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In the nineteenth century, before ready-to-wear garments were available, many women made their own dresses at home or hired a local dressmaker. These dressmakers often imitated the latest fashion ideas from Paris, using printed fashion plate illustrations. During the Victorian era, from about 1840 on, persons who made and sold fashionable women's dresses and millinery were known as "modistes." In modern times, most women buy their dresses ready-made, but custom dressmakers still make dresses for special occasions such as weddings, proms, and other events.
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Over the years, dress styles and hemlines have changed considerably. Prior to World War I, hemlines ranged between floor length and ankle length, but during the 1920s hemlines became short, then long during the 1930s. Hemlines were shorter during World War II, longer again during the 1950s, and short again during the 1960s. Since the 1970s, dresses and skirts of varied lengths have been fashionable simultaneously.
The basic dress shapes include the shirtwaist, sheath, shift, sundress, and tent. A shirtwaist dress has a bodice like a tailored shirt to which a straight or full skirt is attached. A sheath dress is fitted and often sleeveless; it may not feature a waist seam. A shift dress is simple and straight, with no waist seam or shaping. A sundress is sleeveless with a low neckline, and is made of lightweight fabric for use in warm weather. A tent dress is flared from above the bust and sometimes features a yoke. Certain of these dress types have been fashionable during different eras.
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