As the weather warms up, there are few pieces you will reach for as often as a well-cut, well-made summer dress.
It’s the understated hero of the heat – perfect draped over wet bathers, or dressed up for a night out. And it’s just as critical to your wardrobe as a solid pair of sandals or a beach bag.
“The summer dress should be the canvas for all your accessories,” says Assembly Label’s product design manager Sian Byrne. “It’s your staple dress – it should be easy to throw on and dress up or down.”
That’s no mean feat. And Byrne’s silk deep V-neck cami dress in mauve bridges that gap between daywear and nightwear.
We often expect summer dresses to be “easy to wear”, without considering how that’s achieved. Each line, stitch and detail is considered, with the wearer’s comfort always a top priority. Below, three more local designers explain what goes into designing these summer must-haves – and point to their favourite styles.
When shopping for a summer dress there’s a strict set of criteria most of us apply, albeit unconsciously.
"It must be easy to wear, easy to style, easy to look great in and easy to care for,” says Matin creative director Michelle Perrett. Her tiered dress is a top seller for this reason. “[It] has been a standout for it’s true versatility. It is made for summer dressing and works for a cross-section of occasions,” she says.
For Matteau designer Peta Heinsen, a good dress should be “something that has a point of view, but could easily be the perfect vintage piece.”
Heinsen says it shouldn’t be cut too close to the body either. “Lean towards pieces that aren’t overly fitted,” she says, adding that her tiered wrap dress has also been flying off shelves.
Both designers agree the fabric can’t climb too high under the arms or sweat marks will pool over the day. There should be plenty of legroom, too – enough to jump beach beds and comfortably hike your dress up over your knees as you dip your legs in the pool.
“Summer is all about the outdoors, so if you're constantly having to tuck stuff in or can't walk easily, then it's not the summer dress for you. If you feel good, you look good. So that's what it's all about,” says designer Magali Pascal of the eponymous label. Pascal notes breezy vintage linen styles – reminiscent of 1950s Italian beach holidays – are key this season.
When thinking of the perfect summer dress, linen or cotton is a popular choice of material. The reason is understandable – natural fabrics allow the skin to breathe.
“Natural fibres with breathability are selected to suit the summer climate,” says Perrett. “And as it’s also a time of year for special events, we look to lace and embroidery as embellishments to create a unique touch.”
Hemp and bamboo fabrics are likewise popular choices, as well as environmentally friendly ones.
Durability is also critical, according to the designers. You need to feel confident you can wash the garment over and over again without it turning to ruin.
“We try and aim for cottons primarily, and also easy-care pieces that don’t require dry cleaning,” says Heinsen. “While it’s great to invest in key pieces in your wardrobe, it’s important to try and minimise the ongoing cost of the garment.”
Not all synthetic fibres are bad though. “Some viscose, for example, can help with reduced creasing without affecting the overall feel of the fabric,” she says.
“Prioritise longevity over pricing,” says Perrett. “If you can see yourself wearing the dress for many summers to come, then that should rule over any preconceived budget.”
Pascal, though, says there should be a cap on how much you invest in the staple. She advises spending no more than $600, and only stretching to your upper limit if the dress will last a more than one season and is a real investment piece.
Chain stores can stock some beautiful designs, but they’re often made from 100 per cent synthetic fabrics that may feel light but don’t breathe. “You want to avoid polyester like the plague in the summer,” says Pascal.
While a summer dress is your own blank canvas, each designer has suggestions on how to add a personal touch.
“With bare feet and a bucket hat,” says Perrett.
“Matched to heirloom jewellery of collected talismans, a simple market basket and a great pair of classic sunglasses,” says Heinsen. “You can’t really go wrong.”
For a more “cool girl” look, Pascal suggests “pairing your favourite summer dress with all-white trainers.”