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What is a Coat Dress?

By G. Melanson
Updated May 21, 2024
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A coat dress is a dress that fastens in the front or back with buttons or a zipper and may also feature a belt to cinch the waist. These dresses also resemble coats in their heavier fabric, as they are usually fashioned from cotton to resemble a trench coat or wool to resemble a sweater. They are considered more a part of business wear than formal wear or casual wear, and often serve as a popular alternative to pantsuits for women who work in an office. In addition to coming in a wide variety of styles and lengths, coat dresses are also available in a wide variety of colors, although they are most common in neutrals such as beige, black and white.

During the 1960s, tweed coat dresses that came in pastel colors and zippered at the back were a common component to a stylish woman’s wardrobe. While some of these were collarless, others featured a rounded “Peter Pan” collar, sometimes embellished with velvet piping and large, round buttons. During the 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore popularized the coat dress as the uniform of the independent working woman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Also during the 1970s, this style of dress was a popular pattern often featured in the catalogs of major sewing pattern companies.

In the 1980s, the standard coat dress became boxier and less-tailored, mirroring the style of women’s blazers at the time. Often featuring rolled-up sleeves and shoulder pads, this style of dress was rarely cinched at the waist, and was typically worn with leggings or stirrup pants. The 1990s saw a more fitted form of dress return to the forefront of fashion, most often sleeveless and featuring oversized “Butterfly” collars.

By the early 2000s, the sleeveless coat dress had mostly gone out of style and was replaced by the three-quarter-length sleeve or short sleeve dress with a more modest collar. Additional details, such as double-breasting, embroidery, ruching and epaulets also appeared on various dresses at this time.

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