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What Are the Different Types of Dresses?

With our types of dresses guide, you can put the name with the cut and know your dresses for sewing or shopping!

Updated May 13, 2022
What Are the Different Types of Dresses

If you sew clothing (or simply like shopping and fashion), knowing the names and features of the basic dress shapes is extremely helpful. With this guide, What Are the Different Types of Dresses?, learn everything you need to know about dresses.

This will make finding and sewing patterns easier, inspire creativity, and make choosing fabrics simpler. But there are so many terms and subtle differences between dresses that it can be overwhelming.

Here is a general list of the various kinds of dresses, organized in alphabetical order so it's easy to browse!

You will probably recognize most of these but you may not know the name or style nuances. That's why we are not only providing the names of dresses but also with pictures so that you can put a name to the cut.

We are continuously adding more dress types as well, such as the simple sheath dress, little cocktail styles, and the (literally) classic tunic. Knowing the different kinds of dresses will help with many aspects of sewing and pattern-making. Here are five additional types of dresses that you may consider for your next sewing project!

As a bonus, scroll down to download our illustrated Dress Styles and Necklines infographic that you can download and use for your next dress sewing project.

A-Line Dresses

This classic style is characterized by a skirt that extends outwards into a flared “A” shape from the waist to the bottom hem. Lengths vary, so the A-line can be worn in both formal and casual settings.

Likewise, it can be sewn from high-end fabrics or crafted from everyday materials depending on the occasion.

Known as a universally flattering shape, the A-line dress creates a subtly cinched waist. For this reason, it has been and will remain popular throughout time.

A-Line Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. Misseas Frankii A-line Shift Dress Pattern
  2. A-Line Peasant Dress for Girls (shown below)
  3. The Day Date Dress
  4. Classic A-Line Dress

A-Line Peasant Dress

Cocktail Dresses

The first style we will discuss is the cocktail dress. This is a semi-formal dress that typically ends just above or at the knee.

A cocktail "number" (as they are sometimes called) is usually worn in the early evening, often for "cocktail hours" or mixer events. They don’t usually have sleeves, so a wrap or stole would be worn around the shoulders.

Cocktail frocks are a great chance to use embellished, decorated, and couture fabrics and adornments.

Cocktail Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. Summer Sundown Free Dress Pattern
  2. Femme Fatale Cocktail Dress
  3. 1950s Birthday Party Dress
  4. DIY Prom and Cocktail Attire (shown below)

DIY Prom and Cocktail Attire

Drop-Waist Dresses

A drop-waist dress is just what it sounds like: a garment with a much lower waistline than most dresses. The waist of this style is down near the hips instead of at the natural waistline.

Lengths vary from above the knee to long to high-low designs. One popular example is the “flapper dress” of the 1920s.

The drop-waist is a common costume dress style and many sewing patterns are available in stores and online. It’s a versatile dress that can be made from a plain material or from a heavily-embellished fabric.

Drop Waist Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. The New Woman's Flapper Dress
  2. '60s Vixen Lace Dress (shown below)
  3. Upcycled Onesie Dress Pattern
  4. Angel Cloud Convertible Dress Tutorial

'60s Vixen Lace Dress

Empire-Waist Dresses

A favorite of costume designers and often seen in historical dramas with romantic themes, the empire-waist dress is quite recognizable.

It consists of a high waistline that sits just below the fitted bust (or “bodice”) area instead of at the natural waist.

The remaining fabric flows down from the bustline and is not very form-fitting. Empire-waist dresses look especially beautiful when made from layers of sheer fabrics.

Empire Waist Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. Fit for Pemberley Dress (shown below)
  2. Elastic Band Empire Waist Dress for Girls
  3. Tiered Gown
  4. Vintage Sheet to Maxi Dress

Fit for Pemberley Dress

Fit and Flare Dresses

Another classic look is the fit and flare dress. Like the name implies, it is fitted through the bodice, then the skirt section flares out.

The fuller skirt silhouette makes the fit and flare a perfect choice for a variety of body types. Most fit and flares stop just above the knee. Some are sleeveless, while others have sleeves.

It’s a comfortable kind of dress to wear while still offering a semi-formal vibe, and thus will always be in style.

Fit and Flare Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. Ladies Brunch Dress Tutorial
  2. Perfect Fit and Flare Dress Tutorial
  3. Sunday Brunch Free Dress Pattern
  4. Fit and Flare Free Dress Pattern (shown below)

Fit and Flare Free Dress Pattern

Sheath Dresses

A sheath dress is a more form-fitting kind than others. This style creates an hourglass effect for the wearer, due to the skirt and bodice being separate pieces that are then joined together.

The ability of fashion design and pattern-making to visually bring a waistline “inwards” is very evident in this style. Like a cocktail dress, a sheath dress typically stops just above the knee (though some designs fall to just below the knee).

This flattering garment is relatively easy to sew and can be made from a variety of fabrics- from linen blends to wool boucle. 

Sheath Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. 30 Minute Sheath Dress (shown below)
  2. Blush Rose Fitted DIY Dress
  3. Jeannette Dress Pattern
  4. Big Bow DIY Fitted Dress

30 Minute Sheath Dress

Shift Dresses

Made popular in the 1960s, the shift dress is another classic design that remains in style. It is a shorter kind of garment, stopping above the knee (which is why it's sometimes called a "minidress").

A shift dress does not flare out much from the neckline to the bottom hem. Instead, it has a very gradual look, with darts added at the bustline to give a bit of shape.

The lower portion is not form-fitting, but also not very voluminous. They typically have a zipper closure in the back. They can also be made from a variety of fabrics.

Shift Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. Parisienne Drape Dress Pattern
  2. Trapeze DIY Tank Dress
  3. Zoey Dress Pattern (shown below)
  4. Easy Lace Shift Dress Pattern

Zoey Dress Pattern

Sundresses

A favorite for summer days, sundresses tend to be more fitted at the top / bust and then loose and flowing at the bottom.

Some have sleeves, while others are sleeveless. They usually reach the floor or stop just at the ankle, depending on the wearer’s height.

Sundresses are a great way to use cotton or linen-blend materials you have in your fabric stash. They can also be adorned with ribbons and ties along the sleeves and other areas to add details and a custom fit.

Sundress Sewing Patterns:

  1. You Are My Sunshine Dress (shown below)
  2. Sundress for Women
  3. Shirred Top Dress
  4. Grecian Sundress

You Are My Sunshine Dress

T-Shirt Dresses

As the name suggests, a t-shirt dress is an extended version of the popular top. The proportions of the upper half are usually the same as on a regular t-shirt, while the torso is lengthened so that it stops at or above the knee.

Typically it’s a more casual option, although sometimes t-shirt dresses can be made high-fashion with the addition of embellishments or the use of fancy materials.

They are a great dress shape to start with when learning to sew your own clothes! Most don’t use zippers, buttons, or pleats, which makes it easy to construct.

T-Shirt Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. Kid's T-Shirt Dress
  2. DIY T-Shirt Dress (shown below)
  3. DIY Men’s Shirt To Dress Refashion Tutorial
  4. T-Shirt Dress Sewing Pattern

DIY T-Shirt Dress

Tunic Dresses

This dress style was worn in many cultures throughout history, and then popularized in black-and-white movies about ancient Greece and Rome.

A classic silhouette that was once worn by both men and women, today the tunic is a popular womenswear item. The modern tunic has sleeves, often features a low V-shaped collar, and stops around the knees (or sometimes higher).

The pattern for a tunic dress is usually very straightforward, and versions can be simple or dressy depending on the materials used.

Tunic Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. Butterfly Tunic Dress Pattern for Kids
  2. Girls' Gathered Tunic Dress Pattern
  3. Easy Summer Tunic Free Pattern (shown below)
  4. 2 Hour Tunic Dress Tutorial

Easy Summer Tunic Free Pattern

Wedding Dresses

Traditional wedding dresses are quite full in shape, use expensive materials, and are often white or cream in color.

While any dress can technically be a wedding dress, the idea that first pops into our head when thinking about one is a large gown. They will often have an intricate, fitted bodice and an exaggerated bottom portion.

Many wedding dresses are made with a long ball gown skirt, though some are tea-length (ending below the knee and showing the ankles) or even mini. 

Wedding Dress Sewing Patterns via AllFreeDIYWeddings:

  1. Ombre Blush DIY Wedding Dress
  2. Stunning DIY Convertible Wedding Dress
  3. Devastatingly Gorgeous Hand-Painted DIY Wedding Dress
  4. Vintage Flapper Wedding Dress
Plus, check out 14 Wedding Dress Ideas from Sewing Bloggers for lots of tips and more for sewing your own.

14 Wedding Dress Ideas from Sewing Bloggers

Wrap Dresses

The knee-length wrap dress was popularized by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg in the 1970s.

It is characterized by a V-shaped neckline formed by one side wrapping over the other at the bust. An attached string wraps and ties around the waist to hold the dress together.

There have since been many versions of this dress shape, but the concept remains the same. Wrap dresses are usually made from cotton jerseys or polyester-blend fabrics.

Wrap Dress Sewing Patterns:

  1. Fun and Flirty Wrap Dress
  2. Two-Piece Nursing Free Dress Pattern (shown below)
  3. DIY Beach Maxi Dress
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody Wrap Dress Pattern

Two-Piece Nursing Free Dress Pattern

BONUS! Dress Styles and Necklines PDF Guide

For your convenience, we've put together a downloadable PDF with the most popular and common necklines for dresses along with the five most common names of dresses with pictures.

There is no need to memorize when you have them all right here. Plus, you can easily spot the differences when they are all on one sheet.
 

Dress Styles and Necklines PDF Guide

Want More?

Know Your Skirts Guide >>

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Hi as a larger busted lady who does not like to show off her bust I think it would have to be A-Line Dresses or Fit and Flare Dresses. It would be great to have some patterns for larger sized ladies as we do like to look nice also. This was a very handy post Thank - You

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