When Was the Swing Dress Popular?

Dresses of days gone by are truly special, and the swing dress is no exception. Popular in the 1950’s, swing dresses are commonly associated with swing dancing that carried over into the early 1950’s and the rock n’ roll sock hops that defined the mid to late years of the decade.

Swing dresses (also called circle dresses) were most popular in the early 1950’s and throughout the decade, but interpretations of the swing dress can still be seen today. The swing dress is known for its full skirt, fitted bodice, and was often paired with a petticoat for extra fullness in the 1950’s.

In this article, we’ll review the history of the swing dress as well as learn about the design elements that make the swing dress a beautifully feminine addition to any wardrobe.

Why is it called a swing dress?

This type of dress is called a swing dress because of the full skirt attached below the fitted bodice. When wearing a swing dress, twirling or spinning around creates a “swinging” effect with the skirt billowing out from the wearer’s body. This made it an especially popular dress to wear while Swing dancing or dancing to rock n’ roll music that was popular in the mid to late years of the 1950’s. The dress is especially eye-catching on the dance floor when dancing to these types of music.  

What era are swing dresses?

Swing dresses were most popular during their creation in the late 1940’s and the entire decade of the 1950’s. A variation on a swing dress is the circle skirt. The circle skirt features the full skirt of the swing dress and was often worn with a crinoline or petticoat underneath. Teen ladies were quick to adopt this effortless style, often paired with a nice blouse and bobby socks worn with saddle oxford shoes. When worn in this fashion, the dress was typically created from easy to wear cottons and fabric blends. This is the look most associate with Fifties teen style and is often depicted as a poodle skirt, which is a swing skirt with a poodle applique on the bottom left or right side of the skirt. Other popular applique designs of the era included a telephone or record amongst others. The swing style dress could also be seen in formal dress, such as the prom gowns of the 1950’s. These dresses were often sown of fabrics such as organza, taffeta, chiffon or satin which was extremely popular during this decade. In the 1960’s, swing dresses and circle skirts waned in popularity because of the invention of the shift dress.

What is the difference between a shift dress and a swing dress?

Shift dresses and swing dresses are exact opposites in terms of style and fit. While the swing dress is form fitting through the bodice and full through the hips and legs, a shift dress is mostly loose throughout and isn’t nearly as form fitting, but is typically fitted through the bust area. Shift dresses follow an A-line form and feature darts at the bust with a scoop neck or boat neck design. They were extremely popular in the 1960’s and can also be seen in modern interpretations. The shift dress was a complete change from the 1950’s swing dress and these dresses are associated with the preferred long, lean body styles and modernity of the 1960’s. More women were working out of the home and style was leaning towards more casual, easy fits and fabrics to accommodate the modern career woman. Svelte models such as Twiggy were often seen sporting this style, often in a mini-length, which is another defining style of the 1960’s. These dresses were typically made in no-iron fabrics such as knits and polyesters.

Are swing dresses out of style?

Swing dresses have fallen in and out of fashion since their inception, but you will still find modern interpretations as well as true-to-decade renditions of this popular style. A petticoat is often not paired with this dress in modern times, but for those who want to incorporate a historically accurate vintage look into their style, a petticoat will provide that fullness one is looking for.  In our modern, anything goes era of style, you’ll still find swing dresses in new patterns and fabrics. Modern swing dresses may be casual or dressy and the style can even be seen in wedding fashion.

When was the swing dress invented?

While I couldn’t find a definitive answer to this question, it is likely that the first iterations of the swing dress appeared in the late 1930’s. Examples of early precursors to the swing dress we all know and love can be seen in the movie Swing Time starring Ginger Rogers released in 1936 (Source). The dresses worn by Rogers are more of a trumpet-style but were not as fitted at the legs as modern trumpet dresses. From the “Never Gonna Dance” scene, Rogers is wearing a dress with a fitted bodice and fuller skirt, but the design is still fitted more in the hips than what we know as a swing dress. However, while she twirls through out the song, the dress flares up and out as we’d expect from a swing dress since it is not fitted at the thigh or leg.

What type of dress is a swing dress?

In today’s style terms, the swing dress is often referred to as a fit and flare dress. This is a nod to the fitted bodice and the flared skirt of the dress. While both shift dresses and swing dresses follow an A-line design, the swing dress can be thought of as an exaggerated A-line as the skirt is much fuller than a shift dress which has a much less full skirt and is a more contained A-line shape. The swing dress is flattering on any body type. If you already have an hourglass figure, the dress simply accentuates your shape. If you do not, the dress is great for creating a cinched-waist appearance and even a slimmer silhouette if this is the look you’re going for. It’s also a great piece to camouflage thick thighs and legs. The full skirt makes it a carefree, no-fuss design that will allow for comfort whether dressed up or dressed down.

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