Hubert de Givenchy has been credited with designing the shift dress. He designed the black shift dress Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in 1961 and the dress (along with the film) went on to become a legend. He went on to design most of Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe for her movies, and had many famous clients including Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco both great fashion icons in the sixties and both fans of the shift dress.
However the story we love the best is Lily Pulitzer’s. Lily was an American socialite from New York. In 1950 she eloped with Peter Pulitzer and they settled in Palm Beach, Florida, where Peter owned several fruit groves. Lilly decided to make juice from the fruits and sell them to tourists. She set up a fruit stand by the roadside in Palm Beach and the juices were very popular. Lilly asked a dressmaker to make her some dresses that would help cover the stains from the fruits. The design was simple, a sleeveless dress with two front darts and the length falling just below the knee. They were made using brightly coloured, patterned cottons. Her customers loved the dresses as much as the juice and some wanted to buy them, so Lily started selling dresses too. The design became a ’classic’ shift dress and at the time were affectionately called “Lilly” dresses. When Jacqueline Kennedy, who was an old school friend of Lily’s wore one of the dresses for a feature in Life Magazine it started a fashion trend throughout America.
The shift dress became popular with women all over the world.
Meanwhile back in London, in 1966, Mary Quant queen of the mini skirt took the shift dress and turned it into the mini dress, which was worn 6 or 7 inches above the knee. A young 16 year old was hired to model the dress, she had just been ‘discovered’ in a hairdressers where she worked as a Saturday girl. Her name was Twiggy and she went on to become the first supermodel of them all.