Thursday, September 18, 2014

DRESS-OF-THE-DAY 15: The Fishtail Dress

In celebration of NATIONAL SEWING MONTH (here in the United States), I've decided to do an intensive blog series (well, intensive for me who obviously does not always make the time to blog), featuring a dress (or two, or a style) each day, not previously presented on this blog. Some will be my own creations, whether I used patterns or designed them myself. Others will be pieces I admire. Either will include an analysis and maybe some sources, history and tips. (At least, that's the goal.) I also have some guest bloggers scheduled (exciting!)

And now on to the Dress of the Day!

Probably the most iconic dress in this style is that worn by Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. The film is purportedly set in 1912, and is definitely Edwardian in costuming style.

The Fishtail is defined by the extremely tight silhouette of the dress, molding to the hips and tapering with the legs until it flares in a fin-like fan/ruffle. Its origins are Victorian, rising to the height of fashion between the first bustle period in the 1870s and the second bustle period in the 1880s (history of bustle).

Satire about the Constrictive Victorian Fishtail Dress

The Gibson Girls are in part, if not wholly responsible for the Fishtail silhouette dress during the Edwardian period. This style also showed off the extremely curvy figure in fashion during the early 1900s, achieved through corsetry and padding.

Glamour Daze- The Real Gibson Girls



The Fishtail Dress was alive and well throughout the 20th century, with each decade placing its own variation on the style. But one thing remained constant, the sleek, sexy, curvy female figure.

Kay Francis, ca 1930s

Claudette Colbert, Cleopatra, 1934

Patricia Tuckwell, 1953

Marylin Monroe, 1950s

McCalls 3482 ca 1960s

1980s Fishtail Dress
1980s Lacy Short Fishtail


How To...

The fishtail skirt is basically a fitted pencil skirt with some fabric gathered at the knee. But one does not even have to go through the trouble of drafting their own up, since it's almost always in style and thus patterns are readily available.

Burda 7089

For something with more Edwardian flavor...

Butterick 4954

And now that you've successfully navigated this blog entry, here's a reminder about the Steampunk Apron/Bustle Mini-Sweepstakes (details here).


  1. I absolutely love fishtail dresses! They do oomph a normal figure up so well, I feel way more feminine wearing this silhouette. I think I should really sew another fistail outfit...

  2. Wow. I've always admired this style but felt it was in the Advanced Femininity Class, well beyond my capability. Lovely to admire them even if they're beyond my reach.

    Terminology about fashion often confuses me. Is there a difference between these and "mermaid dresses"?

  3. I've been looking for a fishtail/long hobble skirt foreeeever. Clearly time to give it up and buy a pattern and make one, when I'm in a place with room to set up my sewing machine. :D