The Look

What's a Trapeze Dress?

(Brice Darmon)
By Suzanne D'Amato
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 13, 2007

Thandie Newton (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Thandie Newton (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Q: What is a "trapeze" dress? -- Maria Cervantes, Gaithersburg

A: Though its name may suggest otherwise, the trapeze dress has mercifully little to do with mounting a swing or joining Cirque du Soleil. Put simply, it's a dress that's shaped like a trapezoid: Rather than nipping in at the waist, the cut juts out and away from the body. Depending on the degree of jut, the effect can be subtly architectural (see Thandie Newton's mod mini, right) or thoroughly over-the-top (I'd wager you could fit three Kate Mosses into Paul & Joe's free-flowing frock, below right, which retails for $490 at

The trapeze trend is all over stores, but this retro look isn't right for everyone. It can drown very petite women, and conservative types may find its waistless lines more weird than wonderful. Here are some tricks to pulling off the style:

  •  Choose a frock that hits above the knee. Anything longer is not a trapeze dress; it's a muumuu.
  •  Select a size that isn't too big: Even if the skirt is massive, make sure the shoulder really fits. You want your dress to flare out, not swallow you whole.
  •  Pair it with bare legs and heels. The result: sexy, but about a thousand times cooler than one of those body-hugging sheaths.

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