Wardrobe essentials: dresses

This is the sixth article in the Wardrobe Essentials series.

You may not consider dresses essential, especially if you’re a fan of separates. For me, however, they are the ultimate no-thinking-required outfit-in-one-piece garments. Therefore, must-haves in my closet.

Wardrobe essentials – dresses

The important considerations for dresses are similar to those of first layer tops (neckline, sleeves, overall length, fabric, and details) and bottoms (length,  width, details).

First, pick a flattering neckline – consider its width, depth, and shape. If you haven’t yet, please read how to determine the balance points for your necklines. Then, if you plan to wear another layer over the dress, consider how the necklines will work together.

Your length options range from sleeveless (perfect in the summer and under layers) to long sleeves (wonderful in the winter). If your dress is the star of your outfit, its sleeve width options are limited only by your imagination and available fabric (and maybe practical concerns but who wants to worry about that when they’re wearing a star dress?). If your dress is a supporting player, narrower sleeves make layering easier.

Overall length
In this part, you may want to draw on your most flattering skirt lengths. For most women, this is where the legs are the narrowest – usually somewhere around the knee. The hem can create a strong horizontal line so consider its effect.

Another length consideration pertains to loose fitting dresses that can be worn with or without a belt. They’re likely to lose some length in exchange for waist shape when you belt them. I’d hem the dress for the way I’m most likely to wear it.

Just as for skirts, dress hem circumference is important. You don’t want it to be too anything (too narrow, too wide…) but just right. Your preferences in skirts can guide you here.

Find your best fabrics. Which ones are your favorites? Consider your body lines when choosing drapey vs. firm fabrics. If your body lines call for different types of fabric above and below the waist, you could try a two-piece-look dress that satisfies the fabric criteria, or you could add structure through details (such as a collar) to the fabric with more drape.

Do you want a zipper or is this a pull-on dress? If you’re planning a zipper, where will it go? In the back for ease of donning/doffing the dress? Hiding in the side seam? In the front for easy access (patients with ports, nursing moms)? If you’re considering a pull-on dress, make sure the neckline will go over your head easily. This may necessitate a buttoned shoulder seam or a polo style front opening or a similar detail if the neckline is not large enough.

If your dress has side seam pockets, make sure your hips don’t borrow room from them so your pockets don’t gap. For patch pockets, experiment with placement for best figure flattery and access.

Other details – piping, ruffles, monograms and other embroidery, etc. This is where your personality can shine through. Consider how the details on each dress will play with any layers you plan to wear over it, and have fun!

Next time we’ll take a closer look at accessories worn indoors.

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2 responses to “Wardrobe essentials: dresses

  1. Dresses are go-to for me for 3 seasons of the year but, living in Canada, they don’t see much action from Dec. to Apr. It’s just too fussy to wear tights (which still won’t be warm enough) and a slip and a sweater/topper and a coat and then the coat needs to look right with the outfit. It starts to get complicated.

    • It was like that in Wyoming, too, with the constant wind and negative winter temperatures. Practicality ruled there in the winter.

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