The Perfect Summer Dress Exists, and We May Have Found It

·6 min read
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

You’re standing in the kitchen at a cramped apartment party, loudly catching up with an acquaintance whose name you can’t remember, when you spot a girl, looking coolly fantastic and impeccably styled despite the sweltering August heat, snagging a beer from the fridge. She’s pulling off such a fantastic outfit you have to drop what you’re doing, run up and demand: “Babe, where did you get that dress?”

Like cocktails and pop songs, with each summer comes a definitive dress of the moment. Whether it’s a hyper-specific item, like the $490 “Strawberry Dress” by Lirika Matoshi that took off in 2020, or a recently defined genre like the “nap dress,” which became so common in 2021 that one Elle writer pleaded that they “must be stopped,” the Dress of the Summer can be hard to pin down, but a frontrunner nearly always emerges.

Tell Coronavirus to Shove It. By Wearing Your Summer Dress.

Marie Claire’s Summer Dress assessment points to 2000s-era silhouettes, bright colors and cutout dresses as major players. “Colorful crocheted knits, printed frocks in standout florals, and eclectic and groovy prints,” are the trends to embrace, advises Vogue.

This week, a reader wrote to New York Times chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman, seeking help finding the perfect summer dress. “Well, I am sorry to say that mythic garment does not exist,” Friedman wrote back, dully. “It cannot, because clothes are worn in context; they work, or don’t, depending on our bodies, our lives, the world around us. And all of that is subject to change.” This answer is boring, wrong and a total cop-out, in that order.

The London Times has multiple colorful galleries of the perfect summer dress; midis, minis, crisp florals, boho chic—it is all here.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Parisian cami strap allover ruched mini dress in ombre leopard print.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Asos</div>

Parisian cami strap allover ruched mini dress in ombre leopard print.

Asos

When making my Dress of the Summer determination, enduring fashions from years previous, flash-in-the-pan fads and expired trends have to be filtered out of the equation. In 2022, holdovers from last summer include crisply chic tennis separates and the tennis dress, a kicky little option recognizable by its pleats, pure white color and WASP-y accents. These are still in the mix and look great on everyone, but they won’t define Summer 2022.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Wisp Dress in Black.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Eckhaus Latta</div>

Wisp Dress in Black.

Eckhaus Latta

Earlier this year, Prada’s sister label birthed a micro-trend with the Miu Miu set, a preppy, long-sleeved crop top and miniskirt combo that was quickly spotted on a kaleidoscope of celebrities and influencers. Extremely cute—I even made myself a DIY version by taking a pair of scissors to Abercrombie & Fitch lookalikes—but only fleetingly impactful.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>SHEIN SXY Solid Cut Out Bodycon dress.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Shein</div>

SHEIN SXY Solid Cut Out Bodycon dress.

Shein

Breezy, flouncy prairie dresses, which shoppers flocked to en masse last year due to their quirkiness and comfortability, seem to be on their way out.

The dress of the moment is “definitely not a prairie dress anymore,” Liisa Jokinen, founder of the Gem vintage clothing app and the street style photographer behind the popular NYC Looks Instagram account, told The Daily Beast. “You can still see them, but they are not the hottest hot either.”

“In general I feel the trend is more towards separates,” Jokinen said. “Miniskirts are coming back, and probably the knee length, more A-line versions are coming back too.” As for the Dress of the Summer, Jokinen forecasts the return of playful eroticism. Looking like a homesteader’s bride? So 2021.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Rihanna in November 2012.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Jeffrey Mayer/Getty</div>

Rihanna in November 2012.

Jeffrey Mayer/Getty

“Red, sexy, mini Y2k spaghetti strap dresses” are gaining momentum, Jokinen said. “[I’m] still seeing a lot of underwear slip dresses too, but now it is going more towards sexier versions with asymmetrical hems.”

In a recent entry of her much-loved, invitation-only style newsletter Opulent Tips, Rachel Tashjian, Fashion News Director at Harper’s Bazaar, singled out just such a dress as her pick for Dress of the Summer: a black, spaghetti strap Eckhaus Latta minidress with an ankle-grazing panel falling down the left side. The fuzzy, polyester slip is equal parts sexy and weird, or “EXTREMELY hot and interesting!!!” as Tashjian put it. “Because remember… at least once a month if not more… you should get ‘dressed for dinner.’”

“[We’re] definitely seeing a big increase in demand for more formal dresses/gowns,” Elizabeth Shobert, VP of Marketing and Digital Strategy at STYLESAGE, a retail data analysis platform, told The Daily Beast. “StyleSage data shows a jump in sold out products from 6% in April to 19% in June. We’re also seeing online searches for occasion dresses up a lot from one year ago, as social calendars get back to normal: ‘wedding guest dresses’ +63% year-over-year, ‘formal dresses’ +73% YOY, ‘evening dress’ +45% YOY in Google searches.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City.”</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Moviestore Collection Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo</div>

Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City.”

Moviestore Collection Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

“I’m really digging all the new active dresses we’re seeing—ones that have a set of built-in bike shorts, plus pockets, thank you very much,” Shobert added. “For me, this kind of style perfectly addresses the flexible needs of today’s on-the-go consumer.”

Dani Rodriguez, Content Manager at the retail site Nomad, told The Daily Beast her go-to this summer “is a bodycon midi, but make it coastal grandmother with a crisp button up.”

We’re no longer languishing in social isolation, so sexy, flirty, mini-hemmed semi-formalwear seems to be the way the scale is tipping, but let’s get more specific: what fabric?

Recently, I snatched up a ruched, body-hugging Parisian minidress from a secondhand store and was struck by the idea that ruching, a French sewing technique meaning “to gather, ruffle or pleat,” is the perfect solution to a quintessential summer problem: sweating in your clothes means everything wrinkles instantly, rendering your linen dress unwearable in minutes. With ruched fabric, the wrinkles are built-in and fabulous.

The Dress of the Summer, I don’t think, ever needs to be a particular color; our tastes and inclinations as shoppers are too wide-ranging. But when it came down to selecting the North Star, summer-defining dress of 2022, Brynn Wallner, a creative director and founder of the women’s watch platform Dimepiece, made a compelling pick.

“The dress of the summer is a casual form-fitting mini dress, like the one Carrie Bradshaw wore in Sex and the City after she dumps Justin Theroux’s sexually challenged writer character (Vaughn Wysel, season two),” Wallner told The Daily Beast. “It’s a dress so tight that it becomes a second skin, which actually feels natural in hot weather.”

Note the way Bradshaw’s dress rides up a little as she walks, wrinkling ever-so-subtly? It’s not ruching, but it’s not not.

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