How to Style a Classic Shirtwaist Dress

1960s cotton print shirtwaist dress

In her Wall Street Journal article on the shirtdress, fashion writer, Nancy McDonnell quotes a June 1938 Vogue magazine article that declared the shirtwaist dress “an American institution” and suggested one should be sealed in a time capsule “for the purpose of enlightening future civilizations about our own.”

And I totally agree! This fashion classic has been around for quite a while, originally inspired by the practical, utilitarian style of the nurse’s uniform. It’s basically a shirt joined to a skirt for convenience.  But, the uniform that comes to mind for me is the one that morphed into what housewives wore in the 50s and 60s.

In the late 40s, when Dior popularized full skirts, the shirtdress became more feminine.  Series like the Donna Reed Show and Ozzie and Harriet depicted the perfectly put together housewife in her button front full skirted dress.

Of course,  the closest I’m ever going to come to being like a 50s housewife is dressing like one. I’m very happy to take the fashion and leave the rest, thank you very much!  And this iconic housewife uniform is one of my favorite looks. Like the wrap dress, it has stood the test of time.


1960s shirtwaister


It is quite a versatile style.  Throw on flats or sandals with a cotton shirtwaist dress and you’ll look casual, yet polished, for a day out shopping and lunching with the girls. Oh, and let’s not forget. They’re comfortable too!

Here I wanted to show how you can dress it up. I added a vintage black silk shantung bolero jacket, paired it with a faux leopard 60s clutch and 60s bronze patent leather stilettos. All the jewelry is vintage as well. This would be quite appropriate for office wear or going out to a nice restaurant.

I love the botanical print and the colors in this 1960s shirt dress. It would work for spring, summer or fall. Alas, it is too big for me. Has a 40″ bust and 30″ waist and is in excellent condition. Even has original belt!  So I’ve listed it for sale on my site. You can find it here.

60s cotton print shirtdress

60s turquoise print cotton shirtwaister

This is a vintage shirtwaist dress I wear a lot in Florida. It’s got a really cool turquoise and green geometric tiki inspired print.  Added a vintage chunky turquoise bead necklace and earrings, a woven jute belt, gold ballet flats and my kitschy vintage straw and seashell purse.


60s turquoise print shirtwaist dress

Also,  when the weather gets cooler, a vintage cardigan always looks nice over a shirtwaist dress.


Here are images of shirt dresses from the 1950s through the 1980s.  As you can see, there are many interpretations of the style.

vintage shirtwaist dress ads

1950s and 1960s shirtwaist dresses


1970s 1980s shirtwaist dresses

Late 60s, 1970s and 1980 shirtdresses

These are some other vintage shirtdresses I have for sale on my site.

What do you think of this style? Do you own a shirtdress?

Till next time….






Linking up with Jess/Elegantly Dressed and Stylish for Turning Heads Tuesday

By | 2019-04-09T14:18:54-04:00 April 8th, 2019|Fashion, My Vintage Style|8 Comments

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  1. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell April 16, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Thank you, Jess.

  2. Avatar
    Jessica A Jannenga April 13, 2019 at 11:43 am

    Beautiful Theresa!
    I love the print on the shirtdress, too bad it does not fit. I love it with the ever popular leopard, a fun contrast! The second dress is so lovely on you, all of the blue hues looks wonderful with your complexion. Great addition of the lighter belt and straw bag. I love this classic dress, and it should be in a time capsule! You brought back memories.. Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet.. the 50s housewive!
    thanks for linking!
    jess xx

  3. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell April 9, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Great! Another fan of shirtwaist dresses! Thanks for your kind words. I do love that purse.

  4. Avatar
    Ann April 9, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    I do love a shirtwaist dress and I’ve got quite a few of those in my wardrobe. They are such a classic and never ever go out of fashion. I love the colour and print of the one you’re wearing in Florida. Oh, and that purse is utterly divine! I keep scrolling through those delightful vintage images. I think I need that pink 1960s one! xxx

  5. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell April 9, 2019 at 7:26 am

    Thank you, Ivana. Appreciate you stopping by to visit!

  6. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell April 9, 2019 at 7:25 am

    Thanks, Vix. I think I’m more like Mrs Maisel than Donna Reid. More drinking and potty mouth than cooking and cleaning!

  7. Avatar
    Ivana Split April 9, 2019 at 4:13 am

    I absolutely love this dress on you. The print is so pretty and you look stunning.

  8. Avatar
    Vix April 9, 2019 at 3:18 am

    Those shirtwaister dresses always shout vintage American housewife to me. You’ll always see the nice clean-cut mother wearing one when the bad ass would be smoking and wearing jeans.
    You wear yours beautifully, I like the introduction of leopard print for some extra sass!

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