What is a Slip Dress?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Slips are familiar to most women, as thigh to full-length undergarments meant to be worn underneath sheer dresses. In the 1930s, especially as the flapper movement had relaxed rigid rules about wearing restricting corsets, several designers began offering the slip dress. In that time, the slip dress was usually a fitted bust and a narrowly fitting dress with a long skirt, which looked very much like the traditional undergarment.

A purple strapless bra, which can be worn with a slip dress.
A purple strapless bra, which can be worn with a slip dress.

To some the slip dress was shockingly bare, especially the top, and designers like Mainbocher sought to compensate for the skimpy top by pairing it with small jackets worn over the dress. Thicker fabrics were used too, so the dress didn’t require a slip. You might see slip dresses in heavier satins so they suggested the lingerie look but were sturdier. Spaghetti thin straps meant wearing a bra, especially in the 1930s was nearly impossible. This meant the slip dress was primarily designed for those with smaller busts and relatively skinny waists.

The slip dress was designed to be worn by women with relatively skinny waists.
The slip dress was designed to be worn by women with relatively skinny waists.

As fashion moved forward, the slip dress continued to be popular, with surges in popularity in the 1950s, the late 1960s, (especially in Pucci designs) the 1990s, and again in the late 2000s. A principal difference between the early and later slip dress incarnations occurred. Fabrics, starting in the 1990s, became much more sheer, and women’s standard undergarment slips became much less popular.

This meant that women very often wore the slip dress that was unflatteringly sheer, showcasing any and all undergarments they were or were not wearing. Slip dresses also became shorter, though long styles were and are still available. Knee length slip dresses did become popular, and were suggested as a layer garment over leggings, or even over jeans.

The easiest way to combat the sheerness of these dresses is to find a dress that is adequately lined, since it is impractical to wear a second slip under the dress. Larger busted women, really anyone above a C cup, may also find that modern convertible or strapless bras make wearing the slip dress easier. Some are also made with built-in bras, and fit seamlessly on the bust without the need for a bra. Another alternative is to purchase slightly modified styles of slip dresses that have wider shoulder straps. These allow a woman to wear a more supportive bra without calling attention to her bra straps.

The style of the dress has remained virtually the same, though a few variants have emerged. Some slip dresses have a clearly delineated separation between bust and skirt, and may feature cording or a seam just below the bust. Others feature generous slits, and anything goes in terms of colors, patterns and fabrics in modern versions.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@pleats -- Well, bear in mind that some slip dresses are designed to be worn primarily for the bedroom -- so the undies issue is moot.

However, for wearing a sheer slip dress out and about, I usually wear a flesh-colored camisole, or one of those tight-fitting body shapers, like Spanx.

These also work well for white slip dresses, since those tend to be a bit sheer too.

If you're really worried about it, a lot of the long slip dresses have a lining from the waist to the bust, which covers up anything risqué, but still leaves enough sheer fabric to satisfy your desire for see-through.


Has anybody ever worn a sheer slip dress, and if so, what kind of undies do you wear with it?

Are there any really good alternatives, or do you just resign yourself to the fact that people are going to see your drawers?


I remember my mom had the most gorgeous chiffon slip dress that she wore to her prom -- I was always so jealous because she had that slim figure, whereas I was a classic pear shape!

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