Of all the skirted items in our wardrobes, a midi dress is probably the most worn and enjoyed. It is a great choice for night and day, work and play and its length makes it the most versatile of all gowns as designers throughout the 20th century have proved. In shape, fabric, colour and style the choices to be found in vintage midi dresses is boundless. We defy any woman to find a dress in the shops today without seeing the ghost of its vintage dress grandmother still present.
At the beginning of the 20th century, as skirts lifted off the ground, women realised what they’d been missing. During the First World War, while the men were away, women entered roles never previously considered, and this new workforce needed their everyday clothes to become practical to suit their new working lives. Today, this remains too true with midi dresses often worn as a great option for work when you want to wear one. Once the skirts had lifted, there was really no bringing them back down to the ground, unless to a ball, and the 1920's and designers such as Coco Chanel and Jean Patou created a new athletic aesthetic of young athletic bodies in columnar simple dresses. The below the knee and mid-calf length dresses of the 1920’s and the following 1930’s and 1940’s demonstrated how truly elegant this length of dress can be with shift dresses, layered dresses, tea dresses, coat dresses and shirt dresses in beautiful fabrics from sheer layered chiffons to shining lamé and printed cottons to shimmering satins.
In contrast, midi dresses of the 1950’s offer an entirely different aesthetic. Christian Dior and his ‘New Look’ of 1947 took full effect in the 1950’s with expanding skirts and nipped in waists. Dior had wanted to emulate the femininity of the 1930’s before War put practicality first. Now, ration books went out the window as yards of fabric were cut to create this new fabulous silhouette. Yet, as the decade progressed and moved into the 1960’s femininity could be expressed in an entirely opposing way with skirts with hemlines narrower than the hips, creating the iconic ‘wiggle’ effect on curvaceous figure like Marilyn Monroe as they walked. For those without the prefect hip to bottom ratio, the 1970’s offered a new and refreshing alternative with Diane von Furstenburg’s wrap dresses in bold simple prints. Introduced in 1974, this is a style of dress which has proved such a hit that its popularity is really yet to fade. Whatever your favourite midi dress shape or style, find a perfect example from every decade on the Open for Vintage rails.
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