Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: A Go-To Dress

Summer Wardrobe Fun

Summer is full of barbecues, fireworks, watermelon, beaches, lakes, pools, and fun. But it’s also hot, humid, sweaty, and stuffy.

If you are anything like me, you crave summer weather and summer fun, but you struggle the most with your summer capsule wardrobe style. Without the layers and outerwear that offer variety and interest in fall, winter, and spring, how do you create interesting outfits? Go crazy with color and pattern? Suffer through borderline heat stroke and wear the layers anyway?

We want to look great but wear as little as possible so we don’t melt. So how do you wear your classic style when all the clothes are so small and there isn’t a lot of variety? You’re basically down to tees, shorts and sandals, right? Wrong!

Enter the Summer Dress

Dresses aren’t just for dressing up! They are a favorite summer wardrobe essential for me, and I have several. If you want fuss-free style, dresses are easy, breezy, instantly chic, supremely comfortable, convenient, one-and-done outfits.

When you put on a dress, you are basically…dressed. Just add shoes and go. No mixing and matching required – it’s the ultimate easy button. You automatically look dressed up, put together and chic just because you put on this one-item wonder.

As far as surviving in the heat, you get ultimate air circulation from the waist down, and depending on the dress you choose, the upper half can also be supremely breezy. Besides maximizing coolness, if you choose the right dress, you are basically wearing a nightgown or long t-shirt. Does it get more comfortable than something you can sleep in?

With one go-to dress in your summer capsule wardrobe you can change up how you style it, dressing it up or down as the occasion calls for. They come in every length, style, and material, and there is a perfect one for you.

Now that I’ve convinced you that dresses are a great idea, here are some things to help you choose a go-to dress. But if you are going to pick just one go-to dress for your summer capsule wardrobe, I have tips to find the right one for you!

Pick a Color, Any Color

If you are only going to pick one summer dress, your options are to go for a neutral or make a statement.

A neutral could be anything from a solid color in your favorite summer neutral color (and we’ve talked about how to pick your summer neutral in the other summer capsule wardrobe essentials bags, shoes, and tops) to your favorite neutral-colored pattern.

Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: Navy Shirt Dress
Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: pink striped dress
Make a statement with color or a colorful pattern. As I’ve said before, your signature color or favorite color is an obvious easy win that you will look and feel amazing in every time. It’s also likely to go with most things in your wardrobe because you’ve been buying and wearing it all along.
Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: Statement Dress

Choose a Style

Shift

A shift-style dress only makes contact with your shoulders and bust and floats away from your body the rest of the way down. If you are looking for maximum breeziness, this is the style to choose, but they can be harder to wear, depending on your body type. 

The shorter they are, the more flattering they tend to be. If they are too long you can end up looking like you are wearing a pillowcase. Above the knee is my dress length limit, and that’s too for a shift dress to look flattering, so I stay away from them. I need something that shows the definition of my waist. 

I love the color and pattern of this dress, so I’m going to take it in up here to give it some shape.

Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: Navy stripe dress

Shirt Dress

Christian Dior launched the shirt dress as part of the post-World War II “New Look” couture, featuring a fitted bodice and flared skirt with crinoline holding it up like an upside down cupcake wrapper. Another menswear-inspired wardrobe item that has several variations, they are supremely classic.

Today they can be a loose shift-style cut, belted or unbelted, fit and flare like the traditional version, long, short, and every sleeve length, but they are defined by a button front and collar like a traditional man’s dress shirt. 

I have this red one, which was included in the 2019 Summer Classic Wardrobe Guide, a navy one, denim one, a turquoise one, and a black one. So basically 3 of my neutrals, my signature color (which honestly feels like a neutral to me), and my next favorite color, which is red. 

Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: Turquoise Dress

Defined Waist

Dresses with a defined waist can come in a variety of shapes, but three basic summer options are belted, the fit and flare, or an elastic waist.

With the length I stick to, I need some sort of definition in my waist or I get lost in there and look frumpy.

My shirt dresses are all belted.

Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: Red Dress

I have several versions of this dress with the elastic waist.

Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: Black shirt dress

And this is the closest I get to a fit and flare dress. It comes in at the waist and out at a slight a-line without a defined waistband of any kind.

Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: Fit and flare dress

(Faux) Wrap Dress

Diane Von Furstenburg brought us the wrap dress in the 70’s and it’s been a wardrobe staple ever since. It’s supremely flattering to every body type by elongating the neck and chest with the v-shape neckline, tummy flattering and waist-defining with the cross-over fabric, and then slightly flaring away from the hips and falling straight.

 

This is a style I love, but there is a catch: faux wrap dresses are much easier to wear than the real deal. Faux wrap dresses are made of jersey knit so they can be pulled on overhead or they have a hidden zipper up the side. 

 

Real wrap dresses have this habit of coming UN-wrapped, as I found out last summer when I bought this one. I love the gingham and the cut of it, but when I sit down, the skirt splits wide open. I tried safety-pinning it, but I’m worried it would rip. From now on I’ll stick to faux wrap versions.

Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: gingham wrap dress

Dress It Up or Down

If you have a pool party or a summer wedding, one dress can take you to every occasion. I’ve included two in the Summer Classic Wardrobe Guide, and I’ve styled each one in several ways. Dresses are so versatile, like a blank slate, and you can easily change it up with a few tweaks. 

On Monday I shared four ways to dress up and dress down an outfit from the Spring Classic Wardrobe Guide with the Stunning Style Society, the membership for the Classic Wardrobe Guides. This summer I’ll do an outfit from the upcoming Guide to inspire them with ideas to make their wardrobes as versatile as possible. 

The Summer Guide is now available! Learn more at stunningstyle.com/society.

Next week is our last of this series, and we will be talking about bottoms, so be sure and join me next Wednesday at 11am MT 1pm ET.

4 thoughts on “Summer Capsule Wardrobe Essentials Series: A Go-To Dress”

  1. Tracy Barbier

    I have a real problem with wearing a dress. My top is heavier than my bottom and if it has a waist I am screwed it never fits as I have a rectangle upper body. I have found a wrap dress can work but because although I am busty I am also a petite larger top and normal bottom so the top tends to gape, also if there are sleeves they will be long on me. As this has been such a hassle my whole life – I never did find a prom dress, I find that I have to do separates in order for it to work. This is why I tend to lean towards pants. Does anyone else have this problem and has there been a solution.

    1. Dresses can be tricky for many women. all the reasons you just stated! If your proportions don’t line up, and it’s a structured material, it won’t work. If the right parts line up, I buy the dress to fit my hips (my widest part) and have the rest taken in. It’s a rare dress I can wear off the rack. Separates are great option. And yes, a lot of us have some variation of this problem. That’s why, when I find a dress that meets my requirements, I buy it!

  2. These dresses look great but I still have a belly from my past pregnancies. Wearing any of these would make me look like I’m wearing a maternity dress and would invite far too many glances and questions! So what do you recommend?

    1. I’ve been there. I had 6 kids in 6 years. I wore empire waist dresses that flared slightly away from my body, but emphasized my narrowest part – my ribs right under my bust.

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