Types of Dresses: A Sewist’s Guide

types of dresses
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From A-line to tent, and from balloon to mermaid’s tail, there are dozens of different dress types and silhouettes! Unsurprisingly, keeping track of what they all mean can be confusing for any sewist, seamstress, or even fashion designer.

That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to the different types of dresses so that sewists can use it as a reference guide, and to know what patterns to look for.

A sewist’s A to Z of different types of dresses

Let’s take a look at each dress type, from A to Z, from a sewist’s perspective. We’ll cover the main characteristics of each silhouette and discuss the level of difficulty as well as recommended fabrics.

A-line Dress

An A-line dress is a classic style that is one of the easiest dress styles to sew. This dress shape is snug at the hips and then flares out into a triangular shape similar to a capital “A”.

woman wearing a red A-line dress
Source: Etsy / MaisonLy

You can also have A-line dress shapes where the triangular shape flows from the shoulders rather than from the hips, with or without a defined waist. The A-line shape is essentially a triangle and doesn’t need a high degree of tailoring such as darts or slits, so is a simple one to sew.

A-line dresses and skirts can have only a small flare, or more pronounced one. This shape is comfortable to wear, unrestrictive and easy to walk in. Because the dress shape is fitted at the hips and drapes loosely from there, it is flattering on many body types, particularly pear-shaped figures.

Apron Dress

woman wearing a yellow apron dress
Source: Etsy / StacyKitchenDecor

This silhouette has many of the same features as an apron, such as a bib at the front of the bodice, and is usually sleeveless.

This shape is very similar to a pinafore dress but usually has extra frills, and may be held in place with waist bands.

Apron dresses can be quite revealing, so are often worn over another dress with a simple silhouette. It is usually made from a stiffer fabric like cotton or linen, and is reasonably easy to make for sewists of all levels.

Asymmetrical Dress

Asymmetrical dresses can have a range of hem lengths, necklines, and sleeves.

woman wearing a colorful asymmetrical dress

What they all have in common is that they have an asymmetrical hem line, such as shorter on one side than the other, or short at the front and long at the back.

Sometimes the asymmetry extends to the neckline, such as a single sleeve and one bare shoulder or a detail on one hip.

Asymmetrical dresses are not particularly difficult to sew, but it is important to be careful with measuring and pattern cutting to achieve the right line on the hem.

Usually this silhouette looks best in floaty fabrics that will move easily such as a lightweight knit.

Baby Doll Dress

woman wearing a red baby doll dress

The baby doll silhouette, with a fitted bodice and a loose, short skirt was very popular in the 1990s. The gathered skirt can fall from the waistline, but more often falls from just under the bust.

This dress shape is most commonly seen in nightwear, where the bodice may be a bralette, but can also be used for daywear such as a summer dress.

A baby doll dress is easy to make and is a good early project for beginner sewists. This is also an excellent project to learn pattern-making – check out this tutorial on how to make your own baby doll dress and pattern.

Ballgown

A ballgown does not have a specific silhouette, but is a very formal dress with a lot of volume. A typical ball gown may have a fitted bodice and a very full skirt.

woman wearing lilac ballgown

Various techniques are used to give volume to these decadent garments, such as ruffles, horse-hair lining, or hoops.

Many of these techniques are extremely advanced and the fabrics they use (such as velvet, satin and silk organza) are tricky to work with, so ball gowns are generally the domain of professional dressmakers.

Ball Gowns are not only difficult but also expensive to make, as they typically use luxurious fabric and may include pricey trims such as lace or sequins.

They are best attempted by only experienced sewists!

Balloon Dress

a yellow balloon dress on a dress form
Source: Etsy / LinenAndGauze

Balloon dresses have a very distinctive hemline: the hem is turned inward to create a characteristic balloon-like effect. This is sewn by gathering the hem of the skirt into a narrow band, and the fullness of the skirt than balloons over the band.

Usually, this band and the corresponding balloon shape sit above the knee: you could sew a balloon dress with a longer hem but this is not only trickier to achieve the same effect, it is also more difficult to walk in!

Balloon dresses are quite difficult to sew, firstly because of the gathering technique used, and also as this type of silhouette needs to be lined. The fullness of the skirt along with the lining also means that you will need a large amount of fabric to make a balloon dress.

Blazer Dress

woman wearing a blazer dress
Source: Etsy / Topforlife

A blazer dress has a distinctive front that fastens like a double-breasted blazer.

Typically with a very short hemline, this silhouette may or may not include a belt to define the waist.

This is a more formal silhouette which is usually made in suiting fabric and is often seen in corporate or office wear.

Blouson Dress

woman wearing a red blouson dress
Source: Etsy / ColorMeVintageCo

This floaty silhouette is distinctive for its voluminous bodice and looks like a full blouse with a straighter skirt, although it is actually all one piece.

The flowy, voluminous dress is cinched at the waist, creating a billowy effect at the top.

Therefore, the waistline is very important in this style of dress, and can be achieved by using a belt, drawstring, or elastic at the waist.

The latter two are obviously a little more complex but a blouson dress fastened with a ready-made belt is very easy to make.

Boho Dress

woman wearing a white boho dress
Source: Etsy / Awatara

Boho, or bohemian dresses, are reminiscent of hippy fashion from the 1960s and 1970s.

The silhouette is soft and loose, usually with a long skirt that falls to the ankles or the floor.

Along with the loose silhouette, boho dresses are characterized by their use of trims such as embroidery, lace, and tassels.

They are usually sewn in lightweight fabrics and look particularly great in floral prints.

Camisole Dress

Camisole dresses are typically knee to mid-calf length, with thin spaghetti straps and either a round or v-shaped neckline.

woman wearing a black camisole dress

Once used only to make slips and nightgowns, the camisole silhouette is now widely accepted to make day and semi-formal garments. 

These dresses are usually made in soft fabrics such as silks or satins and cut on the bias to add some stretch and hug the body’s curves. Although a relatively-straightforward pattern, sewing a camisole dress does require a degree of skill due to the fabrics used and because the fit needs to be exact.

Camisole dresses can be minimalist, or may feature gathers or pleats.

Cocktail Dress

woman wearing a pink cocktail dress

Cocktail dresses have been worn at semi-formal events for decades for a simple yet elegant look.

The classic cocktail silhouette is knee-length and can have a variety of sleeves and necklines.

This type of dress can also be made in a range of fabrics, though they are typically made in formal material such as satin, silk georgette or crepe.

The difficulty level depends on the design and fabric you choose but are usually suitable for ambitious beginners to advanced sewists.

Corset Dress

A corset dress includes a corset that is either fitted over the dress or acts as the bodice of the dress itself.

black corset dress on a dress form
Source: Etsy / ollybridal

Corsets are usually highly structured with lacing either at the front, the back, or both, and give the dress a unique, vintage look. This structured bodice can be complimented with any type of skirt, but looks best with a full circle-skirt.

Corset dresses can have anything from very short to floor-length hems and both the skirt and bodice are usually constructed in luxe fabrics such as satin.

Corsets have multiple panels, and use feature interfacing and boning for strength and structure. These involve complex sewing techniques so making a corset dress is an advanced and time-consuming project.

Dirndl Dress

woman wearing a Dirndl dress
Source: Wikimedia / Nemoralis

A traditional European dress worn by peasants in Austria, Switzerland and Southern Germany a Dirndl dress is characterized by lacing on the back or front of the bodice and a large apron on the skirt.

This folk garment is still worn today by women in these countries for cultural events, and by just about anyone at Oktoberfest!

The Dirndl dress features a ribbon-like waistband that is tied in a bow around the waist. This is an important feature of the garment because traditionally, where the bow is tied indicates the wearer’s relationship status: if it is tied on the left she is single, on the right means she is married or unavailable, and a knot at the back means she is a widow.

Dirndl dresses are reasonably complex to make because they involve a number of different elements and trims, including embroidery on the bodice. If you want to give it a go, check out this pattern.

Traditionally, these garments were made in natural materials such as wool, linen and silk, and trimmed with silver and mother-of-pearl. However, these days they are more commonly made from hard-wearing fabrics like polyester.

Empire Waisted Dress

woman wearing empire waisted dress

An empire waisted or empire line dress is a style that dates back to the late 18th and early 19th century.

The so-called “Empire silhouette” is named after the First French Empire as Napoleon’s first Empress Josephine de Beauharnais was instrumental in driving this trend at the time.

This dress shape has a small, fitted bodice that ends just end the bust, where it gives way to a flowing silhouette.

The long, flowing skirt is easy to sew and comfortable to wear, as well as being flattering on many body types.

Fit and Flare Dress

A fit and flare silhouette is fitted around the bust and then gradually flares out to the knee, or the floor.

woman wearing a black fit and flare dress
Source: Etsy / xiaolizi

This is a flattering silhouette, particularly on pear-shaped figures.

This silhouette is often seen in South Asian and Middle Eastern garments such as the Indian lehenga, as well as modern Western dresses.

Fit and flare dresses are typically made with panels that are narrower at the top and wider at the bottom, to create the flare to the hem.

This makes them more a little more complex and time-consuming to sew compared to more simple dress types.

Flapper Dress

woman wearing a dark red flapper dress
Source: Etsy / Gatsbylady

This dress style is named after the flapper movement of the 1920s which was all about by young women pursuing greater freedom. These women were known for their controversial lifestyles, short haircuts, and the dresses they wore.

The flapper dress was an important part of the movement because it represented many of the values of the movement itself. These dresses were shorter than the floor-length styles of previous decades, giving women more freedom to move, not to mention dance!

Similarly, the loose waistline was a departure from the restrictive corsets worn by the flappers’ mothers and grandmothers.

Flapper dresses knee-length, loose and box-shaped. They often feature fringing and/or beading, a reflection of the party lifestyle of the flappers.

Halter Neck Dress

A halter-neck is any kind of neckline that wraps around the back of the neck, leaving the shoulders and upper back bare.

woman wearing a halter neck dress
Source: Etsy / blueberrycactus

This can incorporate anything from a plunging v-neck fastened with a thick band, to a high neckline fastened with a narrow tie.

A halter-neck dress is any design that features this kind of neckline. It can have virtually any kind of bodice and skirt below the neck, though this is commonly seen with an A-line silhouette in lightweight, summery fabrics.

The halter-neck is most flattering on slim shoulders, though you can play with the shape of the rest of the dress to best suit your body type.

Handkerchief Dress

woman wearing a colorful handkerchief dress
Source: Etsy / CierraLauren

The characteristic asymmetrical hem of a handkerchief dress looks like the drapes of a handkerchief (or several handkerchiefs) that are held from the middle.

Handkerchief dress patterns are very simple, as the skirt is made out of a square.

However, choosing the right fabric is critical: you need something like chiffon or a jersey knit that will drape well.

Kaftan Dress

Kaftans are traditional garments worn in Turkey, North and West Africa.

woman wearing a black kaftan dress
Source: Etsy / MaLaHandworks

A kaftan dress takes its inspiration from this ethnic item of clothing, with the same loose-fitting silhouette and loose, open side seams. Like the traditional garment, modern kaftan dresses are usually ankle or floor-length and brightly-colored.

Kaftan dresses are relatively easy to sew: the bodice and sleeves are made from a single piece of fabric, one for the front and one for the back. Usually, it has just one seam down each side, with a hole for the neckline and extra fabric by each seam that adds movement.

Kaftan dresses look great in prints and can also feature embroidery or trims on the front or around the sleeves to add interest to the simple dress shape.

Kimono Dress

Another dress based on traditional clothing from a particular culture, kimono dresses are inspired by the garments worn in Japan for centuries.

woman wearing a pink kimono dress
Source: Etsy / LeMuse

While traditional kimonos are pretty complex, kimono dresses don’t follow this design exactly. Rather, they borrow some of the distinctive design elements, such as the wrap-around bodice and neckline, and wide, flowing sleeves.

Kimono dresses are also usually made in printed, Japanese-style silks or satins.

Although the kimono design is relatively easy to make, working with these types of fabrics can be a bit challenging and requires some practice.

You can also find synthetic prints that will be easier to work with, not to mention significantly cheaper!

Lace Dress

A lace dress may feature a lace bodice and sleeves with a contrasting skirt, or be entirely constructed out of lace. This creates an elegant, feminine look with a vintage twist.

woman wearing a white lace dress
Source: Etsy / Soulheavenboutique

One of the important elements of any lace dress is the lining. They are typically lined with a flesh-colored fabric, though can also be lined in colorful tones for contrast.

The lining and the precision required to sew lace fabrics make these dresses a more difficult project better suited to experienced sewists.

Lace dresses are commonly made from white, cream, or ivory lace, but can be very dramatic if sewn using boldly-colored lace fabric in a bright blue or red, for example.

Little Black Dress

woman wearing a little black dress
Source: Etsy / TAVROVSKA

The little black dress is a type of garment so legendary it even has its own acronym, “LBD”.

It is a dress entirely in black, usually with a short to knee-length hem.

The LBD can be in any silhouette, though common shapes include A-line, sheath and pencil.

An LBD should be fairly simple, with few ruffles, pleats or trims, because the power of this dress lies in its versatility. As Karl Lagerfeld once said “One is never over-dressed or under-dressed in a little black dress”!

Long Sleeve Dress

As the name suggests, the long sleeve dress features long sleeves, often with interesting shapes such as a pronounced, puff sleeve.

woman wearing a long sleeve dress

This type of dress does not necessarily have a set neckline, bodice or skirt-shape and is most often seen in cocktail and business wear.

One common long-sleeve dress design features a plain silhouette with a slim skirt and long sleeves that are puffed from the shoulder but fitted around the forearms.

Because of the tailoring involved in these kinds of designs, they are generally relatively-difficult to make.

Low or Drop Waist Dress

woman wearing a pink drop waist dress
Source: Etsy / OffOn

On this silhouette, the waist seam sits on the hip or just above the hip line. This lengthens the torso and so is a great choice for anyone with a high waist.

The drop waist shape was very popular in the 1980s and so these type of dresses have a retro look.

Drop waist patterns are usually pretty simple, and so are suitable for sewists of all levels.

Mermaid’s Tail Dress

A mermaid tail or mermaid silhouette is fitted from the bodice to the knee or just below, with a pronounced flare below, like a tail.

woman wearing a white mermaid’s tail dress

This can be achieved by cutting the flare into the same pattern piece or adding one or more frills to the bottom of the skirt.

The top part of the skirt is snug around the hips to the flare of the “tail”, and in some cases can be very tightly fitted. Depending on the tightness of the fit and where the flare starts, this type of skirt can be difficult to walk in.

This shape needs to fit perfectly in order to look flattering, so sewists need to be highly competent in pattern cutting and tailoring to attempt this kind of garment. This restrictive yet dramatic design is usually only seen in formal wear and wedding dresses.

Mini, Midi and Maxi Dresses

women wearing mini, midi and maxi dresses

These are common terms used to describe the hem length of dresses:

  • Mini dresses – although this term is used to refer to any short skirt, technically a mini dress has a hemline that falls around half-way between the hip and the knee. Extremely short dresses with a higher hemline are categorized as a micro dress.
  • Midi dresses – as the name suggests, midi dresses are mid-way in length between a mini and a maxi dress, usually knee-length or just below the knee. This is a good choice when dressing for an event and you don’t know how formal it is.  
  • Maxi dresses – these are full-length, with the hem falling to the ankle or all the way to the floor. This style was made popular in the 1970s and modern maxi dresses are often hippy-inspired with voluminous silhouettes made in floral or geometric prints.

In general terms, each of these kinds of dresses can have just about any type of neckline, waist, or sleeve.

Off the Shoulder Dress

The off-the-shoulder silhouette features bare shoulders, with a sleeve or strap sitting on the upper arm. There are various variations of the off-the-shoulder, including the pouffe sleeve, which we’ll cover later in this list.

woman wearing an off the shoulder dress

An off the shoulder dress always has sleeves or straps of some kind, as opposed to a strapless dress that has none at all.

There is also a variation of the off-the-shoulder dress, sometimes called a ‘cold shoulder’ dress, that has shoulder cut outs with a piece of fabric on either side.

The difficulty level to make an off the shoulder dress varies depending on the exact design. This pattern and tutorial is an easy off the shoulder dress suitable for sewists of all levels.

One-Shoulder Dress

woman wearing a white one-shoulder dress
Source: Etsy / Nuichan

Another type of bare shoulder dress is the one-shoulder dress, although in this case only one shoulder is completely bare.

The other shoulder may have a strap or a sleeve that sits on top of the shoulder or off to the side.

The one-shoulder style is a great way to add interest to a garment without tricky sewing techniques of time-consuming features, so this kind of garment can be made by sewists of all levels.

Peasant Dress

peasant dress on a dress form
Source: Etsy / JoanaClothes

Inspired by European peasants of days gone by, the dresses have a loose fit and are typically made in summer, floral fabrics. Peasant dresses are characterized by very loose or raglan sleeves.

Another feature that defines the peasant dress is a neckline that looks like the traditional drawstring one worn by peasants for centuries.

This can be achieved by gathering the loose fabric of the bodice and either sewing it down or sewing in elastic.

A similar technique may be used to define the waist, or the waistline can be kept loose and flowing.

You’ll need to know how to sew this kind of neckline, but this is not too difficult to learn, even for beginners. Otherwise, peasant dresses are pretty easy to make thanks to their simple shape.

Pencil Dress

A pencil dress is straight and slim, with no fuss, just like a pencil.

woman wearing a dark blue pencil dress
Source: Etsy / Annaclothing

Typically, the hem falls just above the knee: any lower, and the narrow skirt can be difficult to walk in.

Although the overall line of the dress is straight up and down, it does feature a defined waist. The skirt looks perfectly straight when worn, but the skirt pattern is actually narrower at the hem than it is at the hips.

Sometimes a back slit is added to make the garment more practical and comfortable. This silhouette can be difficult to pull off for some body types, and generally best suits slender figures with narrow hips.

Like other snug-fitting garments, the pencil dress needs a perfect fit and so requires a skillful tailor.

Peplum Dress

This playful style first became popular in the 1940s, though it actually dates back to ancient Greece.

woman wearing a yellow peplum dress
Source: Etsy / peacockandsquirrel

It is characterized by a large frill that falls from the waist, usually in the same fabric as the rest of the garment.

To ensure that the peplum frill is pronounced, the dress has a slim or pencil skirt underneath. This adds volume to the hips and is great if you’re looking to add definition to slim hips!

Although they look complex, peplum dresses are fairly easy to make, as the peplum frill is simply a circle or half circle. This design needs a fabric that is heavy enough to hold the peplum shape, such as a rayon or cotton jersey knit, or a cotton interlock.

Pinafore Dress

A pinafore dress, sometimes also called a jumper dress, has a neckline just like a child’s pinafore.

woman wearing pinafore dress
Source: Etsy / meetraSHOP

That is, it has a square front with wide straps running over the shoulders.

This style is intended to be worn with something underneath: we recommend a shirt or turtle-neck sweater.

This makes it a versatile garment that can be adapted to different occasions and weather depending on what you pair it with.

Pouffe Sleeve Dress

The pouffe (or pouf, or puff) sleeve has a very distinctive shape, sitting off the shoulder in line with the neckline as if they are only joined to the rest of the dress under the arm.

woman wearing a pouffe sleeve dress
Source: Etsy / tintofmintPATTERNS

The sleeve itself is puffy and voluminous, and can be very short or may be mid or even full length.

The puffiness of the pouffe sleeve is achieved by gathering both the top and bottom of the sleeve and securing it with elastic, and should be made in a stiff fabric like cotton.

The elastic also helps to hold the sleeve in place off the shoulder.

This is a slightly trickier dress to make because of the distinctive sleeve, but can be attempted by ambitious beginners to experienced sewists.

Princess Gown

A princess gown has a fitted bodice with a very full skirt. This garment is characterized by princess seams on the bodice. On a princess dress, these seams create a fitted bodice that melts into a draped skirt.

princess gown on a dress form
Source: Etsy / AandMEnterprises

A princess seam is a shaped seam that fits the garment to the form of your curves, while making lines that elongate your body.

Many people find princess seams easier to sew than other techniques for form-fitting garments such as darts. Once you’ve mastered the princess seam – check out this tutorial to learn how – you’ll find a princess dress a dream to sew!

Princess dresses can be made from any kind of soft fabric that will drape nicely, anything from a jersey to soft silk.

Puffball Dress

A puffball dress has a voluminous, puffed hem that usually sits above the knee. This style first appeared in 1950s cocktail and formal wear but experienced a major resurgence in the 1980s so is most commonly associated with that decade.

woman wearing a floral printed puffball dress
Source: Etsy / FairyLadyShop

The puffball effect is achieved by folding the skirt under at the hem and sewing it to the lining. In doing so, the fabric is gathered and creates the signature puffed effect.

Puffball dresses often have a tight bodice or cinched waist to contrast to the voluminous skirt, or in some cases feature a full-body puff that extends from the shoulders to the hemline. They are best sewn in stiffer fabrics like silk organza and require a degree of skill to create this distinctive hem for maximum effect.

Qipao Dress (Cheongsam)

Traditionally worn in China since the 17th century, a Qipao or Cheongsam dress has a high neckline and a long, straight skirt, usually with one or two side splits.

woman wearing a floral printed qipao dress

While modern Qipao dresses have a slim, form-fitting silhouette, before the 1920s, these garments were typically more baggy.

The traditional garment was made in Chinese silk or brocade, but today the Qipao dress can be modernized by sewing in a range of fabrics.

A cotton fabric makes a casual Qipao dress, and some modern versions can be knee or even mini length.

Sari (Saree)

woman wearing sari

Similar to the Kimono and the Qipao dress, the Sari is a traditional garment that is still worn today. The sari, or saree, has been worn by Indian women for centuries and continues to be an important part of the culture.

The traditional sari consists of a single, very long piece of fabric that is wrapped around the body and draped over one shoulder.

The fabric is traditionally woven silk or cotton, though synthetic fabrics are more common these days, and can be up to eight yards in length.

They may be worn with a matching short-sleeved top underneath or can be worn on their own for a more modern look. They are typically made in bright colors, often with intricate embroidery and beading.

This tutorial shows you how to make your own sari dress, or check out the video below for the no-sew version.

Sheath Dress

A sheath dress, as the name suggests, fits closely over your body like a sheath. This dress shape is typically knee-length and made from figure-hugging stretch fabric.

woman wearing a red sheath dress
Source: Etsy / EdkayCollectionUk

Sheath dresses have a narrow skirt so a slit in the back is usually included so that you can walk in it.

These dresses look amazing on hourglass figures as they accentuate the curves of the body.

Any garment of this shape needs to fit perfectly for it to look good: any fit issues will be particularly unflattering with this silhouette. Therefore, you need to have high-level tailoring skills to pull off the sheath dress!

Shift Dress

woman wearing a light color shift dress
Source: Etsy / IfKimWoreClothes

The shift dress is a classic style that is often seen in business wear as well as semi-formal garments.

The simple shape doesn’t fit your body tightly and doesn’t have a defined waist, but rather skims over your curves.

This simple style is usually made with just a few pattern pieces and may have darts around the bust or hips to add some shape, or could be essentially up-and-down. Therefore, the shift dress is fairly easy to make and suitable for sewists of all levels.

Shirt Dress

Reminiscent of a long shirt, the shirt dress is collared with a button-down front. It is typically made with shirt fabrics like cotton, but a shirt dress can also be sewn in a stretch polyester or similar.

woman wearing a light color shirt dress

Because of the level of tailoring involved, this is not the easiest garment to make and is best for intermediate to advanced sewists.

Sewing a shirt dress also involves sewing a large number of buttons and buttonholes, though this is easy enough if using a sewing machine with a one-step buttonhole, like the Brother SE600 or the Singer Quantum Stylist 9960.

This kind of dress is most often worn as daywear or office attire, and is usually knee-length.

It can have a straight hem or may have a scalloped hem at the back similar to shirttails.

Skater dress

woman wearing a green skater dress
Source: Etsy / feenundheldenshop

A skater dress has a fitted bodice with an A-line skirt with a very pronounced flare, similar to a circle skirt.

Based on ice skating garments, these designs are often made in panels, similar to a fit and flare dress.

This is a fun and feminine silhouette that can be paired with sandshoes for a relaxed, casual look or heels for a night out.

The simple design is relatively easy to make and can be made in a range of fabrics, though looks best in a stretch knit.

Slip Dress

A slip dress is very similar to the camisole dress. Its silhouette is modelled after a slip, but designed to be worn as an over garment.

woman wearing a silk slip dress
Source: Etsy / HiddenRoom

Usually made of a lightweight fabric like silk, slip dresses are usually cut on the bias for comfort and figure-hugging style.

Slip dresses can be worn on their own or underneath a sheer garment.

Although simple patterns, slip dresses need to be cut and sewn just so for the best effect. Additionally, working with fabrics like silk can be somewhat challenging as they are prone to puckering and other sewing machine issues.

For these reasons, a slip dress should only be tackled by a sewist with at least some experience.

Smock Dress

woman wearing a smock dress
Source: Etsy / MaisonLy

A smock dress is loose-fitting, comfortable, and often features a yolk in the front, with short or long sleeves.

This silhouette typically has a high collar and hangs voluminously from the shoulders like a tent dress, but with voluminous sleeves too.

These dresses can also have details like pleats or pin-tucks to add interest and are usually made in lightweight fabrics like cotton.

Strapless Dress

woman wearing a green strapless dress
Source: Etsy / MundoAnoushka

Unlike the off-the-shoulder dress, this silhouette has no straps at all, but rather a bodice that is cut away across the chest and under the arms.

Strapless dresses come in a variety of skirt lengths and styles, from flirty sundresses to formal ball gowns.

Strapless dresses need to have a very fitted bodice, sometimes with elastic or boning, to make sure that the dress stays up. This requires skilful tailoring so that the bodice fits perfectly – otherwise the dress may gape or slip down.

This means that strapless dresses are more difficult to make and better suited to experienced sewists.

Sundress

woman wearing a mustard color sundress
Source: Etsy / ManufactureDeLin

This is a somewhat general term referring to summer dresses made from lightweight, breathable fabrics such as cotton.

Although the exact design can vary, sundresses commonly have a fitted bodice or a cinched waist, with a fuller skirt and thin spaghetti straps.

Another common feature seen in sundresses is a shoulder tie: that is, the thin straps tie on the top of the shoulders.

These summery dresses are best made in lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton in feminine, floral prints.

Sweater Dress

Typically knee-length, this dress is essentially an oversized sweater that can be worn over pants or leggings or on its own.

woman wearing a light beige sweater dress
Source: Etsy / PappusStore

A cozy winter garment, they are generally knitted in yarn, typically a wool or wool blend.

Sweater dresses can be thick and chunky or finer and more lightweight.

The weight of the yarn you choose, as well as the size of the needles and the stitches you use will determine the overall look of the garment.

For a more modern take, you can even sew a sweater dress in a fleece or jersey knit.

Swing Dress

woman wearing a red and blue swing dress
Source: Etsy / heartmycloset

A swing dress has a fitted bodice with a full circle skirt that falls just above the knee.

The bodice is typically fitted to the ribs rather than all the way to the waist, and then the fabric flares out from there.

This is a very flattering shape for pear shaped figures.

It can be made in a lightweight print for a summer dress, or a more formal fabric for an elegant look.

T-shirt Dress

Like the sweater dress, this is a dress that has been converted from another type of garment, in this case the t-shirt. It looks like an extra-long t-shirt, made from t-shirt fabric with a simple round neckline and a loose fit to just above the knee.

You can make a t-shirt dress from a jersey knit or viscose fabric – see the video tutorial below for a beginner-level design.

Or even easier still, you can convert an old, baggy t-shirt into a dress!

Tea Dress

A tea, or tea-length dress has a dramatic full circle skirt that falls to the mid-calf.

tea dress on a dress form
Source: Etsy / PenelopesAttire

This vintage style is reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood and is traditionally a semi-formal garment that women would wear to a tea party.

In the 1940s, a tea dress would typically have a short sleeve and often be fastened down the front with a long row of buttons. These days, tea dresses can have a range of necklines but always have the characteristic cinched waist and full skirt.

They are best made in lightweight, printed fabrics with plenty of drape, such as viscose, rayon challis or silk georgette.

Tent Dress

woman wearing a blue tent dress
Source: Etsy / linenbees

A tent dress is a roomy, shapeless dress where the fabric falls loosely from the shoulders, usually to around knee length.

This baggy, billowy dress is typically worn short, and looks great in light, summery fabrics.

The dress is cut in a triangular shape widening from the shoulders to a very wide hem, and so resembles a tent when held out to the side.

This dress shape is very easy to sew as it does not involve complicated sewing. Tent dress patterns are often just two seams down each side!

Tube Dress

woman wearing a tube dress
Source: Etsy / QueensDivasCo

So-called because it is cut in a simple tube, the tube dress is figure-hugging and strapless.

What sets the tube dress about from other similar types of dresses like the strapless dress, is that it is made in a stretch fabric like a jersey knit.

This fabric choice makes it comfortable to wear as well as easy to sew.

Minimal tailoring is required, as it is simply a tube with seams down each side and hems on the top and the bottom!

Tutu Dress

woman wearing a white tutu dress
Source: Etsy / APLineStore

This fun silhouette has a skirt that resembles a ballerina’s tutu, made of tulle and gathered from the waist. T

here are a few different ways to sew this, with the easiest being in multiple strips of tulle secured to an elastic waistband – see this tutorial to learn how.

The skirt is typically attached to a simple bodice with spaghetti straps and can be knee-length or longer.

Not just for little girls, the tutu dress is also a fun choice for adults!

Wrap Dress

woman wearing a yellow floral printed wrap dress

A wrap dress, as the name suggests, wraps around the body and is typically tied at the back or the side to keep the garment closed.

This style is flattering on most body types, being fitted around the bust and waist, with a loosely-draped skirt. It is perfect for anyone who wants to emphasize their waist and create an hourglass shape.

To achieve this look, you need an appropriate fabric that will hang nicely: a medium-weight, woven fabric such as a polyester crepe or rayon challis is best.

Yoke Dress

This type of dress features one or two yokes, that is, a separate shaped pattern piece that provides support to the draped fabric below.

woman wearing a green yoke dress
Source: Etsy / rebeccajpage

The dress can have a yolk on the front, on the back, or both.

This design allows you to give the dress more structure, for example giving a strong base for a gathered skirt.

The yoke can be a different type of fabric to the rest of the garment, allowing you to play with different textures and fabric weights. It can also provide the canvas for decorative elements, such as embroidery or beading.

Key Takeaways

There are so many different types of dresses that it can sometimes be difficult to know which pattern to choose. The good news is that with so many options, you’re sure to find a dress that suits your body type, taste, and skill level.

Certain types of dresses have common features, and may typically be made in a certain fabric or with a particular hem length. It is important to be aware of these guidelines, as this gives you an indication of how to make the silhouette work for you.

However, don’t feel too constrained by these rules: it is also important to experiment. One of the best things about sewing is that you can unleash your creativity and come up with new ideas!

Want to make something but you’re not sure where to start? Check out these round-ups of easy sewing projects for beginners, free sewing patterns or this list of nine must-have sewing books.

And, of course, please share this guide so your fellow sewists can learn all they need to know about different dress types!