Fashion & Beauty

Hot Summer Dresses

Tiers are us. From left to right: A bright blue Havana dress from Brochu Walker, a polka-dot swingy dress from Saint+Sofia and the Kit’s Cobi shirtdress in a baja print.

By Janet Kelly

REMEMBER the summer dress—that one- step solution to the what-am-I-going-to-wear-today problem?

After two-plus years of a wardrobe of black sweats and jeans, a dress sounds freeing and appealing. Retailers must agree. In a search for “casual” dress on Farfetch and Neiman Marcus, 6,000 and 4,700 results popped up respectively. Shopbop showed 2,500, while “day” dresses on Anthropologie brought up 450-plus dresses. Choices spanned a wide price range from high-end brands, such as Italian La Double J and Kobi Halperin, to designs from Farm Rio, Velvet and new-to-us brands—Kit., Lisa Says Gah and Saint+ Sophia—that emphasize sustainability.

Summer favorites—the slip dress (think Kate Moss in the ‘90s) and tailored shirtdress—are among the casual offerings, but the style that spoke loudest to us combined a roomy silhouette (frequently with tiers), some sort of sleeve, a mid-length hem and a saturated color or eye-catching print.

Did our view tally with what readers want? We asked MyLittleBird friend Linda K., a Metropolitan Museum of Art docent, who specializes in tours of the fashion and medieval collections, to tell us what she was looking for in a summer dress.

“I wanted something with sleeves, long but not too long, something that felt airy and had zippy color. My goal is to look good but I don’t want anything that requires a lot of planning and coordinating with shoes and jewelry. Nothing too complicated, but not a sundress and nothing too boho. Something fun, swingy and with sex appeal.”

Well-being editor Mary Carpenter chimed in, saying she took note when her fashion-forward relative, who usually wears fitted clothing, showed up in a very loose dress with “almost tent-like layers and bell-like sleeves.” “I’ve always liked wearing long skirts but they feel a little frumpy— so these seem like an improvement.”

For invites to barbecues, cocktails and pool parties during this weekend’s Fourth of July festivities, carpe diem and don a dress.

Below, our picks:

LEFT: La Double J’s Artemis patchwork dress is named for the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon. Draw your own conclusions. What got our attention is the generous cut designed for wiggle room and comfort, the exuberant print and light and airy cotton poplin fabric. Ankle- length dresses can look frumpy, but the width of the body and the sleeves saves the day on this one. Do goddesses have big budgets? It sells for $955 at Elyse Walker.

RIGHT: Be the woman in blue—azure blue—this summer. Like the Artemis frock with its tiered skirt and button front, Brochu Walker’s cotton-blend midi dress from its Havana collection can be worn with a belt or loose and flowing. Undo the buttons, and voilá, you’ve got yourself a beachy coverup.  It’s $328 and available in seven other colors.

LEFT: The Lisa behind the Lisa Says Gah label is founder Lisa Bühler and Gah, says the website, is an expression of delight. The all-women design collective gives the classic shirt dress a fresh, feminine update with a fitted torso, cap sleeves and a skirt that sways—and has green, not blue, stripes. It sells for $168. Only small, extra large, 2XL and 3XL sizes still available.

RIGHT: Get into the swing of summer with this eye-catching floral print dress from Xirena. Stow your mobile in the side-seam pockets—and enjoy the Fourth.

LEFT: Sue Sartor makes garments that are hybrids between a dress and kaftan, so the fit is generous. Each is hand sewn and finished in Jaipur at a workshop that uses sustainable dyes. A stand-up collar and a sash you can wear as a belt or necktie add interest to this block print Paloma Flounce dress ($495). Wear it over your swimsuit as a cover-up in summer or pair with boots in fall and winter. It comes in a kaleidoscope of colors.

RIGHT: I noticed this ankle-length dress a few months ago on Anthropologie and thought to myself “how flattering.” The flowy frock ($168) with cascading tiers and wide sleeves has become one of the company’s best-sellers. Available in cotton in nine colors, it also comes in linen for $170. Both come in a choice of standard, petite and plus sizes.


LEFT: Established around the idea that you have enough basics, The Kit., whose head honcho is Daniel Vosovic, a finalist in season 2 of “Project Runway,” designs statement-making prints, such as the “striped baja swirl,” on this rayon/blend Cobie shirtdress ($148) with fitted waist, swingy skirt and drapey sleeves. The “About” section of the Kit. website says the company doesn’t make a garment until a customer orders it, and from there the process takes between 10-20 days. However, for this dress, a note gives the heads-up: “Given an increase in demand, this style ships in three to four weeks.”

RIGHT: We love prints and color for summer, but white is also right. And you can’t go wrong with this loose-fitting poplin dress with mandarin collar, curved hem and puff sleeves from Cos. It’s $175 ( belt not included).

Black for summer? You bet. Especially when it’s a polka-dot dress with flattering tiers like this one (left) from London-based Saint + Sofia, which designs easy-going clothing in sustainable fabrics. If sleeveless in not for you, layer a T-shirt under it. The Greenwich dress sells for $119. Kobi Halperin’s Tencel-and-linen midi dress (right) self-ties at the waist and kimono sleeves let the air float in. Reduced from $548 to $328.80 at Bloomingdale’s, only a few sizes are available.

LEFT: Founded in 2015 by British designer Wiggy Hindmarch, the London-based label Wiggy Kit is known for its everyday—but not boring essentials. Just a peek at this boho-chic , trapeze-shaped free-flowing dress in lightweight cotton conjures up a breeze. It’s £375.

RIGHT: Sometimes you feel like a sleeve; sometimes you don’t. In the case of the latter, when you fancy a stroll on the sand, for example, this Tommy Bahama Ikat print in cotton voile is ready. It sells for $148.

LEFT: Jungle florals, stripes and fruit motifs are the signature of Rio de Janeiro’s Farm Rio. When you’re wavering between something white and something colorful, this midi dress with punchy patterned stripes ($245, Shopbop) resolves the issue. Ruffles at the shoulder add to the festive feel.

RIGHT: Merlette may be known for its oversize frocks with tiers from neckline to hemline, but this cotton trapeze dress with tiered skirt and ruching at the shoulder and ($440) gives the same sense of movement with a drop-waist and more body-skimming silhouette.


LEFT: The subtle Ikat pattern against a white background reads cool. The loosely fitting, midi- dress from Velvet is in a lightweight voile fabric and sells for $189 at Shopbop.

RIGHT: Her last name rhymes with Chanel, but London-based fashion designer Coco Fennell says her inspiration comes from vintage Americana styles. A fan of nipped-in waists and balloon sleeves, she designs dresses to be flattering, easy to wear and not super expensive. This garden keyhole style is £149. 


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7 thoughts on “Hot Summer Dresses

  1. Patricia Byrne says:

    Been looking for another summer dress. Just ordered the black and white one. Hope it fits.

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      The polka-dot one? Mary Carpenter likes that one, too. Looks like you could wear it a lot of places. Hope it fits, too.

  2. Nancy G says:

    I love all the breezy shapes and fabrics. I started wearing dresses last summer and love the freedom. The ones you’ve highlighted are all terrific. Might need just one more for this summer.

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      Haven’t shopped for one yet, but I’m going to!

  3. cynthia tilson says:

    Perfect timing! It’s too hot to shop, but I just ordered two dresses of those you’d suggested…

    Thank you Janet, for winnowing down the thousands of online offerings to a few gorgeous and stylish selections.

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      Thanks, CT. Look forward to seeing you in a dress soon. Shopping in Boston??

  4. Carol says:

    Love these! Especially the polka dots one. I have a fancy pool party this Saturday and am choosing what to wear. I have 3 summer dresses (2 were purchased last summer) to ponder over. Before last summer I would have chosen white pants and a colorful top…

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