19 Summer Dresses I’m Obsessed With Right Now
What’s the best thing about summer? That’s a rhetorical question, because we all know the answer to that is… summer dresses!
The Best Summer Dresses
Ladies summer dresses come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors, and I wanted to experiment with as many different styles as possible this season.
There are so many different styles of dresses that work for all the different occasions summer throws at us. Sure we may not have as many places to go during a pandemic – and anyway, that’s what casual summer dresses are for – but it’s always fun to be one step ahead of the game and shop now for the future. Or at the very least, learn about the different styles of dresses so they’re fresh in our minds when it’s finally time to dress for a specific outing.
Summer Dresses 2021
This summer dresses roundup has been one of my favorite posts to write, as I’ve had so much fun exploring the different dress trends and learning about all the different dress silhouettes. Who knew there were so many?! (You know I love my history, so there are also a few little notes about how certain dress styles came to be. I hope you find them as interesting as I did.)
I think this post has it all! Flowy summer dresses – check. Long sleeved summer dresses – check again! Take a look at some of my favorite spring summer dresses that I am currently obsessed with – each one a different style to show off the versatility as well as how much fun you can have!
Let’s start strong and kick things off with summer maxi dresses.
One tip I give people about shopping for a new item of clothing – not just their next summer dress – is to think about where, when, and how they will be wearing it. If there are lots of uncertainties about what it can be paired with or what occasion it’s suitable for, then it’s not a keeper.
This is especially true if it’s a pricier item, to guarantee that you can get at least a few wears out of it. It’s no secret that I try to give my luxury purchases as many outings as possible, and I always think about potential price per wear before deciding to buy something. Even more so if it’s an investment piece.
Enter this Hermant and Nandita maxi dress. Not only is it the perfect spring/summer dress that I can wear with everything from wedges to sliders to heeled sandals – the ones I’m wearing in the picture are my favorite Bottega Veneta white padded sandals – but it’s also top of my list of summer dresses for a wedding. Especially now that guest lists have to get smaller and smaller due to the pandemic.
Wedding Guest Dresses 2021
Gone are the days of tight, uncomfortable evening dresses that were designed to stand out in a crowd of hundreds; and in their place, are more casual, fun, long summer dresses that we can dance all night in! If any of my unmarried friends are reading this and want to tie the knot, please be aware that I have my summer wedding outfit already sorted – you can see how happy it makes me in the picture. Just sayin’…
A-line Cocktail Dress
Having said that… as much as I love a casual summer maxi dress (and believe me, I LOVE a casual summer maxi dress!) I am aware that we all need a few slightly more formal dresses too. And this A-line evening dress in polka dot from Sezane – which I’ve teamed with my Chloe pumps – is definitely a winner!
Formal Dresses For Summer
Women’s A-line dresses are one of my favorite silhouettes, as they are so fun, flirty, and feminine, without being restrictive. The perfect shape for cute summer dresses, and also a great choice for more formal events too. Some might say, the best of both worlds!
I would definitely lean towards an A-line cocktail dress (my silhouette is more on the subtle A-line side, even crossing over to a fit and flare dress) for a formal occasion that requires sitting down for long periods of time and/or eating a big meal, as the structure is very flattering, drawing attention away from the stomach area. There’s nothing worse than wearing Spanx all day and all night – especially when eating a multi-course meal – so an A-line cocktail dress is going to be the unsung sartorial hero for such events.
What Is An A-line Dress?
In its simplest terms, A-line describes a dress that has a hem line which is wider than the shoulders. Typically, an A-line dress is fitted to the hip area, and then flares out to reveal a fuller skirt, but it does so in a gradual way, and not quite as dramatic as a fit and flare dress. The best way to get your head around this is to look at side by side pictures of A-line fit and flare wedding dresses, as they seem to have more exaggerated silhouettes.
Many ready-to-wear dresses borrow features from both A-line and fit and flare, so sometimes the names and specific details do tend to cross over. Another fact – A-line skirts and dresses were actually designed to flatter and also emphasize a small and narrow waist, wide hips, and the bust area, so it’s no surprise to see why they are favored by women with those coveted hourglass silhouettes.
The Little Black Dress
We can’t possibly have an edit about dresses without featuring the original, chic dress that every wardrobe needs… we are of course referring to the little black dress. LBD, if you will. From the little black Givenchy number that Audrey Hepburn made famous at Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to the modern updates that present themselves on the catwalks every season, the little black dress has and will always be a part of fashion history.
This fall 2021 season, there was a mix between slinky and sexy LBDs on the catwalk, and also throwback 90s silhouettes. However, I don’t think there’s a wrong way to wear a little black dress, or a wrong style to choose. They will always, I repeat always, be on trend!
Summer Evening Dresses
I associate little black dresses – and midi and even longer styles – with eveningwear, which is why I adore this black velvet Tracy Reese dress, as the fabric is one which goes hand in hand with dressing up for a night of glamor. To add to the glamor – I may as well go all out; as a mom of five, the chances to dress up to the nines seldom present themselves – I’ve teamed this midi evening dress with my Jimmy Choo Romy pumps and my Louis Vuitton shawl.
Hemant and Nandita have once again stepped in to provide one of the most gorgeous dresses of the season. If you haven’t discovered this brand yet, I urge you to check them out because you won’t be disappointed. I almost guarantee that you’ll fall head over heels with their pieces, just like I have!
What To Wear To A Summer Party
This Hemant and Nandita mix print trapeze dress is going to be one of my spring/summer staples for a long time. From the stunning print to the soft, feel-good color-palette, there’s nothing not to love! It’s one of those cute summer dresses that you can wear to summer parties, including weddings, dinners, or just a stroll in the park or along the beach (with slightly more appropriate footwear if we’re talking about the latter).
I’m wearing my Dior sandals in the picture, to demonstrate how this dress looks slightly more dressed up, but the beauty of it is that it can be dressed up or down very easily, meaning there are countless different ways to wear it, and therefore countless different occasions to wear it to. This is not a one-occasion-only type of dress!
Did you know that the smocked dress was actually designed for laborers? True story! The smock dress was originally first worn by laborers, progressing into a popular style for children in the 19th century; so how the heck did it become one of the most sought after silhouettes over the past few years?
Sometimes the smock dress is (in my opinion, very unfairly) referred to as the “ugly” dress, as well as the “tent dress”, and is sometimes even compared to unflattering nightgowns. The list of derogatory comparisons actually continues, but I want to leave it there. However, it has thankfully done quite the 180 over the years. It’s really surprising to see the journey it has been on to become one of the most popular styles of dress for women around the world. And if you don’t believe me, just look at style mavens such as Alexa Chung, Kate Bosworth, the Olsen twins, and more to show how it can be rocked like a pro.
There’s nothing ugly about my Mi Golondrina Mexican dress. It doesn’t have the voluminous tent-like structure that some of the more adventurous pieces do, so it’s a great piece to start with if you want to slowly test out the smock dress trend. It’s the perfect dress to just throw on and go about your day without a care in the world. Not having to worry about a tight or restrictive dress is utter bliss – even more so when paired with ultra-comfortable footwear. In this case, my Hermès Oran sandals, which complement the summer smock dress wonderfully.
Summer Beach Dress
I’m wearing a white beach style maxi dress (this is actually a shirt dress meets maxi dress combo - and I am obsessed!) with a quilted jacket and Chloe Franne boots. Although the white summer dress is called a beach dress, I have dressed it up on this occasion, but you’ll most likely see me rocking it at the beach too, paired with some effortless summer slides, and a matching straw hat and beach bag. Versatile, multi-occasion dresses make me eternally happy!
And now perhaps one of the most effortlessly stylish looks…
If you’re looking for summer dresses with sleeves, especially more casual ones, the T-shirt dress is the one for you! It’s no secret that I love casual wardrobe staples, and what is more casual than a T-shirt? With that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise you to discover that I am obsessed with T-shirt dresses, and would wear them all year round if I could.
Akin to the T-shirt, the T-shirt dress is a hard-working item, as it can be dressed up, down, layered, and even customized if needed. Although I love wearing slightly more casual styles with slightly shorter hemlines – perhaps accessorized with over the knee boots and possibly even layered with an oversized cardigan? – I wanted to showcase one of my slightly more glamorous T-shirt dresses, to show just how versatile they can be. Even more so because T-shirt dresses are commonly associated with a shorter length, so I wanted to demonstrate that they can be more conservative too.
Believe it or not, my stripe midi T-shirt dress didn’t actually come with the matching retro stripe tube socks – but I am obsessed with how well they match! I’ve dressed up the T-shirt dress even more by adding a French Terry bucket hat and my YSL sneakers.
Classic Shirt Dress
Let’s talk about summer shirt dresses. I couldn’t wait to share this look on Instagram, so you may be getting a little déjà vu when you see it. However, I will be wearing this and my other shirt dresses a lot over the summer, as they’re so simple to wear, so you’ll probably be seeing it and other similar silhouettes a lot more over the next few months.
As I stated on my Instagram, I am fascinated with the history behind the shirt dress, and the fact they became popular in the 1950s when Christian Dior launched his now iconic ‘New Look’ collection. Shirt dresses are just as popular as they were back in the 50s, if not more, and with their flattering silhouette and effortless styling possibilities, it’s not hard to see why.
I’ve teamed my Poplin stripe shirt dress from J crew with a straw hat and summer-ready espadrilles. The perfect outfit for alfresco dining and chilled strolls in the park or on the beach. This outfit is the epitome of summer in my opinion, and I can’t wait for all the adventures I will have while wearing it!
Fitted Waist Shirt Dress
Shirt dresses also come in all sorts of different cuts and shapes. While I love the idea of nipping in the waist of a shirt dress with a cute belt, I also love it when the dress does all the hard work for me and comes with its very own fitted waist. This is especially appreciated on a hot day, as I don’t want to feel restricted with a belt around my waist. This fitted waist shirt dress ticks all my boxes – it’s one of those ‘throw on and go’ pieces which all busy moms need – and the added bonus is that I know it will keep me cool and comfortable on those hot summer days.
I know we’ve been talking a lot about dress silhouettes, but I want to quickly touch on dress materials. I’ve been thinking about fabric a lot over the past year while I’ve been creating my very own line of loungewear, and I know that the right fabric can either make or break a piece. The right fabric is especially significant for the summer season, as I look for pieces that will keep me cool, as well as being sweat-proof and non-see through. (You’ll be surprised how many summer pieces I fell in love with in the past, only to find that they are totally transparent when the sun shines on them.)
I think fabric is so important, which a lot of the time, is the missing piece when looking at fast fashion pieces. My pistachio colored V neck fitted waist shirt dress – which I’ve teamed with my Chanel sandals and a straw color block visor – has taken everything we need from a summer midi dress into consideration, as it is made from a refreshing and cooling gauzy cotton, which makes it a dream to wear in the summer.
As well as the almost sweat-proof fabric, this dress is one of my hero pieces for the summer due to the super-flattering silhouette. The defined waist still gives you an elegant, feminine shape, but the rest of the silhouette is floaty and unrestrictive, which makes it super-comfortable and flattering for all body shapes. It comes in lots of appealing summery colors, so whether you like pastels, neutrals, or brights, there’s definitely at least one shade in there for you! I’m not ashamed to admit that I have quite a few already; with one or two more possibly on the way…
Who doesn’t love a strapless dress in the summer? If you detest tan lines, then I bet you have tens if not hundreds of strapless summer dresses in your closet. And I don’t blame you! For me, women’s strapless dresses are about so much more than avoiding tan lines – sometimes I find that some of the best summer dresses come in strapless form, and that’s totally fine with me as I don’t always have to wear them as a strapless style.
Some of them very handily come with straps attached for those of us who like to mix things up, while other lightweight summer dresses can be worn with denim jackets, leather jackets, and even cardigans to either make the look more casual, or just to be able to wear them when the weather is a bit chillier. And speaking of wearing strapless dresses with more autumnal accessories… have you ever thought about wearing strapless dresses with fall footwear? Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!
I hope that I have proven that you don’t have to wear a strapless beach dress on the beach only, as I’ve worn my tiered strapless mini dress with slouch boots and a straw hat. Country western meets boho meets beach babe… can you see this trend taking off?
And now for something on the other side of the spectrum – from the strapless summer dress to the long sleeved sweater dress, which believe it or not, I am also prone to reaching for in the spring/summer months. The colors in this stripe midi sweater dress just scream summer to me; am I the only one who is reminded of a gorgeous sunrise or sunset with the combination of colors in this dress?
At the start or end of spring/summer, sweater dresses – although this actually applies to most dresses with sleeves – are great to wear, as they still keep out the chill while allowing for a freer and more summery vibe. When you’ve been wrapped up in layers upon layers for months, a long sleeve summer dress is the gift that keeps on giving. And ditto for when the summer is ending – I always feel like I want to hang on to summer for as long as possible before bundling up in all the layers (which I also love, so I’m not totally devastated about the change of season).
To make the most of the gorgeous colors in this stripe midi sweater dress, I have teamed it with some Chanel pumps to keep the look casual and practical for busy mom life (this isn’t a dress for relaxing and lounging on a beach in) and yellow lace detail crew socks which complement and offset the yellow colors.
A lot of people think that long sleeved midi dresses can’t possibly work for summer, let alone long sleeved sweater dresses, so I hope that this look can change a few people’s minds. It’s hands down one of my favorite dresses in my wardrobe at the moment!
Another dress I regularly reach for in the spring/summer is my denim drop waist dress. On this occasion, I’ve kept things super-casual but with a subtle hint of luxury, which is why I’ve teamed my denim tunic dress with my Hermès sneakers and some tie dye crew socks.
As tunic dresses come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes – not to mention sleeve lengths, colors, the list goes on and on – they are so easy to wear, and dress up or down depending on the occasion. I have quite a few different styles in my closet, although this one was calling out to me. Maybe because I wanted to show that you can still wear more understated, muted, and even more autumnal colors in the summer months too. I like to mix things up and sometimes think outside of the box, just to keep it interesting.
Do you like to mix things up in terms of summer color palette, or do you think spring should be for pastels and summer should be for brights?
The babydoll dress has quite an interesting history behind it, which only adds to my fascination with this style of dress. The first babydoll dress was created in the late 1940s by award-winning New York designer Sylvia Pedlar, in response to the wartime fabric shortages which the world faced at the end of WWII, and it was originally intended to be used as nightwear. The American Fashion Critics committee praised her for "her talent in combining luxury, beauty, and femininity with modern fabric developments and contemporary silhouettes” and I would love to think that she would be proud of how far her original creation has come over the years.
I know that even to this day, some babydoll dresses can look quite similar to lingerie, but done right, they are yet another, fun, flattering, and even super-casual option for the spring/summer season. And I think my effortlessly cool and casual Free People denim mini babydoll dress – which I have accessorized with Louis Vuitton loafers – is a prime example.
Yes, I like to wear form-fitting dresses and pink heels from time to time…
I couldn’t be more infatuated with my flax colored stretch linen sheath dress from J Crew, even more so because it gives me the opportunity to add a pop of summer color with my accessories, which is exactly what I’ve done with my pink Bottega Veneta curve sandals.
Some people might be surprised that I have gone for such a tight and almost restrictive silhouette, but then again, there should be no eyebrows raised when it comes to the neutral color I have chosen. I really like sheath dresses and shift dresses (which are actually quite similar; but more on the latter a little further down) for spring/summer, especially as they come in lots of desirable fabrics and colors which makes investing in a few a no brainer. Every so often, I like to surprise myself, and others, with my outfit choices, and as predicted, this look definitely achieved that. It’s not quite as form-fitting as a bodycon dress though, which I will cover a little further down…
What Is A Sheath Dress?
I found myself asking this very question very recently, and there are a few key differences between the two popular and often mislabeled styles. A sheath dress is usually straight cut, and traditionally has a more form-fitting silhouette which typically ends on or just above or below the knee. More often than not, it doesn’t have a waist seam, so a great styling tip is to include a thin belt at the waist to break up the straight silhouette.
What is the difference between a sheath dress and a shift dress?
A shift dress, on the other hand, is typically a sleeveless dress which hangs from the shoulders, and it offers a wider and looser silhouette throughout. It has a simple cut, and is usually high necked. A belt can also be used here to make the dress a little more form-fitting and to accentuate certain parts of the body, which is where some confusion between the two styles can lie. The skirt of a sheath dress is almost always going to be tight, which is one of the main differences between a sheath dress and a shift dress.
Am I the only one who wanted to know how the shift dress got its name? Apparently, the shift dress was named so because the simple and effortless shape, which was quite ground-breaking at the time of its invention, allowed women to move around freely – shift, if you will – with ease. And that’s pretty much it! A far cry from the restrictive corsets that women had to deal with in the past!
Although it dates back to the 1920s, the shift dress soared in popularity in the late 1950s, and we apparently have the "sack dress" which was designed by Hubert de Givenchy in Paris to thank for it. In the 60s, the shift dress resembled independence – again, I assume to do with the ability to move freely and effortlessly – and I couldn’t be happier that it hasn’t gone anywhere.
I also love an effortlessly casual dress, and I think my orchid colored linen shift dress is the epitome of that. I’ve added some Golden Goose sneakers and a cardigan to complete the casual summer look.
I don’t know why, but I regard the slip dress as one of the most feminine and sexy dress styles out there. Perhaps it’s because, similar to the babydoll dress, it somewhat resembles nightwear, and I actually see it as a cross between a nightgown and an undergarment. However, the cami slip dress has a much more minimal silhouette, which I absolutely love; and that also explains why the slip dress was so popular in the 90s!
Slip dresses are traditionally cut on the bias, and almost always feature thin, spaghetti straps, so they’re pretty easy to identify. There are many 90s slip dresses out there – especially right now since they were everywhere on the Fall/Winter 2021 runways – but I absolutely fell head over heels in love with this beige polka dot dress from Etsy of all places, which teemed with my Sam Edelman Marlena scrunch heel. I’ve searched high and low for the perfect slip dress that would be the perfect balance between feminine and sexy (hey, moms have to feel and look sexy sometimes too!) and the polka dot print was the cherry on top, so it’s safe to say that this Etsy dress was definitely worth the wait.
I also wanted to show you guys another one of my favorite dresses, which is actually one of my favorite summer sun dresses in general. Sun dresses are back with a vengeance this season, and I feel we all need to channel some of the iconic 90s supermodels and A-listers by rocking one at least once this summer.
As much as I adore my beige polka dot dress, I sometimes want a little pop of color in my summer outfits. And this Abercrombie blue and white tie knot dress, which I’ve teamed with my pink Bottega Veneta curve sandals and a Louis Vuitton shawl to add another dimension to the look has certainly delivered.
Bet you never thought you’d see me, an advocate of all things comfortable and casual, in a bodycon dress.
What Does Bodycon Stand For?
I thought my earlier sheath dress was as form fitting as I was going to go as far as this roundup was concerned, but I wanted to give the bodycon – which stands for body conscious, and was invented to allow women to show off their bodies – a try, just to see if I could find one that I felt comfortable in.
I’ve chosen an Abercrombie ruched mini dress for this experiment, and made it more casual by teaming it with my Golden Goose mid star sneakers, lace crew socks, and my favorite denim jacket. I instantly feel more comfortable and more like myself in this tight dress by dressing it down – don’t you just love the power of the right accessories?
How To Wear A Bodycon Dress
In all honesty, this isn’t the most figure-hugging bodycon dress in existence– look at the Hervé Léger bandage dress, as worn by everyone from Kim Kardashian to Miranda Kerr, for a truly body-grazing bodycon – but it’s the perfect silhouette for my style. This just goes to show that you can experiment with fashion trends and dip your toe into them without going the whole hog. Fashion is all about individual interpretation, after all.
Finally, another one of my favorite dress styles…
The first ever women’s wrap dresses were designed by Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s and Claire McCardell in the 1940s, while the midi wrap dress style we know and love today obviously has to be credited to the one and only Diane von Furstenberg. DVF made the wrap dress the iconic piece it is today by designing it to flatter and empower women – especially curvy women – all around the world.
"All I want is, I think that through the dress, my message is to always tell women that they can be, and they should be the woman they want to be,” DVF famously said. “What we do is celebrate freedom and empower women, and sell confidence, because, in the end, it's the confidence that makes you beautiful."
Wrap dresses are loved by curvy women, but they’re flattering on all body shapes and sizes, which is why they continue to be one of the most popular dress styles today. The wrap dress will never stop being fashionable, so they’re definitely worth the investment. Best of all, wrap dresses come in all sorts of shapes, lengths, colors, patterns, and of course sleeve lengths (although long sleeved wrap dresses are perhaps what DVF is most famous for) which means there are more than a few summer-ready wrap dresses to choose from too. My Abercrombie peach detail mini wrap dress is the epitome of summer for me, and I’ve mixed things up by accessorizing with slouch boots and my rancher hat. I love how the colors of my whole outfit complement each other so seamlessly!
Thank you for reading my roundup of the best summer dresses. Which is your favorite dress silhouette?
Love, Lily x x