Few wardrobe items offer the versatility and styling potential of a great dress. Dresses provide a chic, put-together look in a single piece for all manner of occasions. But with so many dress styles, fabrics, sizes and options to choose from, it can be daunting finding that perfect dress tailored to your needs and body type.
This comprehensive guide will walk through everything you need to know to find fabulous dresses for work, play, weddings and beyond. We’ll cover factors like style, fit, fabric, length and care to consider. You’ll also discover dress recommendations for a variety of settings and uses. Learning what flatters your shape helps every dress you try on feel like it was made for you!
From elegantly simple to elaborately embellished, your ideal dress awaits. Let’s slip into something stylish!
A Brief History of the Versatile Dress
Dresses have evolved dramatically over the decades in terms of length, silhouette and style.
In the early 1900s, modest ankle-length dresses with restricted corseted waists gave way to looser, flowing flapper dresses hitting the knees in the 1920s. Lavish gowns returned in the 1930s and 40s along with tea-length styles.
The iconic 1950s pin-up style accentuated the bust and hips while cinched waists created an hourglass effect. The 1960s saw anything goes with bold psychedelic prints, mini hemlines and youthful mod shifts.
Power suiting for women arose in the 1980s along with glamorous gowns with strong shoulders. Slip dresses and minimalist sheaths became popular in the 1990s.
Today, dress styles run the gamut. The resurgence of retro-inspired fit-and-flare and shirtdress silhouettes mixes with modern maxi and midi lengths. From classic to avant garde, dresses suit any personal style.
Now let’s uncover how to choose the perfect dress design, fabric and fit to flatter your shape for any occasion.
Consider the Intended Use
The first step is identifying your planned uses for the dress. Events, settings and activities all impact ideal styles.
Workplace dresses balance professionalism with comfort for long days in the office or meetings. Wrinkle-resistant fabrics like ponte knit, crisp shirting and stretchy jersey transition seamlessly from desk to drinks. Subtle prints or accent colors inject personality.
Daytime casual dresses encourage relaxation when running errands or enjoying weekend activities. Lightweight materials like jersey tee dress, linen shirtdresses and cotton sundresses provide laidback versatility. Add leggings and boots for cooler temps.
Cocktail and evening dresses allow making an entrance at weddings, galas and sophisticated occasions. Luxe fabrics like satin and chiffon lend elegance while still allowing movement. Embellished necklines and hems elevate after-dark style.
Formal gowns get glamorous for black tie, red carpet and elaborate events. Luxurious fabrics, plunging necklines and floor-sweeping hems make lasting impressions.
Defining the predominant settings and functions helps narrow the field when evaluating dress options in stores and online. Pieces suiting your lifestyle simplify getting ready.
Choose Styles Flattering Your Figure
Dress silhouettes and attributes affect how fabric drapes and flatters. Consider these elements when trying different styles:
Fit-and-flare dresses nip in at the waist then flow outward, accentuating hourglass curves. The defined waist and full skirt balance pear shapes. Strapless, sleeveless or cap sleeve all allow showing shoulders and arms.
Wrap dress styling crisscrosses fabric at the waist for waist-definition. The V-neck elongates the upper body. Jersey knit wrap dresses move easily for daywear.
A-line dresses gently hug curves through the hip then angle out to the hem in an A shape. This graceful cut flatters upright rectangles. Sweetheart, boatneck or V-necklines complement.
Shirtdresses combine tailored shirting with a feminine A-line or fuller skirt. Belting cinches waists. Sleeveless or short styles work in warmer weather while long sleeves provide cover.
Maxi dress length brings glamorous versatility, pooling at the ankles and feet. The floor-skimming hemline elongates petite figures. Empire waists define curves up top while slimming bottom halves.
Midi dresses hitting below or at the knee elongate legs, especially when paired with heels. Formfitting styles highlight curves for hourglass body types.
Experiment with different silhouettes and attributes to learn what complements your shape best. The right dress cut does all the flattering work for you.
Focus on Fabric and Material
Fabric impacts the drape, flow and comfort of dresses. Consider fiber content and characteristics when choosing:
Cotton dress fabrics like poplin and seersucker offer lightweight breathability perfect for casual sundresses. Crisp shirting cotton works for tailored sheaths. Pima and Supima cotton provide exceptional softness.
Linen and rayon have beautiful drape, flowing gracefully. They’re ideal for full, tiered skirts and loose silhouettes but may wrinkle easily. Blends retain the drape with less wrinkling.
Jersey knits contour curves gracefully with a hint of stretch. Knits move with you and recover well. Variations like ponte and scuba knits allow more tailored silhouettes.
Satin and chiffon provide rich elegance for formal gowns. They have a luxurious shimmer and produce flattering drapes. Handle delicately to avoid snags.
Lace dresses up any style with ornate embellished texture. Delicate lace suits events like weddings and soirees. More substantial lace blends create dresses able to transition from day to night.
Seeking out fabrics aligning with the dress purpose and use brings functionality. Test different materials to see what you find most comfortable.
Dress Appropriately for the Season
Fabric, weight and attributes should suit the season or event setting:
Lightweight cottons, knits and breathable linen make comfortable summer dress choices that help stay cool. Bright colors feel fresh when temperatures rise.
Long sleeves, full skirts and ribbed knits transition fall dresses into cooler weather while still keeping it feminine. Deep jewel tones flatter fall complexions.
Velvet, velour, brocade and sweater knit fabrics shine in the winter when warmth becomes paramount. Dark metallics and rich hues invoke the glamorous holiday season.
Sleeveless dresses and airy fabrics like chiffon allow legs to peek through in spring. Floral prints and bright pastels reflect the optimism of the season.
Consider the season’s weather and activities to pick dresses with attributes to keep you stylish and comfortable year-round.
Complement Your Body Type
Certain dress features work better for some body proportions. Tailor styles to your shape:
Defined waist: Fit-and-flare, belted, wrap and peplum dresses cinch waists for hourglass and pear figures. Avoid shapeless, boxy cuts. V, scoop and sweetheart necklines complement curvy shapes.
Leg lengthening: High-low hems, knee-length dresses, vertical details and solid colors extend petite frames. Avoid mid-calf lengths. Open necklines like Vs visually elongate.
Shoulder emphasis: Strong shoulder details, off-shoulder and cold-shoulder dresses flatter broad/muscular frames. Bared upper arms balance broad shoulders. Wrap dresses angle and nip in waists.
Slimming: Stretch jersey, faux wrap dresses and relaxed A-lines gracefully skim curves on oval, rectangle and athletic builds. Low-contrast all-over prints camouflage problem areas.
Finding ideal silhouettes, lengths and accents build confidence. Know your fabulous qualities and dress to highlight them!
Play with Prints and Color
Personality shines through in dress prints and hues. Some tips:
Floral, polka dot and graphic prints add whimsy and softness to feminine styles. Choose smaller prints to elongate petite frames. Larger motifs work on taller builds.
Plaids, nautical stripes and pinstripes cinch waists, sharpen shoulders and elongate legs when used thoughtfully. Frame face with solid colors.
Colorblocking – like black and white – streamlines and slims especially when used vertically. Contrast side panels on fit-and-flare dresses whittle waists.
Bright jewel tones make striking cocktail options. Deep greens, blues and berry colors enhance after-five dressing. Keep accessories minimal.
Neutral solids in tan, taupe, navy and black provide versatility. Dress them up with jewelry, shoes and bags or down for casual.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with prints and color while keeping combinations tasteful. Showcase your inner bold spirit!
Account for Care and Upkeep
Fabrics determine how easily dresses care for and last over time. Evaluate these factors:
Machine washable natural fibers like cotton, linen, rayon allow throwing casual dresses right in the laundry. Stains come out easily. Line drying prevents shrinkage.
Dry clean only dresses maintain their structure and embellishments longer but cost more per wear. Save for special occasion pieces worn infrequently.
Hand wash delicates like silk, satin and lace in cold water instead of dry cleaning to cut costs. Lay flat or hang to dry away from direct sunlight.
Spot clean stains right away to avoid excess drying time. Use gentler cleaners on delicates to avoid damage.
Natural fabrics like cotton and linen grow softer over time. Synthetics like polyester maintain shape and color longer. Blends merge the benefits.
Seeking out easy-care fabrics makes everyday dresses practical additions to regularly worn rotations. More high-maintenance fabrics deserve occasional wear.
Set Your Budget
Women’s dresses span a wide range when it comes to cost. Consider these factors when setting budget:
- Lower cost casual dresses under $50 work for occasional daytime wear. Focus on easy care cottons and machine washable jersey.
- Mid-tier dresses from $50-$150 elevate styles with better fabrics and construction. Office dresses, flirty florals and little black dresses fall in this range.
- Higher-end investment pieces from quality designers exceed $150+. These include business-worthy sheaths, gowns, formalwear and premium fabrics.
- Factor in cost per wear – a $500 dress worn once a month costs under $20 per wear. An oft-worn $50 dress comes to mere cents per wear.
Prioritize everyday comfort in budget-friendly dresses. Save up for special pieces suited for milestone events and formal occasions. With the right care, investment dresses last for years.
Now that we’ve covered how to select excellent dresses, let’s look at specific recommendations for a variety of settings and occasions. Keep reading for the best dress styles to suit your everyday needs.
The Best Dresses for Various Occasions
Projecting professional polish in the office, these dresses multitask for workdays and outings:
A desk-to-dinner workhorse, the Eliza J Ponte Sheath Dress provides a tailored fit with a hint of stretch for comfort. Belting cinches waists. The V-neckline and 3/4 sleeves work year-round.
Combining a polished look with carefree cotton, the Calvin Klein Belted Shirt Dress nails business casual. Welt pockets and roll tab sleeves keep the style relaxed yet refined.
For warmer months, the Tahari Floral Print Sleeveless Sheath Dress provides a pop of color and print. The knee length moves easily while commuting. Back belt packs a punch.
Casual Daytime Dresses
These laidback dresses fit right into weekends and social outings:
A flowy choice with defined waist, the Rumours Maxi Button Front Tie Waist Dress works for low-key days. Side slits allow movement while the sleeves adjust.
Polished enough for impromptu activities, the Lulus Put a Ring on It Green Halter Midi Dress turns heads with its satiny sheen. An optional waist tie adds silhouette-defining polish.
The Tommy Hilfiger Denim Shirt Dress adapts with the weather when you button up or open the collar. Roll up long sleeves for a more relaxed vibe. It layers smoothly under jackets.
Cocktail & Evening Dresses
Glamorous and sophisticated, these dresses shine after hours:
Showcasing an flirty off-shoulder look, the Ever Pretty One Shoulder Ruffle High Low Evening Dress conveys romantic charm with its beautifully draped ruffles. The flowy chiffon skirt moves gracefully.
For a bodycon look, the Bobi Bandage Mini Dress hugs curves without restriction. Strategically placed mesh cutouts add subtle allure. A touch of spandex keeps the bandage style comfortable.
Make an entrance in the bold florals of the Karina Grimaldi Lucca Printed Midi Dress. The set-in waist creates an enviable hourglass shape while the floaty skirt draws eyes.
Weddings and Formal Events
These elegant showstopper dresses command the room at elaborate occasions:
With its lovely off-shoulder neckline and embroidered lace overlay, the Adrianna Papell Beaded Blouson Gown sparkles on the dance floor. The waist creates a slimming effect while the scalloped hemline enchants.
Figure flattering ruching shapes the Alfred Sung Halterneck High Low Gown. The lustrous dupioni material flows gracefully with each movement. An open back shows a hint of skin.
For a regal look, the Tadashi Shoji Sequin Mesh Column Dress cascades with glittering embellishment. Sheer mesh perfectly balances the ornate sequins. Equally fitting for black tie weddings and galas.
Vacation & Travel Dresses
Ideal for tropical getaways and comfortable transit days, these dresses go the distance:
A twist on the common caftan, the Theodore Floral Print Keyhole Maxi Dress packs and wears well. The flowy viscose material combines curves, a defined waist, and adjustable sleeves.
Made for seashore strolls, the J. Crew Point Sur Off-the-Shoulder Gauze Maxi Dress breathes easy with its breezy cotton gauze fabric. The vibrant stripe channels casual nautical style.
Crease resistant and perfect for plane rides, the MMLa Laoded Up Jersey Trapeze Dress keeps you comfy in transit with its pull-on shift design. Smart pockets hold travel necessities.
This sampling highlights the diverse dress options available for every occasion. Once you find flattering styles, focus on nailing down your best size.
Women’s Dress Size Guide
Unlike tees and jeans, dresses require a more nuanced approach to fit. Consider these tips when finding your size:
- Consult individual brand size charts to understand how waist, hip and bust measurements correspond to numbered sizes.
- Try different sizes, even up or down a size, to gauge ideal individualized fit rather than focusing solely on size numbers.
- Ensure the dress fits smoothly across shoulders without gaping or constricting. Arm holes shouldn’t pinch.
- Look for slight waist definition without overly cinching. Zippers and buttons should close comfortably at the waist.
- Chest, hip and thigh room prevents straining fabric that emphasizes problem areas. Ample room allows easy movement.
- Make adjustments to petite and tall size dresses to achieve optimal lengths and proportions.
Finding accurate size translations and the right personalized fit elevates ordinary dresses to extraordinary. Don’t be discouraged if you span several sizes – focus on how each dress makes you feel at your best.
Women’s Dress FAQs
Here are answers to some commonly asked dress questions:
What are versatile dress styles I should own?
Essential styles like fit-and-flare, wrap, shirtdress and A-line dresses easily transition from day to night. Solid colors also multitask more easily. Focus on flattering silhouettes.
Where should hemlines hit based on height?
Hemlines around the knee are universally flattering. Petite frames suit higher hems above the knee. Taller women can choose longer midi or maxi lengths to elongate legs.
Can you wear prints together?
Mixing prints works well when patterns share similar tones and don’t compete. Try pairing a bold floral dress with more subtle striped tights or animal print shoes. Anchor busy prints with solid hues.
How can I dress up casual styles?
Elevate basics like jersey knits, cotton blends and shirtdresses with heels, cropped blazers and statement jewelry. Belts, luxe fabric and dressier shoes dress down more casual dresses.
What are some petite dress adjustments?
Look for formfitting styles with vertical details, v-necks and defined waists to elongate. Tailor long maxi hems for better proportions. Add high heels. Size down for ideal fit.
How do I pick dresses for my body type?
Focus on silhouettes accentuating your best features like wrap dresses for hourglass curves or A-lines for slimming rectangle shapes. Avoid styles emphasizing areas you wish to downplay.
What accessories complete a dress?