Recently a friend of mine asked me something that could very well be an Ask Peaceful Dumpling question. She’d recently gotten a short and feminine hair cut, which required tweaking her style to be more distinctly womanly but not precious or “girly.” In my lengthy answer what really stood out was: Dresses! If you get dress-buying and dress-wearing down pat, you’re already winning your style game.
But dresses are harder than you think. Years ago, right before meeting my boyfriend’s mom for the first time, I remember standing in front of the dressing room mirror at Barney’s debating whether to buy that $400 DVF dress. It was an hourglass, knee-length fitted cocktail dress, and charcoal gray, supposedly appropriate for both day and night. It seemed like just the sort of thing that can be work-play according to women’s magazines, but I’m so glad I didn’t buy it because I would have worn it very little. Since then I’ve figured out a few rules for mastering dresses.
1. DO spend more money on a great dress: The idea is to buy one amazing dress that works for so many different occasions, rather than splitting your money 3-4 different ways and buying one for each. I don’t have a big wardrobe budget, but this actually ends up saving money in the long run ($ of dress/ # of times you wear it). The quality is just night and day, and I’ve never spent more than a $100 on a dress and lived to regret it (the reverse is true many times over). For me in spring/summer, that means a dress that is appropriate for special dates, birthday parties, going out dancing, going to the ballet, and weddings. How can one dress do it all? See below.
2. DON’T go too long or too fitted: I view the knee-length cocktail dress as the enemy–it’s supposed to be great for everything, but it’s often too dressy for anything during the day, and too restrictive for anything after 9 p.m. You can’t dance in a cocktail dress and make it look effortless. It’s really only good for cocktails and dinner, and adds to your years no matter how old you are. And knee-length is not the most flattering length for most women.
3. DO go shorter: The most flattering and versatile length for most women is just a few inches below fingertips. This length will take you to all the aforementioned occasions without a hitch and also add inches to your legs. It’s just long enough to be modest, short enough to be sexy. It is appropriate for all ages (!) and is more youthful and fun. And you can dance in this. Eureka!
4. DON’T do stiff: Anything that can read as stiff, pretty as it might be, will not be versatile. This includes hourglass, form-fitting dresses, 50s style silhouette with cinched waist and voluminous skirt, and anything that has its own volume on a hanger. A go-anywhere dress should look flowy and effortless.
5. DO embrace contemporary details: Interesting necklines, asymmetric ruching, cutouts and drape-y details are all a DO. They’re super flattering–just trust! 😉
Barbara Bui dress, $220 (originally $550)
This Barbara Bui dress is perfect for every occasion I outlined above except going out dancing at night. Solution? Shorten the hem 3-4 inches depending on your body and comfort level. So gallerista!
Acne Studios Dress, $257
I’m head over heels in love with green lately. Sheer is always a DO–sexy yet subtle! That asymmetric detail and ruching is also super flattering because your eyes just glide over them and travel vertically along your body. Slimming and lengthening!
Max Studio embroidered cotton dress, $98 (originally $148)
Can you really wear a sundress at night and not look out of place? When it’s this perfectly balanced, yes! Cinching the waist with a belt keeps it from looking too airy for night.
Max Studio asymmetrical dress, $58 (originally $98)
Another architectural, contemporary and sexy dress that looks as good for a dinner party as for a dance party.
Max Studio apricot short sleeve dress, $128 (originally $298)
Doesn’t this color make you feel happier? Proof that you can wear pink-ish colors without looking twee. It’s also the perfect canvas for any kind of jewelry: bangles, statement necklace, long thin strand necklaces, any type of earrings…(just not all at once). It’s sexy, sweet, modern, smart–just like you!
Which one of these would you wear? Any dress wearing / buying tips you’d like to share?
Also in Spring Style: 7 Chicest Vegan Shoes for Spring
Photo: Yoox; Max Studio