Sheath vs. Shift Dress: What's the Difference?

Posted by Shopthemint Team on

Whether you work a 9-to-5 office job or you just appreciate having flattering and chic boutique dresses in your closet, you’re most likely familiar with the sheath and the shift dress. These two dresses are very similar, but their slight differences make them unique in their own ways while always offering a flattering silhouette and versatile style that can be worn day and night.

Because these two styles are so alike, you may have a variety of both in your closet and, if not, you have definitely encountered the styles before. In this article, we will break down the differences between the two dresses, as well as share some ways to style them.

Get ready to compare and contrast all of the dresses in your closet!

a woman wearing an open to you red ditsy floral dress

What Is a Sheath Dress?

Sheath dresses usually come in a midi length or fall just above the knee while having a more form-fitting silhouette. While it may not hug your curves tightly, a sheath dress will highlight your curves and show your figure off. The silhouette is usually straight, coming in and cinching at the waist slightly. There are many different styles of the sheath dress, but most commonly, you’ll find the style in short and long sleeves.

a woman wearing a from the heart white shift dress

What Is a Shift Dress?

The shift dress is a fun style that has a more relaxed yet structured vibe. The dress hangs from the shoulders, and instead of coming in and cinching at the waist, the dress has a slight flare toward the bottom. This style is not curve-hugging or form-fitting, as it usually offers more room and space in the hips. While the shift dress silhouette can be translated across many different styles and lengths, it’s usually a midi length with short sleeves, similar to the sheath dress.

Shop Cute Shift Dresses

What's the Difference Between a Sheath and Shift Dress?

Sheath and shift dresses look very similar side by side, but if you were to examine the fine details of each garment, you could see that they are totally different. One of the biggest ways these styles differ is in the way they fit and fall on the body. While sheath dresses tend to be more form-fitting throughout the entire garment, shift dresses are looser and do not hug your curves. Sheath dresses can get a little roomier through the bottom, which is what can cause anyone to easily mistake it for a shift dress, but a sheath dress will always come in and cinch at the waist, causing the garment to closely hug your curves and define your figure.

a woman wearing a make life easy ivory white polka dot dress

How to Style a Sheath Dress

Whether you are going into the office or out to brunch with your friends, the sheath dress is a versatile option that can be dressed down or up, depending on the occasion. If you want to define your figure and create an hourglass silhouette, you will definitely want to stick with a sheath dress. But to further emphasize your waist, you could always add a thin belt just above your waist or choose a sheath dress that has a tie waist. That extra cinch will make your curves pop. If you’re styling a midi sheath dress, add a pair of strappy heels to elongate your figure. We love this look for date night, a conference, fancy brunch, church or an interview.

Dress Too Fancy? Learn How to Dress Down a Dress Here

How to Style a Shift Dresses

Because shift dresses are a little more laid-back, due to their flowy nature, we love styling shift dresses in a casual way. But that doesn’t mean shift dresses can’t be dressed up. You can instantly elevate a shift dress with a pair of heels and some cute accessories. We advise against cinching the waist with accessories like a belt or tie waist because the whole point of a shift dress is to have a style that’s more relaxed. You can also top shift dresses off with an oversized cardigan that falls at the same length as a dress. If you want to create a more fun and flirty look, try mini shift dresses. We love the shift dress look for a casual day of running errands, going into the office, business-casual occasions, dinner with the girls or date night.

Whether you like a more curve-hugging fit or you love the whimsical and versatile style of the roomy shift dress, these dress silhouettes are both great pieces to have in your closet.