The Drop Waist Dress: How To Wear This Vintage Style

Different dress styles allow us to play and experiment with the silhouette of the body. Few do it quite as dramatically as the drop waist dress. By moving the waistline down along the body, the drop waist dress transforms natural curves into a softer style.

The Drop Waist Dress: How To Wear This Vintage Style

Drop waist dresses were big in the 1920s when they represented a break from the formal styles of the past. Then, they pretty much faded out of fashion for a good few decades. 

But in recent years, drop waist dresses have come back in a big way. The moving waistline has been combined with modern fabrics and a more casual finish, for a wearable everyday look that’s perfect for summer. Discover how to introduce the drop waist dress to your wardrobe with this complete guide to the vintage style.

What Is The Drop Waist Dress?

While most silhouettes fall in and out of style over the years, the drop waist dress almost dropped into obscurity after the 1920s.

Eschewing the traditional curved silhouette, the drop waist dress never really breached the fashion mainstream again until this past decade, almost a century on from its heyday. Now, the playful style has made quite a comeback. 

The drop waist dress is all about creating new shapes. While most dress styles tuck in under the bust or at the waist, the drop waist does it differently. Drop waist dresses lower the waistband so that it sits at the hip.

The effect of this lower waistline is that the torso looks longer. It can also add some extra width to the hip. Meanwhile, the natural waist is obscured.

Drop waist dresses first came into fashion in the 1920s. This was a time for rebellion, both in fashion and in attitudes. People were moving away from the formal and restrictive styles that had dominated the past decades.

Drop waist dresses gave women room to move and dance, and celebrated a new body shape. There was less focus on the waist and bust, and an eye towards straight bodies.

But by the 1930s, the drop waist dress had dropped out of style. The trends moved back towards the formal shaping, and away from the easy loose fit of the drop waist. For a long time, drop waist dresses were confined to Gatsby parties.

But nothing is ever really truly gone when it comes to fashion! The 1920s came back in a big way almost a century later, and drop waist dresses started appearing on catwalks and in stores.

The new drop waist dress paid homage to the fun and freedom of the original, while new ways to play with the shape updated the style for a modern audience. 

How To Style A Drop Waist Dress

How To Style A Drop Waist Dress

Moving the eye from the waist to the hip, the drop waist dress can initially seem like a tricky style to pull off. But modern updates have made this trend easier to wear than ever, while casual variations are perfect for an everyday summer look. In this section, we’ll explore ways to make the drop waist trend work for you.

Go For A Fitted Look

The original drop waist dresses often skimmed the body. They didn’t hit the curves. Instead, the fabric would be more likely to drape over the body from the shoulder down to the knee. 

But you have a few more options if you want to try the drop waist dress nowadays! A modern update on the classic style is the fitted drop waist dress.

This has a form-fitting bodice that clings from the shoulders down to the hip. When the dress hits the hip, a gathered skirt adds some flare. 

This variation on the fit and flare reimagines the drop waist dress for a new era. It still has that playful air of the original but with a modern twist that adds a bit more form.

Look for styles that combine a corset-inspired V-bodice with a drop waist, for a dress that mixes vintage inspirations.

You can bring another big trend to the mix with the addition of some shirring. While most shirred bodices cut off at the waistline, the drop waist carries the shirred effect to the hips. At this point, the skirt again goes into a slight gathered flare.

Or Combine The Tent Dress With A Drop Waist

Tent dresses have been one of the hottest summer trends for a few years in a row. They do away with form-fitting, preferring to celebrate plenty of volume.

With lots of room in the skirt (and no tightly fitting bodices) tent dresses are perfect for hot days when you crave comfort over everything else.

The tent dress and the drop waist dress might not seem like the obvious combination, but they actually pair well together. Tent dresses and drop waist dresses both eschew the standard silhouette, playing with the traditional feminine form.

While a typical drop waist dress balances volume at the bodice and skirt, the drop waist tent dress does things a little differently. Both the bodice and skirt have width and volume, softening the effect of the drop waist.

There’s less focus on the hips, which can make the drop waist tent an easier version of the trend for different body shapes.

Keep It Modern

We might associate the drop waist primarily with the 1920s, but that doesn’t mean you need to go full Great Gatsby. Lean too hard into the flapper trend and you’ll look like you’re on your way to a costume party.

Instead of trying to emulate the roaring 20s, keep the look in the 21st century with minimal accessories. Instead of lots of glitz and glam, use a muted color palette. Neutrals allow you to keep the attention on the structure of the dress. 

If you really want to play on the 20s theme, choose a white drop waist dress to emulate a tennis look. These sporty styles were popular in the 1920s as women became more engaged with outdoor pursuits.

A light and breezy white drop waist dress is perfect for a warm summer day. Pair with sandals and a cross-body bag for a modern update that retains the spirit of the original.

Dress It Down

Because of that association with the roaring 20s, we often see the drop waist dress as a party style. It’s always tempting to add a touch of sparkle and some heels when wearing a drop waist dress.

But to update the drop waist for the modern day, you want to keep it simple. Pair with flat sandals or sneakers, keep the colors muted, and avoid over-the-top patterns. We love a denim drop waist dress for a daytime look.

Not Sure? Add A Belt

The drop waist plays around with the traditional silhouette, elongating the torso and hiding the waistline. They can be form-fitting, hugging the body before flaring out at the hips.

But some drop waist dresses have more volume, adding a touch of flounce to a tent dress.

If you aren’t quite sure about the drop waist dress just yet, you can subvert the silhouette with a belt. Belting a more voluminous drop waist dress brings it closer to the standard silhouette, tucking in at the waist rather than below it.

The drop waist then becomes a ruffle at the base of your dress.

You can also try this trick with fitted drop waist dresses. A belt around the waist won’t change the silhouette, but it will serve as a focal point on the dress. Instead of the eye going straight to the drop waist, the belt will create an impression of traditional curves.

This is an excellent way to try the trend without committing. Experimenting with a completely new shape can be intimidating, especially if you aren’t the straight-up-and-down body flappers admired.

With the addition of a simple belt, you can make the drop waist trend work for you.


Drawing the eye from the waist to the hip, drop waist dresses were fresh and exciting when they hit the scene in the 1920s. Free and easy to move in, flappers loved the way they could dance in a drop waist dress.

The modern take on the drop waist dress further plays with the silhouette. Contrasting form-fitting and tent dress shapes explore moving the waistline to the hip, creating drop waist dresses that work for everyone. Keep styling simple for a modern update on the drop waist.

How do you wear drop waist dresses?

Frequently Asked Questions

What Body Style Does A Drop Waist Dress Look Good On?

Drop waist dresses look best on straight bodies, as this allows for the natural fall of the dress. However, drop waist dresses are surprisingly versatile. Experiment with form-fitting and voluminous drop waist dresses to see what style works best for you.

Where Should A Drop Waist Sit?

A dropped waistline should sit at the base of the torso, a few inches down from the natural waistline. It sits across the hips, lengthening the torso. The dropped waist should tuck in just above the widest part of the hip, for the most flattering effect.

Jessica White
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