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Dress vs Skirt

Here's a closer look at dresses and skirts including their history, evolution, advantages, and disadvantages so you can have an informed decision in picking the best clothing to wear.

Woman wearing a long sleeve patterned dress.

Dresses and skirts play a major part in women’s clothing fashion. They both come in countless designs, colors, and styles. Each of these goes back in history and has evolved and changed with the times and fashion changes. Deciding on which one you prefer can be a hassle, depending on what your needs are.

Dresses are items of clothing that cover the torso and continue to flow into a skirt that covers the legs, while a skirt is a free-hanging clothing item that sits on the hips and flows down the legs. Both articles of clothing are usually worn by women, although men have been known to wear them too.

Women wearing dresses and skirts are automatically perceived as being more feminine. They both emphasize your physical attributes and make you look beautiful and elegant. However, some people prefer wearing dresses, while others prefer wearing skirts. Why is that the case?

The Evolution of Skirts

Close-up of women wearing black skirts.

Have you ever wondered where skirts come from? Skirts are one of the oldest clothing items in history and have been around since ancient times. Because of how practical and simple skirts are, men and women alike used to don this garment that flows from the waist down.

Although skirts were convenient, they went out of style for men once pants were invented. Women continued to wear skirts for feminine reasons, but men found that pants came in handy when riding horses or doing any hard work as skirts got in the way.

Skirts have been changed throughout history and have evolved over the last century in Western culture.

In the early 1900s

In the early 1900s, skirts were long and full, hanging towards the bottom, but as the social status of women started to rise, so did the hemline of their skirts.

In the 1920s

In the 1920s, the modern, feminine style was redefined due to the women’s rights movement. Women started dressing more loosely and wore shorter skirts that defied social customs and had male legislators frothing at the mouth. Low and behold, you could see women’s ankles for the first time.

Because the male legislators were agitated by this change, they tried to pass laws that would regulate female skirt length. However, women retaliated by lifting the length of their skirts even higher, and they soared to knee length, becoming more colorful and less restrictive.

Another influence on the 1920s skirt styles was the introduction of the flapper skirt, which was jazzy and slimming, with short swishy tassels.

In the 1930s

In the 1930s, the Great Depression had a heavy influence on skirt styles. Fashion went back to being more conservative as skirt lengths dropped down to mid-calf. Skirts remained inexpensive, often made from recycled fabrics like repurposed floor sacks.

In the 1940s

However, in the 1940s, skirts came back up to below the knees and were generally a sophisticated solid color with pleats. Due to World War 2, fabrics and patterns were limited to what was available, so skirts were a simple, straight, and fitted style.

In the 1950s

The 1950s became the era of the poodle skirt. These skirts reflected the celebratory mood following the war. The skirts fell at knee length and were full and billowy, with bright colors and flower patterns.

In the 1960s

The 1960s saw cute but casual skirts emerging. Women wore shift skirts, a shapeless above-the-knee skirt, which was a solid color but simple and elegant. Mini-skirts made an appearance in the late 1960s, causing proper and modest skirts to be a thing of the past. Mini-skirts were well above the knee, with bold and youthful patterns.

In the 1970s

The 1970s was a free-spirited time, with skirts that often incorporated full or plaid patterns, and skirt lengths were two different extremes with mini-skirts and flowing maxi skirts. The maxi skirts had a bohemian vibe and often had more than one later, while mini-skirts were simple and solid-colored.

In the 1980s

Due to the increase in globalization in the 1980s, the variety of skirts increased, making short denim skirts and light pleated skirts the preferred day wear. A stylish party skirt was the ruffle skirt due to the many layers giving it a fun and exciting look.

In the 1990s

By the 1990s, the 80s were considered overdone, and this became the time for subdued colors and prints, with short and flouncy skirts often paired with long-sleeved shirts and combat boots.

In the 2000s

The 2000s brought rise to the innovative asymmetric skirt. Instead of the straight hemline, these skirts comprised of long and short sections. Ladies saw the short denim skirt making a comeback from the 80s.

Skirt varieties have changed in many ways throughout history and continue to evolve to this day.

The Evolution of Dresses

Women wearing dress in various styles.

Much like skirts, dresses have changed in many ways throughout the eras.

From the 1700s to the roaring twenties

Although the 1700s started with petticoats and yards of material to create dresses with voluminous skirts, the roaring twenties saw dresses with silhouettes that were loose with hemlines that were shorter than before. These dresses often had sequins, fur, and bead embellishments.

In the 1930s

In the 1930s, dresses changed once again to silhouettes that began to hug women’s bodies more, showing off the figure. Bias cuts were favored as well as fabrics like satin due to how light it was in weight.

In the 1940s

During the 1940s, the war led to dress styles being more simple and practical. Some of the features on menswear, like pockets and structured collars, now made an appearance on women’s dresses.

In the 1950s

In the 1950s, women’s dresses became both conservative and glamorous. More and more dresses had cinched waistlines, giving the hourglass shape that many women idealized as this dress style accentuated the bust and hips.

In the 1960s

The 1960s saw short, shift dresses trending. These dresses were often brightly colored, with bold patterns, and worn with a pair of white boots.

In the 1970s

The 1970s, also considered the disco era, brought with it many flashy sequined dresses. The dresses were often long and had cape-like sleeves.

The dresses evolved to be big and bold due to the introduction of shoulder pads, which could often be seen on the dresses that Princess Diana wore. These dresses were mid-calf and brightly colored.

In the 1990s

Fashion during the 1990s was generally minimalist. The dresses that marked this decade were shapeless with thin spaghetti straps, often a single solid color.

In the 2000s

Flashy dresses made a comeback in the 2000s. The dresses had empire waists and halter necklines and were often paired with fur coverings.

These days, dresses are all about cutouts with plunging necklines, side cutouts, and scooped backs. I wonder what the next trend will be.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Wearing Dresses

Woman wearing a flowy pink patterned dress.

There are a lot of reasons why someone would choose to wear a dress over a skirt. However, like any other clothing garment, dresses have disadvantages too.

Advantages of wearing dresses

  • Wearing a dress takes the decision-making out of getting dressed as you only have to pick one item as opposed to standing in front of your wardrobe, trying to figure out which clothing items to pair together. Wearing a dress makes this a seamless process because the guesswork of pairing items is taken out as dresses are a complete outfit by themselves.
  • There are many different types of dresses, and so regardless of what you are doing or where you are going, you will always be able to find a dress that is suitable for that particular occasion.

If you are going to a formal black tie event, there are evening gowns that you can wear. If you need to attend a garden party, a cocktail dress is available for the semi-formal event. Formal business dresses are also available, ensuring that you look chic, professional, and polished.

  • Dresses make women feel feminine and lady-like, regardless of the type of shape you have, as there are many kinds of dresses and silhouettes that can even make women with a somewhat boyish figure look elegant and curvy.
  • Dresses are cool and comfortable during summer, and because there are many different kinds of dresses, like wool dresses, you can continue wearing them in winter and often just need a coat and boots.

Disadvantages of wearing dresses

  • Because everyone has different kinds of body types, what looks good on someone else may not look good on you. There are many different types of silhouettes, and finding the right one for your body type may take some time. Certain dresses may have a pattern that you like but not look good on you.
  • You may have to spend more money on different dresses if you want to create variety in your looks simply because, unlike with a skirt, you cannot generally wear the same dress paired with different shirts, etc. Although you can change coats or cardigans, dresses do not allow for much variety like skirts do.
  • Although there are heavy material fabrics used to make winter dresses, you will not be as well protected against the cold, even with a coat on. Long-sleeved dresses tend to be harder to find too.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Wearing Skirts

Woman wearing a long skirt and 3/4 sleeve top.

There are many reasons why some people prefer skirts over any other lower body garment. However, like any other clothing item, these garments also have some disadvantages.

Advantages of wearing skirts

  • Because skirts are not a complete look and need to be paired with other clothes, you have more variety. Unlike with dresses, you can wear the same skirt with multiple different items. This means that you have more versatility. If you enjoy creating a variety of looks and mixing and matching your outfits, then skirts are your best choice.
  • Skirts are a preferred choice in winter because you can pair them with thick leggings and tights and still look good.
  • There is a skirt for just about any occasion.
  • Skirts make you feel dolled up and pretty, especially when you wear one that flatters your figure.

Disadvantages of wearing skirts

  • Although skirts are just as girly as dresses, they tend to be a bit fussier around the waist than dresses are. As the waistline is one of the areas where women easily gain weight and feel the most vulnerable, skirts are typically not as forgiving as dresses, even when you get a skirt with an elastic waistband.

Because our weight typically yoyos throughout the day depending on what you ate, drank, etc., you may find that the waistband of the skirt digs into your waist, making you highly uncomfortable and self-conscious.

Therefore owning skirts means that you have to factor in that they will fit every once in a while on a full moon when you’re dehydrated.

  • Creating a flattering silhouette is much harder with skirts than it is with dresses, especially when you do not have waist definition.
  • Some skirts can become very uncomfortable when you have been sitting in them all day, like pencil skirts or denim skirts. Skirts can also irritate you and make you uncomfortable when you do not have the proper fit because the waistband will move around and ride up.
  • Although there are many skirts, finding the correct one for your body type can take a lot of trial and error.
  • Skirts may be hard to style as you need to find other clothing garments in order to create a complete look. This means that you have to decide on what to pair your skirt with every time you decide to wear one. This can be time-consuming and frustrating if you are running late and trying to get dressed in a hurry.


Although skirts are simple and practical, they still need to be paired with other articles of clothing in order to create a complete look, whereas dresses can be worn as is. Both items of clothing continue to evolve and change as times change. One thing for sure, they won’t be getting out of style soon.


WikiDiff: What is the difference between dress and skirt?

Harper’s BAZAAR: The Evolution of Dresses Through the Ages