What: Slim shirt dress
Who: Ridley, London
Why: In theory, I love the timeless versatility of a shirt dress, but find a lot of them too puffy or retro. This is slim and modern – a classically, flattering shape for most bodies, whether they’re curvy or straight. Another big sell for me is that it’s silk and drapes beautifully – any creases fall out quickly. I don’t mind viscose but Lyocell (like this white one from Zara) is even better – and more sustainable. The lightweight wool check MaxMara demonstrates how well this style works through the seasons. I’m constantly surprised though, how many expensive dresses are polyester- not acceptable when it’s hot. I got this a year ago but will wear it for years to come – it transitions from day to evening, work to holiday and looks good with sandals and trainers.
USP: Camilla Ridley makes in small batches in London, or to order, adapting designs to suit you. She has limited edition prints, but also plain silks. It’s a tiny British company working in a sustainable, ethical way – just the kind of place I want to shop.
Top-tips: I’m gradually building a collection of these in different fabrics and lengths. In winter they work well with jumpers and hip length jackets. I like to replace the fabric belt with a leather one. They’re good worn open over plain silk trousers or jeans too.
What: The Long White Dress
Why: I’d describe my summer style as Laura Ashley catalogue circa 1976 meets Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and if that sounds completely conflicting, well it is. Thankfully, a Long White Dress can dance between these two aesthetics effortlessly, at once simple and romantic. This long and wafty design is pleasingly minimal but I love how it’s elevated by crochet detailing. It’s an effect which is also cleverly achieved by COS with its sleek shirt dress which is given a softer touch thanks to a tiered skirt and broderie anglaise fabric. For a prettier vibe, Loretta Caponi’s nightgown dresses are exquisite.
USP: I know many prefer to keep their arms covered up but I love a sleeveless dress – my figure hang-ups centre around my thighs and bum so I search out pieces which skim over those while emphasising my slimmer bits. This dress has lovely deep pockets (that’s why you can’t see my hands in this picture) and can be belted to look smart or be worn loose and flowy which has been perfect in the recent heatwave. With a maxi too, it doesn’t matter if you skip a leg shave.
Top-tips: After last year’s viral Zara spotted dress, I must admit I was wary about buying a summer frock from the store for fear that before long, everyone else would have had the same idea. But I was so in love with this lace collar that I couldn’t resist, and so far I haven’t had any awkward twinning incidents. If you are keen to search out under-the-radar options, I’d advise scooting past the rails at the very front of the store and instead heading to less obvious zones. Equally, online, scroll down past the top options on the page – patience will pay dividends. I know this is a dress which won’t date which makes me feel better too; just because a store is known for fast fashion, doesn’t mean you can’t slow down the pace.
What: The Summer LBD
Who: Isabelle Fox
Why: There are the summer days – many – when all you want to wear is a light cotton nap dress. Then there are the summer nights that call for something a little fancier. Not too fancy or fussy, just a touch more elegant than the average. I’m talking about the sort of dress that in its very wearing has the power to elevate any garden-drinks date into what in the before-times we called ‘an occasion’. I’m talking about a summer take on the Little Black Dress.
For me, Isabelle Fox’s Sophia is that dress. It’s black, which reads as dressy; and features the square neckline that’s one of the most flattering trends to have come out of lockdown (thank you Zoom); it’s cotton, which renders the cocktail shape and colour casual enough for daytime wear. And the cut! The fitted waist and full skirt deliver everything you’ve ever wished for from a Fifties vintage dress, but in modern fabrics and (gasp) your actual size.
USP: Isabelle Fox specialises in timeless pieces with a contemporary spin. Everything is ethically produced in the UK and sold directly to the consumer. Beautiful fabrics, impeccable quality and attentive after-care (someone from the brand – founder Isabelle Waring, perhaps? – answered a question about alterations via Instagram direct message within a few minutes) mean I’m looking forward to shopping this brand again.
Top tips: If you want to wear black in summer, you’ve got to get the fabric right. Look for linen, cotton or silk – breathability is key – and ask yourself if it passes the sandal test. If you can only imagine wearing it with heels, you’ll never make the most of it.
What: The not-a-tent tent dress
Why: I love the idea of a loose, breezy tent dress in summer – when the temperature rises above 30 degrees, the best outfit is the kind that feels like wearing nothing at all. The tent silhouette has never done me any favours though, it just makes me look like, well, a tent. But that’s where this silk dress by Spanish label Masscob is different. I stumbled across it on a trip to Barcelona last year when I visited the brand’s flagship store. The cut is loose, but not too wide, with a tiered hem to add drama and weight so it hangs beautifully. The fabric-covered buttons at the neckline have the same effect, so it sits flat at the chest, rather than flaring out. The result is ultra-flattering and it has proven endlessly versatile over the past two summers – fancy enough to wear to Pitti Uomo fashion parties in Florence last year, yet comfy enough to wear while pregnant and working from home this year.
USP: Masscob designs have a relaxed aesthetic, but that doesn’t mean they’re not special. Co-founders Marga Massanet and Jacobo Cobián are inspired by vintage pieces and take pride in their selection of beautiful and unique fabrics.
Top-tips: This terracotta colourway is no longer available (though I did spy a second-hand one on Vestiaire Collective), but the cut is a Masscob signature so there’s a different take on it each season. I also love the newer variations with more open, ruffled necklines, and the latest prints are glorious. I’ve already added the Sena dress to my online basket.
What: The LLD (that’s Little Linen Dress)
Who: & Other Stories
Why: While I love linen separates, I’d steer well clear of dresses. Linen isn’t stretchy unless it’s in a blend, and most tend to come in shapeless tunic styles or classic button-down versions. In theory, the latter are right up my street, but in practice, the buttons gape across my bust and are under duress around my hips: if I go up a size, they’re loose at the waist, so I’m stuck with a hefty tailoring cost or avoiding them altogether. Then I found this cream one in & Other Stories. For a high street frock, its tailoring is impressive. It has darts down the back and a modest v-neck that combats the button issue. It nips in at the waist (rather than leaving fabric hanging around it and allowing for creasing), then flares, skimming my hips and bum nicely. I’ve worn it with Converse in spring, and on holiday since with a swimsuit underneath.
USP: It’s expensive-looking without being so. As a shopping editor, you’d be surprised how rarely I come across any summer dress that ticks my many boxes, and, as my budget seldom stretches beyond the high street, one that does so at an affordable cost.
Top-tips: Natural fibres like linen take dye much better than synthetics, so when I happened upon this flattering frock, I bought two and dyed the second black as a dressier option. I used the fool-proof Rit dye (£9.75, Amazon) and it worked a treat, so it’s worth thinking about a DIY job if yours only comes in white or cream.