Baby doll dresses, also written “babydoll dresses,” are short, loose-fitting dresses that usually feature an empire waist and sometimes resemble a negligee. The term is said to have derived from the 1956 film, Baby Doll, to describe the dresses worn by the lead female character. These dresses are typically fashioned from lightweight, sheer fabrics such as chiffon, nylon, silk, linen and organic cotton. Such a garment may also feature ornate details including appliqués, bows, ruffles, frills, lace, and embroidery. This style of dress is a popular choice in maternity wear, as it allows ample room for growth in the stomach area and accentuates the legs.
The evolution of the baby doll dress reflects the changes in fashion throughout the decades. During the 1960s, most of these dresses featured a high boat neck and the clean, simple lines of a shift or sheath dress. As the mod styles of the 1960s gave way to the bohemian look of the 1970s, the baby doll dress was influenced by frilly, hippie-inspired peasant tops that were popular at the time.
Baby doll dresses made their biggest comeback in the early 1990s, riding the wave of fashions inspired by grunge and alternative music. At this time, the dress was often paired with clunky footwear such as army boots, Dr. Martens, and Mary Janes. Ragged and even torn dresses became fashionable as part of the overall “broken doll” or “kinderwhore” look popularized by musicians such as Courtney Love of the band Hole and Christina Amphlett of The DiVinyls. During the mid-90s, these dresses were fashioned from heavier fabrics such as velvet, velour, and even terrycloth. Long sleeves were also added to certain styles, as were floral prints such as large sunflowers and daisies.
Along with several other fashion items of the 1990s, baby doll dresses have made a comeback in the new millennium. The modern incarnation of the dress features a slouchier, more casual style that sometimes comes with pockets and resembles a jumper. Today’s versions are also paired with cowboy boots, ballet flats, and crochet caps. They may be sleeveless with spaghetti straps, have ruffled cap sleeves, or a very deep v-neck cut.