|Material||Chiffon, Crepe, Jersey, Voile|
The Princess Sheath dress is a style of dress associated with the Princess of Wales, later known as Queen Alexandra, that became popular between 1878 and 1880.
The Princess sheath is constructed with the bodice and skirt cut in one with a gored skirt. The dress was worn without a bustle but with a small pad. To tighten the front of the dress, ribbons were attached in the back's interior.
During the early 1900s, Americans were still looking to Paris for the latest trends. American socialites traveled to Europe to view collections and receive custom outfits. Paul Poiret is credited as the first designer of the modern sheath dress. In doing so, he also created a rubber girdle as an alternative to the boned corset to wear under the dress. In great contrast to the emphasized curves of Victorian era and earlier dress, the sheath dress offered a sleek look that revealed the legs and lower torso with a slit.
The style of the sheath dress reached the United States in 1908. That fall, the production of Bandanna Land, a musical, included the song "Sheath Gown in Darktown", which the chorus goes:
<poem> Oh there's trouble down in Old Darktown, Since Bella came with that sheath gown, Imported walk and smile, and all that foreign style, And all the girls are badly hurt as they watch her flirt that see-more skirt. The sheath gown it's got Darktown, and will hold it for a while. </poem>
By the 1950s, the sheath dress became the modern look for American women. In 1950, Christian Dior introduced the "Vertical Line". The line catered to a woman's body and her curves in comparison to previous years. From the line, Vogue called the sheath dress the "most important single day fashion".
In 1956, a girdle sales manager remarked “The sheath paid for my house in Westport.” Pattern companies sold sheath cuts up to size 22 ½ and 41 inch bust size. The dress was referred to as “the slim look for five o’clock on”. For a casual look, the sheath dress was matched with a short sleeve print bolero. As a business attire, a box jacket when over the bolero as well as the dress. As the cut of the dress became easier to construct, textures were added to the dress such as beads.
One of the most notable sheath dresses of all time is the black Givenchy dress of Audrey Hepburn. In 1961, Hepburn wore a Hubert de Givenchy black sheath dress in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's. By this time, her dress became known as the little black dress. On May 19, 1962, Marilyn Monroe sang happy birthday to then president John F. Kennedy for his 45th birthday. At the event, Monroe wore a Jean Louis sheath dress that is described as "skin and beads". The dress was made nude toned, backless, and clad with crystals. Monroe was sewn into the dress for a tight fit. In 2016, the Jean Louis design sold for $4.8 million.
In recent years, the sheath dress is worn as a cocktail dress. The pattern can also be seen worn on brides as sheath dresses are popular as wedding dresses; the style is recommended for slim brides who are either tall or petite. At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama wore a purple crepe sheath dress designed by Maria Pinto. This dress was made notable when Michelle gave her husband, Barack Obama a fist bump on stage.