For starters, I want to talk about exactly what IS a wiggle dress? If you search online- Etsy, Ebay, etc.- you'll find quite a large range of dresses that are termed "wiggle" dresses, but the truth of the matter is that a LOT of them are mis-labeled. A TRUE wiggle dress has certain distinct features. In order to be a wiggle dress, the hemline must not only be down to the knees or slightly below, but it also must be narrower at the knee than at the hip. This forces the woman wearing it to keep her legs close together, thus causing her to "wiggle" when she walks. For this reason, a wiggle dress should not have many pleats or a lot of fullness around the hips, either. The whole idea is for the dress to literally hug the curves of a woman's body.
Many wiggle dresses are actually quite demure in other ways. When the silhouette first debuted in the 1950's, the necklines were frequently high and the hemline never went much higher than the knee. The transition from full silhouettes like poodle skirts to a more fitted sheath like the wiggle dress isn't entirely clear, but the fact remains that both silhouettes were popular for nearly a decade until the straighter shift dresses and mini skirts of the late 1960's took over.
A good way to experience the history of a silhouette is to look at the sewing patterns of the time. Here are a couple of examples from the 1950's and 60's:
You can clearly see how the second pattern is actually a nearly identical bodice for each dress, but the skirts are completely different, evidence of the simultaneous popularity of both silhouettes.
Check back each day this week for more on the iconic wiggle dress- from vintage examples on various notable women to how to wear one today and still look modern to the unveiling of my recent wiggle dress purchase on Newbury Street. In the meantime, if you know of any great wiggle dress sites, or you simply have something to say about this great dress style, please leave a comment!