Ignore the fashion naysayers – you can still wear a floral dress for spring

<span>Photograph: David Newby/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: David Newby/The Guardian

Daylight, that mythical creature mostly glimpsed out of the office window in the 27 months since Christmas, now stretches into the evenings. On the street, the candy-sweet chime of the ice-cream van harmonises with the lazy hum of Lime bikes. This can mean only one thing. The time has come. You open your wardrobe and reach for a floral dress. It is a rite of spring.

Except that every year this precious moment is tarnished, just a little bit, by the voice in your head that insists on snarkily quoting The Devil Wears Prada. You know the line. “Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking,” says fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly, withering a million ditsy prints on the vine without even raising her voice.

But you know what? I want to wear a floral print dress when spring springs. So sue me. It is not reinventing the wheel, I get that, but it’s not supposed to be. Florals for spring isn’t about fashion, which is why fashion people are sniffy about them. Florals for spring is a ritual, a marker of time passing, a celebration of having got through another winter. Like taking the umbrella out of your bag and replacing it with a pair of sunglasses, it is as much a statement of hope as of expectation.

Because spring never does arrive, fully formed, on the first day of spring, or the day the clocks go forward, or the spring bank holiday, or at Easter. We get a few days of nice weather and we all go around saying: “Wow, it’s spring – isn’t it lovely?”, and then suddenly it’s back to midwinter. And this keeps happening all the way through April. So at a certain point you have to stop obsessing over the long-range forecast and make a call. Cast your vote for spring. That’s what the floral dress is, really. Like a flag or a football shirt, it is about believing in a dream of the season to come.

The best floral dresses aren’t wishy-washy: try a dark background or large-scale flowers

So Miranda might think us basic, but we are expressing our connection with the natural world through the medium of a midi dress, which is quite different, thank you very much. The best floral dresses are ones that are not wishy-washy. Nobody’s Child is a good place to look, starting with their Pastel Floral Nova Smock Midi Dress (£89). A dark background – have a look at Kitri’s Bridget Black Vine Leaf Print Shirred Maxi Dress (£190) – adds instant sophistication. Large-scale flowers add instant boldness, but a small, precise bud can look chic. I love Albaray’s Sprig Floral Sun Dress (£99) with a custom print based on meadow flowers, each bud suspended on a pristine white backdrop as if caught in a flower press.

But best of all, of course, is to look in your own wardrobe. Besides, the first florals of spring are tempered, for practical reasons, with the safety-net layers necessary on days when a flimsy dress isn’t going to see you through. An optimistic outlook is to be commended, but leaving the house in a dress and sandals at this point in the year is pure folly. So your spring look is only partly about the floral dress itself, and partly about what you wear with it. The extra layer should be something that adds chic, not one that kills the look. So it is worth putting a little thought into the outfit as a whole instead of just putting on a dress and then, when you get cold, grabbing a random cardigan.

Did you buy a sleeveless knit this winter? A tank top, or a crew neck without sleeves, or a button-through knit waistcoat? This is a newish wardrobe item for me, and for lots of us, I think. It was great in the winter: I wore mine over shirts, because you feel like you are wearing a jumper (warm and cosy) but you present to the world as wearing a shirt (crisp and dynamic). As the weather turns, a sleeveless knit is a great partner for your floral dresses. Not only does it turn a holiday-weight dress into a spring-appropriate outfit, it also gives that outfit a fashion point of view, because the sleeveless knit is very much A Thing, and therefore earmarks the wearer as someone who knows about such things. If your sleeveless knit is neutral-toned, it is also a useful way of watering down the visual impact of a print that feels a little too loud or hectic for the office.

Alternatively, wear a blazer as a cardigan, softening the silhouette by cinching it with a soft, slim belt. Tights probably won’t work, but if you are not ready for bare legs, I spotted Anna Wintour wearing a pansy-print Stella McCartney silk dress over knee-high snake-print boots at Paris fashion week, and it looked very chic. Take that, Miranda.

Styling assistant: Sam Deaman. Model: Liz De Aza at Milk (right) and Selina at Mrs Robinson (left). Hair and makeup: Sophie Higginson using Hair by Sam McKnight and Charlotte Tilbury. Selina wears: floral co-ord by Essentiel Antwerp, earrings by YSSO. Liz wears: dress by & Other Stories, necklace by Crystal Haze