Swing, Sheath & Maxi: The History Behind Our Favorite Spring Dresses
Just about everybody is familiar with the idea that fashion is cyclical. Year after year, that idea is reinforced with fresh evidence from designers who choose to revive or completely reinvent styles from past decades. In fact, many of today's most popular dress styles are modern improvements on fashions that sprung up to satisfy a certain moment in history, or date back to ancient origins. Get the brief history behind a few of our favorite spring and summer styles, including the swing-dancing story behind the swing dress and the early Bohemian inspiration for the maxi dress.
The History Of Swing Dresses
It Started With Swing Dancing
To know the history of the swing dress is to know the history of swing dancing. Swing dancing is a broader name for some of the fast-paced partner dances that emerged during the early years of big bands and jazz in the 1920's. Among these popular new dances was the Lindy Hop, made famous by innovative dancers like Frankie Manning. These fast-paced partner dances required a high-degree of athleticism and absolute freedom of movement, which prompted changes in the types of dresses women started to wear. The shorter, more flexible dresses that emerged weren't just worn for practical purpose. They were meant to "swing" and accent the dancer's movement.
Many Styles, Same Principles
Just as the term "swing" came to represent a variety of unique dance styles during the Swing Era, the swing dress has also branched off in a number of slightly different directions. However, even though you can find swing dresses with sleeves and without, shorter and longer, free-flowing and figure-fitting, the same characteristics of a swing dress remain the same, giving the wearer more freedom of movement at the hips and waist while still offering a secure, flattering fit at the top. Today, the swing dress is one of the most popular summer dress styles, but there are also plenty of reinterpretations with warm fabrics and slightly longer lengths that make it perfect for spring.
The Influence Of Sheath Dresses
An Ancient History
We're only able to guess as to whether or not Egyptian women wore something like the sheath dress. While there are countless paintings from Ancient Egypt depicting women in dresses that seem to share the tight-fitting, restrictive characteristics of the modern sheath, the reality of such an article of clothing cannot be completely confirmed. Nevertheless, the pictographs may have inspired the designers who created the modern sheath dress as it exploded on the scene in the 1950's and 60's. Although, the sheath dress was already gaining popularity in the decades before due to it offering a simplicity in style that was associated at the time with form-fitting elegance.
Fresh Fabric Impact
Until the 1950's the sheath dress was restrictive. The tight, pencil silhouette made it very difficult to do many basic tasks with ease. Even walking was difficult until pleats were added to give the wearer more freedom of movement. The sheath continued to evolve and became more and more popular as icons of the time started adding the innovative new sheath designs to their wardrobes, most notably Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy. But the real breakthrough for the sheath dress was the introduction of more flexible fabrics decades later. Like the swing and maxi dresses, the sheath now comes in many styles and fabrics that are much less confining than the original.
The Resurgence Of Maxi Dresses
Long Story Short
The maxi dress may have existed before Oscar de la Renta debuted his original design at the 1968 Elizabeth Arden Fashion Show, but it took the famous fashion designer's piece being featured in The New York Times to ignite the maxi-dress craze. Until the late 60's, mini and "midi" skirts were all the craze. Longer skirts and dresses had fallen out of style in the 60's as women sought to step away from the safer, more traditional styles of the 50's, but the maxi dress brought the long dress back in a totally unique way. The maxi dress became the quintessential clothing for the moment, as boho trends started to merge into the mainstream and blended perfectly with the maxi's style.
A Modern Revival
Maxi dresses fell out of style in the late 1970's, perhaps due to their roots in the Bohemian trend and their connection to nonconforming subcultures of the era. The maxi dress is one of the best examples in recent fashion history of how popular styles are truly cyclical. After disappearing in the 1980's and most of the 90's, the maxi dress finally reappeared in the late 90's, mostly in the form of the maxi skirt. It was still having trouble shedding its debilitating boho connection, but fashion designers started to take an interest in the dress once again, moving it beyond boho and giving it the freedom to blend with other styles, making it a staple in every woman's wardrobe.