years. Originally designed in the States in 1980s for the factory workers and nurses, the shirtwaist uniform consisted of a gauze man-inspired shirt tucked into a midi skirt often made of cotton. The idea behind the new style was purely practical - the outfit required minimum styling, was easy to maintain through numerous and frequent washes and, most importantly, didn't restrict the movement.
Best of all, the new ensemble was liberating: it didn't need a corset to show off the tiny waist and couldplayfully flirt by exposing a little ankle, something truly new and exciting after the centuries of floor-length gowns. The early designs were further popularised by Charles Diana Gibson, an American illustrator and creator of the Gibson Girl, an illustrated character portraying the ideal of feminine beauty and often associated with the New Woman movement.
By 1910 the shirtwaist became a wardrobe essential. The cotton styles were worn as a typical uniform, while the more elaborate and fancy silk, lace and taffeta designs were chosen for a special occasion. While the evening wear was made to order, the day dresses and uniforms were produced by several factories including the New York-based Triangle Shirtwaist, the largest manufacturer of the dress at the time.
On 25 March 1911 the fire swept through the factory floors burning it down to the ground and killing over 146 workers including 123 women and 23 men. The tragedy lead to the establishment of the American Society of Safety Engineers, the world's oldest health and safety institution.
Despite its dark moment, the shirtdress survived - more over, by the mid 1920s the new styles were introduced as a stylish sportswear garment for playing gold and tennis. Referred to as "the-button-down-the-front-style" and "golfer" they took over the pages of American fashion magazines offering style inspiration and patterns.
In the meantime, on the other side of the Atlantic, the shirtwaist was introduced to the English ladies as the Utility dress. Once again, purely practical, it was the answer to the shortage of fabric and a part of The 1941 Utility Clothing Scheme. As unglamorous as it may sound, the dress was a part of a daywear collection commissioned by the British Board of Trade and designed by ten members of Society of London Designers. The square-shaped model had broad shoulders, a mid-calf skirt, bold lapels and roomy pockets to suit the latest fashions. It was worth 7 clothing coupons from the 66 rationed annually for the entire wardrobe.
And then came Christian Dior. He brought the New Look and his version of the shirt dress featuring tight fitted bodice, rounded shoulders, notched collar, 3/4-length sleeves and a full skirt made of yards and yards of fabric held by a crinoline. It was another moment of liberation, now promising hope and beauty after the gloomy and terrifying years of WWII.
By the mid-1950s the humble dress was praised by both the Royalty and housewives worldwide. Grace Kelly worn a beige silk version when she and Prince Rainier of Monaco announced their engagement in January 1956. The model was christened "To Catch a Prince", inspired by the occasion and the Hitchcock's 1955 film.
In the 1970s the dress changed its shape again to suit the era and new fabrics. Halton was one of the designers responsible for the make-over closely followed by Geoffrey Beene and Bill Blass. Every fashion designer customised the classic giving yet another spin, adding frills or stripping it down back to basics. From Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Donna Karan to Alaia, Ferre and Gianni Versace, Tomas Maier, Bottega Veneta, Altuzarra, Chloe, Valentino and Louis Vuitton, there has never been a decade that would exclude a shirtdress, albeit constantly adjusted for the trends and lifestyle and, once a simple uniform, it still remains one of the most iconic wardrobe essentials today.
Never a trend - always in style.
Photo source: Maria Loks wearing Tod's dress in Shirtdress / How to spend it May 2014 (photography: David Ferrua, styling: Damian Foxe), Vogue Italia 1988, Steevie van der Veen in Cosi semplice cosi chic / Marie Claire Italia March 1989, shirtdress from Gianfranco Ferre for Ketch 1874 collection, Helena Christensen wearing shirtdress in Elle France July 1989 (photography: Friedemann Hauss, styling: Beatrice Amagat), Claudia Schiffer and Valeria Mazza in Harper's Bazaar US June 1995 (photography: Peter Lindbergh), Helena Christensen in W April 1995 (photography: Robert Erdmann), Vogue US November 1983 (photography: Eric Boman), Tatjana Patitz wearing Alaia shirtdress in The long, cool summer / Vogue US July 1992 (photography: Hans Feurer), Christy Burlington in Vogue US December 1992 (photography: Arthur Elgort), Vogue China February 2010 (photography: Patrick Demarchelier), Natalia Vodianova in Vogue US March 2004 (photography: Mert & Marcus, styling: Grace Coddington), Candice Swanepoel in Vogue US April 2012 (photography: Craig McDean, styling: Tabitha Simmons), Valeria Mazza in Atelier Versace Spring 1996 campaign, Laetitia Casta in Marie Claire France July 1995, Beri Smither in Elements of elegance / Marie Claire US April 1995 (photography: Robert Erdmann, styling: Jackie Frank), Making waves / Cosmopolitan July 2008 (photography: Dean Isidro, styling: Michaelle McCool), Maria Loks wearing Giambattista Valli dress in Shirtdress / How to spend it May 2014 (photography: David Ferrua, styling: Damian Foxe), Maryna Linchuk in Chic easy pieces / Harper's Bazaar (photography: Nathaniel Goldberg, styling: Ludivine Poiblanc), shirtwaist dresses from 1950s & 1941 Utility dress via V&A, Grace Kelly wearing shirtdress & Prince Rainier showing Grace's engagement ring to her mother and father at Kelly home in Philadelphia, 1956, photographed by Howard Sochurek via Time / Life, shirtdress on a Spring/Summer 2015 runway at Bottega Veneta, Diane von Furstenberg, Altuzarra, Michael Kors, Erdem, Burberry Prorsum, Donna Karan, Jason Wu, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Chloe & Ralph Lauren