. As a huge bonus they’ve included my favourite thing, a tiny stupid chest pocket. But what do you think? Is this pattern stylish or frumpy?

Matching leopard-print shoes and headband? Oh McCalls. At least you try.

Are you a shirt-dress lover too? Any patterns to recommend?

22 thoughts on “The two types of shirt dresses

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  2. Vanessa@DesignsBySessa October 6, 2012 / 2:13 AM

    Have you made this yet!? I’ve got the pattern in my stash and saw the one from the UK, but would love to see more versions! Thanks!

    • yesilikethat October 11, 2012 / 7:24 PM

      Hi Vanessa! I still haven’t made the McCalls pattern, I’m looking for the perfect fabric. I think it could be awesome, although maybe it’s a bit summery, it might have to wait until spring for me to tackle it now…

  3. Sam June 30, 2012 / 6:01 PM

    A bit late with my comments here, but I like both combinations. The red, black and white fabric is fantastic! Or Awesome, even!

    I think with the McCalls pattern you’d want to make sure you used a fabric with a nice drape to it, so that it hung nice and smoothly.

  4. pillowsalamode June 24, 2012 / 11:08 PM

    I actually have that last McCall’s pattern . . . and the fabric for it . . . but I haven’t made it yet! We’ll see what happens! 🙂

  5. shivani June 20, 2012 / 3:00 PM

    I love the idea of the looser shirtdress, but ultimately, I think the fitted one is so smart. (I love a popped collar!). It’s actually reminded me of my half-finished shirtdress, which I started in September! I’m using Vogue 8028 (yes, that is a popped collar on the cover), which is perfect for what I’m after. It’s out of print (boo), but I got my copy off ebay. x

  6. Heather Lou June 20, 2012 / 12:26 PM

    My love for the the bottom pattern aside, I think I actually prefer the first combination. I think that fabric would be perfect with that full skirt. I would be a little nervous about that graphic print with the looser shirt dress just because it might not do justice to the fabric (I think this dress is best in solids and stripes). When I’m unsure about stuff like I often Photoshop things to get an idea…. But it could well on be fabulous! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  7. PendleStitches June 20, 2012 / 10:38 AM

    I love the McCalls pattern and am seriously considering making it myself. I too had ignored the pattern because the envelope was so uninspiring (as an aside…why do the pattern companies do such uninspiring envelopes?)
    Anyhoo…I then saw it made up here and have been mad for it ever since.

    • yesilikethat June 20, 2012 / 10:49 AM

      Wow, thanks! I knew I should have faith in this pattern. Couldn’t find anyone who’d made it so thank you SO much for the link. I have a dress from the Gap which is similar and I love it. Now to find some fabric to test it out, don’t want to use my lovely digital print for the first try.

    • PendleStitches June 20, 2012 / 10:51 AM

      I’m really glad to have helped. I think it’s a fab dress and can’t wait to see your version. That digital print is gorgeous!

  8. punkmik June 20, 2012 / 7:04 AM

    I have just joined a shirt dress sew along using Simplicity 1880. It is being held over here: It has only just started! I do not have an opinion on the pattern yet but maybe soon! 🙂

  9. theperfectnose June 20, 2012 / 5:29 AM

    The first pic is my favourite (it’s a basic shirtwaist with a popped collar-you should be able to find heaps of vintage patterns in that style-and probably current ones too-I don’t really use the big four so I’m not sure). Also, I had a look at that sewalong and I’m not into the pattern they’re using either (how is that pattern even a shirtwaist?). Anyway-if you’re planning on using that fabric I’d use a simple pattern so the fabric can be the central focus of the garment. I’m not sure about the dart-less Lisette pattern (I have that pattern too and I cut it out with the aim of adding darts to the back and then put away when winter hit..). Use that with the Awesome fabric and you risk achieving a ‘nightshirt’ look-although if the fabric is light/ fine it might work. It’ll be interesting to see how this proceeds..

    • yesilikethat June 20, 2012 / 8:40 AM

      Yes I’m starting to be a bit wary of the McCalls pattern, but I still maintain it could look great in the right fabric. Definitely will make a test version. I’m thinking of using the Lisette pattern with the darts and the gathered skirt, I made the looser version before in denim and it came out pretty well, but want something a bit more fitted. Might have to break out the Burda magazines although the tracing is tedious.

  10. gingermakes June 19, 2012 / 7:57 PM

    I really like the first combo– that’s such a cute pattern, and the fabric is rad. I worry a little that the second pattern could look like a nightgown (I remember my mom having several with raglan sleeves and uneven hems when I was a kid!). Your fabric is so sophisticated and nice that I’m sure it wouldn’t, but it seems a little risky for such precious fabric. But that’s just me!

    • yesilikethat June 20, 2012 / 11:08 AM

      Hmm, it is a worry. Think I’ll need to do more than tissue-fit it, much as I hate making muslins. Thanks for your advice! x

  11. Lakaribane June 19, 2012 / 7:06 PM

    I’m team Fitted all the way. I made 4 shirt dresses last year : 3 from a 2010 Burda pattern, 1 from a 1989 Burda pattern (so technically semi-fitted). I only reviewed the first shirtdress on my blog but, as I am planning MORE this year, I will have to remedy that. I love the fabric choice for S2246 (on my wish list, btw) but I’m a little afraid of the McCall’s (batwings + waist casing???) but the fabric is delicious. Good luck!

    • Lakaribane June 19, 2012 / 7:14 PM

      Sorry, I meant a 1999 Burda pattern, from one of the infamous “Safari” segments. Both buttoned to the hem. From what I see on Lanetz, dresses that button partially are called shirt waists. I also like the AFS sew along pick, on the mile-long wish list so I can’t participate.

    • yesilikethat June 20, 2012 / 11:16 AM

      Wow, sounds like you are the shirtdress queen! Which Burda one did you make? I couldn’t see it on your blog. They always have lovely shirtdresses, but I can never face tracing the patterns with more than 3 pieces! x

    • Lakaribane June 20, 2012 / 4:49 PM

      This is the shirtdress I made thrice:

      You’ll see better photos when you go to the web album.

      And I meant a 1999 Burda pattern, brown linen, topstitched to death with rolled-up sleeves. I was raised on Burda so I don’t find it a hassle. They [used to] have such great patterns, you can use them years after the fact with minor changes. I also trace Big4 patterns because they are not sold locally so I have to spend time and $$$ to get them.

  12. alibobs June 19, 2012 / 6:27 PM

    I made the Lisette Traveller dress last month (well 2 of them – one patterned and one plain) and after fitting adjustments I love it – SO easy to throw on and wear! I didn’t like/have arms too big for the puffed sleeves so made short/capped sleeves.

    The second pattern could be good in the right fabric (although it is still too baggy for me, I need all the darts in the first dress). That print is amazing – I don’t think it could ever look too frumpy!

    • yesilikethat June 20, 2012 / 11:17 AM

      I made the one without darts in denim and I do like it, but I think the fabric was a little bit stiff. I can’t do puffed sleeves of any variety! Just can’t pull them off. x

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