Shift Dresses: How I Learned to Love Them

This week's outfit is a shift dress - Colette's Laurel.  Here's what's inspired the outfit:

Images from: Eat/Sleep/Wear, Cupcakes and Cashmere, The Blonde Salad, Cupcakes and Cashmere, Cupcakes and Cashmere


I have to admit that, for many years, I wasn't a fan of shift dresses.  Somehow, as a teenager, I had gotten it into my head that they didn't suit me.  My rationale was 'I have a waist: why would I want to wear something that looks like a sack?'

Fast-forward to my early-30s...  After years of avoiding them, I started seeing lots of them in the stores.  Around the same time, I was wanting to wear more dresses in my daily life - and particularly dresses that would be comfortable while sitting at my computer for hours on end, and would be accommodating of the odd big lunch or dinner.  So, one day, I was shopping in John Lewis and I thought: 'What the heck! I'll try one on.'  I grabbed a few from around the store and then proceeded to have an epiphany in the dressing room.  Not only were they comfortable, but they actually looked good on me!  I spent the next few weeks loving my new shift dresses and bemoaning all those years of stubbornness.  

I learned an important lesson that day in John Lewis: in buying clothes and choosing patterns, try not to set up absolutes in your mind.  'Tight dresses look terrible on me.'  'I don't look good in green.'  'Pencil skirts don't suit me.'  These can be helpful - and can make shopping easier.  However, don't abide by them for years and years.  Your body changes over time - and so do your needs.  Also, subtle changes in cut, fabric and colour can sometimes make all the difference in how something looks on you.  So, every once in a while, grab a few things that you wouldn't normally try on - just to see what they look like.  All you'll lose is a few minutes of your time.  I've started doing this a few times a year.  It's actually quite fun!  And I've discovered a few gems along the way.  

Ok - back to this week's outfit!  I've chosen Colette's Laurel dress for this week's outfit.  


Laurel has a semi-loose fit: the shape is kept streamlined through fitted bust and back darts.  Options include menswear-style patch pockets, 1960s-style gathered cuffs, a shortened blouse version, and underlining (for using lace and sheer fabrics).  Colette also has a free bonus e-booklet on their website which includes instructions for nine more variations, including a sleeveless version, tiny ruffles on the neckline and a keyhole neckline!  So, you can get a lot of mileage out of this pattern.  It's also a pretty popular and well-reviewed pattern, with 49 reviews on and 91% of the reviewers giving it a positive rating!  As it's our featured pattern this week, you can save 10% on Laurel until noon on Monday, 1 February.

In line with the inspiration photos, I've chosen some of our crepes - three of our medium-weight Sibylle crepes and a new cream and black floral crepe.  Crepe is a great choice for Laurel, as it will drape and hang nicely.


Black and cream floral crepe, red Sibylle crepe, ivory Sibylle crepe, navy Sibylle crepe (you can see all of these fabrics at the bottom of this page)


With the ivory Sibylle crepe, you will probably want to line or underline it (as it's not 100% opaque).  The great thing is that Laurel includes instructions for using sheer fabrics and adding an underlining! 

Wondering what the print will look like to scale?  Through the magic of Photoshop...

There are some great styling suggestions in the inspiration photos.  Doesn't the black and white floral dress in the first image look great with a long black coat overtop?  I love this bold monochrome look.  The boots really work well too.  Instead of a coat, you could wear it with a long black cardigan.

I love the ruffles on the cream dress.  For me, I would probably just want the elbow ruffles or the bottom ruffle - but that's the beauty of sewing: you can make it to suit you!  Colette's Laurel comes with optional elbow ruffles.  If you wanted to add a hem ruffle, this is actually pretty easy to do.  Here's a tutorial.

Finally, I love the statement necklace on the last image.  A plain-colour shift dress provides a perfect canvas for showing off a really beautiful statement necklace.  You could also add a collar to the dress - like in the 2nd last image.  You could adapt a collar from another dress pattern - or simply buy one of the great jewelled collars that are in the shops right now.


Colette Laurel
Sizes: 0-18
Level: beginner
Reviews: 49 reviews on; 91% of the reviews give it a positive rating!
Similar patterns: Named Inari; Liesl & Co. Cappuccino; Victory Hazel; Burda 7031


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January 28, 2016 by Amy Lloyd
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