Can we still wear sundresses? a friend asked recently. I hadn’t ever thought to question that; I wear them all the time. But my friend told me that she knows women our age who are reluctant to wear something strappy, and don’t think they’re appropriate even during the sweltering heat. Where do these ideas come from?
A sundress, by definition, is something you wear in the sun, maybe while you want to get sun, or maybe not. Perhaps it has camisole straps; possibly it’s short; maybe it’s long and in a natural fabric. But in any case, you’re going to have more skin in this dressing game. That’s what may make some of us hesitant to wear them. We’ve done stories about arm insecurity, but a light wrap or even a featherweight jean jacket can take care of that.
The other reason many women our age resist the sundress look is that with most designs, it seems impossible to wear a regular bra. Yes, a strapless or razorback bra is needed for many designs, but several styles we picked below are “bra friendly.” The cut of the sleeves mean your bra won’t be peeking out and interrupting a clean, polished look. (See section below for help picking a bra.)
Definitely we all need a summer dress that is chic, sophisticated, and yet casual enough to make us feel light and “summer-y.” Especially with the right accessories—a lovely scarf to cover up some of the chest bareness, a lightweight jacket for cozy arms, or necklaces layered down the front to add panache, for instance—we think the easy shape of a sundress can go far.
Here, 13 summer sundress styles that you can rock in an easy, breezy way.
1. We Like It Bold
A graphic mix of dots, diamonds, and dashes brightens a flowy, stretchy maxi dress with a high, pleated neckline and cutaway shoulders. Scarf Print Crêpe de Chine Maxi Dress by Eliza J.; $158
2. In Stitches
The crew neckline and cap sleeves of this linen shift are flattering, and the relaxed, gently shaped cut gives it a casual feel. But it’s the embroidery and the festive blue that will create a holiday atmosphere where ever this dress goes. Bonus: pockets are hidden in the side seams. Linen Dress by Boden USA. $130.
3. The Cherry Bomb
When your friends say this black halter dress looks as sweet as pie, you best believe them! Decked in red cherry embroidery atop a classic gingham pattern, this sundress delights with wide self ties at the neck and elasticized paneling on the back. Cherry Pie Champ Halter Dress by Retrolicious; $89.
4. Meow This
NextTribe’s favorite print comes in a flowy swing silhouette–a flared A-line shape you can dress up or down. Jersey Swing Dress by Old Navy; $15.
Channel a Mondrian painting this summer. Bold colorblocking brings an artful touch to this relaxed, tunic-inspired dress. Ruffle at hem adds a flirty touch, and our favorite design element–pockets!–are slipped in the side seams. Drop Waist Dress by Athropologie’s Dolan Collection; $208.
6. Hello Carmen
As in Carmen Miranda! This jaunty off-the-shoulder style and ruffled trim suggest sultry, tropical evenings. Maybe Maracas as an accessory? Ruffled Jacquard Dress by Zara; $49.90.
7. Summer Jewel
The front of this shimmering emerald dress is deceptively simple: stretchy, smocked bodice on a midi-length cotton dress. The back is where it’s at: a hashtag-shaped pattern of straps that takes the dress to the next level. Hashtag: Scrumptious. Smocked Sundress by Compania Fantastica; $79.
8. Easy Seersucker
Fresh and pretty yet totally classic, this striped sundress features a ruffled neck, a kicky tiered skirt and long ties trailing down the keyhole back. Stripe Ruffle Tiered Seersucker Sundress by Eliza J.
9. Fresh Sewn Sunshine
Can sunshine be captured in a fabric? We think this intricately embroidered swingy frock provides the answer, and is sure to brighten up any day. Style also comes in plus sizes. It’s it wonderful that Anthropologie recognizes that not all (or not many, even) shoppers are twig-thin? Embroidered Swing Dress by Anthropologie; $188.
10. Blooming Business
Classic and slimming, this sleeveless shift offers a midi-length field of daisies on blue. Use the removable tie to emphasize your waistline. Bonus: Machine washable. Endless Daisy Sleeveless Dress by Compania Fantastica; $75.
With all-over spots and a knot-at-the-back halter neck, this dress wears its vintage inspiration proudly. It’s made from soft, drapey fabric and has a generous, below-the-knee skirt that swishes delightfully as you walk (or jive). Halter Neck Jersey Dress by Boden; $120.
Tiger stripes take ultra-feminine form with this tiered sundress in a fit-and-flare silhouette made for an effortless fit with a smocked bodice and straps. Add a cropped khaki or jean jacket, moderately heeled sandals, and some pendants and be dressed for success (and any other official kind of event). Smocked Sundress by La Ligne; $395.
Marimekko prints cheer up any day. With sweetly tied straps and a breezy silhouette, this maxi-length dress is an easygoing staple can be thrown on for a beachfront cook out or an upscale cafe. Maxi Dress by Anthropologie; $425.
The Bra Solution
Baffled by the best sundress-friendly bra? Look for strapless versions (size the fit so the band is snug) with silicone lined edges on top and bottom to ensure that your bra stays instead of strays. Try convertible styles that will give you more bang for your buck, allowing for strapless when you need but also straps when you want. Or go for the win with a racer back or halter style. If all else fails, you might opt for nipple hiders! Just note, they really only work for those of us who need coverage more than support.
Top photo by Kimberly Cihlar.
Amy Kawadler, in pink, is wearing a vintage Betsy Johnson dress, and jewelry by Aymala Studio.
A version of this story was originally published in July 2019.