What to Wear: The Best Shoes and Boots for Shift Dresses

A model in a green shift dress walks the runway during the Shiatzy Chen Fall/Winter 2014 show.
Green shift dress from Shiatzy Chen, as modeled at the Fall/Winter 2014/2015 runway show during Paris Fashion Week. Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho / WireImage / Getty Images

Every five to six years, or so, shift dresses come back into fashion, and every time they do, there seem to be two questions on everyone's mind. The first is whether or not shift dresses look better on thin women, or are flattering for every body type. The second is what type of shoes to wear with shift dresses.

While I could address how there's probably a shift dress out there for women of every size and shape, and it's just a matter of finding the right one for your body type, the point of this article is to focus on what happens after you find your perfect shift. In other words, what shoes or boots are you going to wear with it.

But, before we get to that, let's be clear on what a shift dress actually is.

What Is a Shift Dress?

Sometimes referred to as chemise or smock dresses, shift dresses helped epitomize the mod look of the 1960s fashion scene, and since that time, they've made multiple appearances on "what's trending" lists.

While the most classic example of a shift dress features a boat or wide neckline, a sleeveless design and a wide flared cut, sleeved versions, as well as those with a variety of different necklines, are now commonly referred to as shifts.

They're also often confused with sheath dresses, but the main difference between the two styles is that a sheath dress is cut to curve in at the waistline, giving it an hourglass shape; whereas a traditional shift dress hangs from the shoulders, giving a silhouette that ranges from a straight drop from the breasts or shoulders, to one that is nearly tent-like.

What Are the Best and Worst Shoes for Shift Dresses?

Well, first let's start with the bigger picture: nearly any style of shoes will work with a shift dress.

Now, a few years ago, I would have joked that you should probably skip the sneakers, but with the growing trend of pairing sneakers with dresses, even that is no longer a fashion "don't."

Having said that, there are a few styles that work better than others. Some of my favorites are listed below, along with tips for choosing wisely.

Strappy Heels

Yes, in the 1960s shift dresses were commonly paired with low heels and even flats — and they still can be. However, there's something about a pair of refined heels that really elevates a simple shift into something special. The right heels add a touch of sophistication that you just can't get from lower heels.

Styles that work particularly well include ankle strap sandals that feature just one or two thin vamp straps, as well as cage-type sandals — or those with lots of straps running up the length of the foot.

In both cases, the key is in the balance. You need to look at your outfit in the mirror and be sure that your shoes don't dominate your dress, but also that your base (shoes and feet) doesn't look too delicate for the looser nature of a traditional shift.

Sometimes it's the color of the shoes/dress combination that can throw things off, other times it's the width of the straps — but don't worry, when you get it right, you'll know. The well-balanced combination is practically magical in it's airy femininity and simple sophistication.


Regular readers know that I suggest tall boots as a viable complement to nearly any dress, and the shift dress is certainly no exception. In fact, nearly any boots or booties can work well with a shift — although you may want to exercise a bit of caution as taller styles can sometimes make shorter, flowing dresses look a bit like nightshirts.

Heeled booties and short shifts make a dynamic combination for the evening and ankle boots (or even combat boots) can look really cute paired with a casual shift dress — with or without tights.


While classic pumps and a shift dress may not make for the most dynamic of combinations, it's certainly one of the simplest to pull off. And my advice is to keep it simple. The easiest way to make this pairing work is to let the vibe of the dress dictate which pumps you choose.

For example, if your shift is a sleeveless, billowy, evening dress, opt for a pair of plain, unadorned, almond-shaped evening pumps.

On the other hand, if you're looking to accessorize a retro-styled shift that has a bit more structure to it, then look for low, block heeled pumps with a bit of vintage flavor. Perhaps a simple bit of hardware on the vamp, a slingback strap, or a really glossy finish.

Flat Sandals

Though the past couple of seasons have seen bulky comfort or "footbed" sandals come into their own, I still feel that simple shift dresses are better suited to flat sandals that are more delicate.

Whether your shift dress is casual in nature or a bit on the dressier side, you can't go wrong with a pair of simple thong or slide sandals — the thinner the straps, the better.

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