The History Of The Slip Dress

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 months ago | Features

Image: Winona Ryder wearing a slip dress in the 1990s. Image source.

The slip dress is one of the most versatile garments around, so it makes sense that it is also one of the oldest. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the comfort and simplicity of this style was initially due to its status as underwear – used for layering underneath women’s dresses. 

It wasn’t until the 1700s that this ‘underwear’ began to be worn as outerwear, with Queen Marie Antoinette and members of the French court wearing the slip dress (known then as a chemise) to casual gatherings. Then in the early 1900s, the slip dress came to symbolise female freedom from the bonds of restrictive corsetry.

It was Madeleine Vionnet, though, that really revolutionised the slip dress, with the development of bias cutting in the 1920s. Bias cutting is when the fabric is cut on the diagonal grain of the fabric, meaning that it drapes flatteringly across the body without being tight. “The bias was supple, easy, and promising,” Vionnet said in a 1960s interview. “I would take my muslin, and place it perfectly on the bias, then I would make notches along the bias line so as not to lose it, and the bias of the cloth led the way. It guided me.”

This innovative technique allowed the French couturier to lend a sense of fluidity to the slip dress – and the rest is history. Since then, the style has come to represent a sort of sartorial irreverence. And it has thus been appropriately immortalised by everyone from Michelle Pfeiffer’s Elvira Hancock in the film Scarface, to Winona Ryder, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell in the 1990s.

Today, the slip dress remains one of the most versatile garments on the market. For weather that oscillates wildly, the slip dress is unique in its layering credentials, as well as its potential for dressing down during the day and up at night-time. Well-equipped to withstand general wardrobe ennui, as well as dramatic swings in temperature, the slip dress will always go the distance when it comes to cost-per-wear too. So it is a marathon garment, not a sprint.

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