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A sheath dress can actually have several definitions. Some define it as a close fitting dress, suitable for cocktail parties or formal events. The sheath may have darts at the breast and curve slightly inward at the waist in order to suggest the form and curve of a woman’s body. Most describe the sheath dress as worn without a belt, but there are now some modern sheath dresses that are belted, and in fact may feature a slightly higher, almost empire waist before providing a bit more generous coverage of the hips, stomach and legs.
The first sheath dresses were likely worn as undergarments, or perhaps under-dresses. You see references to them as far back as the 1900s, and frequently the sheath, perhaps made of silk, had an overdress. As women’s clothing became more fitted and shorter, the sheath dress was worn on its own. Some of the flapper dresses of the 1920s were sheaths, and were considered too “naked” to be appropriate.
By the 1950s, the sheath was considered an acceptable and appropriate style. It might feature sleeves, or not, and many wedding dresses were merely a simple short-sleeved sheath dress. Cocktail party dresses too were frequently sheaths, though the styles migrated back and forth between full-skirted fitted dresses and sheaths.
In the modern sense you’ll see the sheath dress in a number of different incarnations. A simple sheath wedding dress is still a popular choice, many of them sleeveless. The sheath can also be much more casual. A tank top cotton dress for the summer may follow a sheath style with a slight bit of fitting around the bust and waist. The sheath dress can be short, with a waistline above knees or slightly below them. Alternately it can be mid-calf length, possibly featuring side slits, or floor length. You can find the sheath in styles from the extremely casual to the very dressy.
Some fashion experts suggest that the sheath should only be worn by women with perfect figures, but actually the reverse is true. A figure-fitting dress tends to be a great choice for women with a little more curve, since it accentuates the female lines, promoting a very feminine look. Whether you are a size 2 or a size 22, sheath dresses may just be the most flattering look, provided they fit properly.
The slight curves and darting in the sheath tend to emphasize an hourglass shape, even if your shape is not exactly perfect. On bigger women, the sheath dress can be very stylish. If women feel a little concerned about tummy size, control top panties or Spanx®, can provide a little extra support. Further, the dress can be cut so that the curve in the waist opens to a more generously sized skirt, offering ease of movement and a little less hugging of the figure.