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What is a Fishtail Dress?

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  • Written By: M. Vessel
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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A fishtail dress is a garment with a flowing, scalloped hem that is often longer in the back than in the front. Some of these types of dresses have a fitted waist and bodice to exaggerate the flared hem. Although many fishtail dresses are formal-length garments, they also come in knee-length or even mini-skirt length.

This particular garment style has existed for centuries, especially in periods during which dresses with long, flowing trains have been popular, such as the Victorian era. The fishtail dress skyrocketed in popularity as a choice for women’s cocktail and formal attire in the early twentieth century. It's still popular today, especially as a throw-back of Jazz Age elegance.

The floor-length nature of most fishtail dresses made it a popular choice for formal occasions, such as proms and weddings. Fishtail-inspired styles are also a favorite among stars and luminaries for formal occasions. In fact many red carpet dresses have fishtail features.

Fishtail dresses are a perennial favorite for formal occasions because they offer the best of both worlds from a style perspective. The fishtail hem or train offers volume, drama, and visual interest. The fitted bodice and nipped-in waist of the garment is flattering to women with a wide variety of different figures and body types.

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For curvier women, a well-tailored fishtail dress can accentuate one’s natural hourglass shape and create the illusion of sleek lines. On the other hand, a fishtail dress with a fitted waist and an exaggerated, flowing hem or train can add the appearance of curves to women who are naturally thin and angular and would like to look like they have an hourglass shape. Although the fishtail silhouette is flattering to a wide range of body types, some women with ample curves may want to avoid this body-conscious style, especially if they are seeking to minimize the focus on the waist and hips.

Not all fabrics are well-suited for fishtail dresses. In most instances, fashion experts say that small-scale prints don't work for fishtail dresses, as they compete for attention with the severe bias cut of the design. A simple but elegant satin or charmeuse fabric with texture, depth, and a touch of shimmer is often preferred for a fishtail dress style.

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