Modeling their own sundresses above: Lesley Dormen, left, and Amy Kawadler on NextTribe’s Beach Retreat.
A friend recently asked a question that stumped me: “Can we still wear sundresses?” 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 geometrics brightens a flowy, stretchy midi-length dress. Small peekaboo cutouts right below the braline (but not too revealing) add extra boldness. By Cult Gaia; $318
2. In Stitches
The crew neckline of this cotton shift is flattering, and the relaxed, gently shaped cut gives it a casual feel. But it’s the embroidery in festive shades of blue that will create a holiday atmosphere where ever this dress goes. Bonus: pockets are hidden in the side seams. Kiki Floral Embroidered Sleeveless Dress. $198.
3. Tower of Power
A wide waistband defines the figure in a flowing chiffon maxi dress with a shoulder-flaunting halter neck and a softly pleated silhouette. Floral Print Chiffon Halter Maxi Dress by Eliza J; $198
4. Meow This
NextTribe’s favorite print comes in a casual silhouette with ruffle sleeves and crew neck that you can dress up or down. Ruffle-Sleeve Ponte-Knit Sheath Dress by Old Navy; $36.
5. Change Your Mood…Change Your Look
This simple wrap dress from White House Black Market does double duty beautifully. Imagine the cost-per-wear mileage you can get from this garment, and the space you’ll save in your suitcase on holiday. Reversible Matte Jersey Wrap Dress; $130.
6. Still Sweet
A simple, pretty faux wrap that can go just about anywhere. Nice coverage up top with the short sleeves and surplice bodice, so show a little leg under the tulip hem for some fun. Mini Dress by Molly Bracken; $59.99
7. Simple Chic
The secret behind the success of this shift dress? Its versatile shape, designed with both comfort and style in mind. It skims and flatters your figure, flaring into a breezy knee-length skirt. All cotton. Yolande Shift Dress by Boden; $98.
8. She’s a Rainbow
Stripes are just right for summer. This lightweight viscose-rayon number features adjustable cami straps, a flounce ruffle-trim at the scoop neckline, a button-front placket at the bodice, and a smocked waist. Basically Breezy Sundress by Modcloth. $79.
9. Tropical Punch
This sleeveless shirt dress exudes chic crispness. The concealed front closure adds a refined finish, the self-tie defines your shape, and the all-linen fabric keeps you cool and collected. Kate Linen Shirt Dress by Boden; $210.
10. Blooming Business
This Intricately printed mini dress is a lark with pintuck detailing on the yoke, flutter sleeves and a full skirt. The fun, breezy hippy-ish vibe is accentuated by crochet edging along the hi-lo shirttail hem. Sasha Printed Dress by Poupette St Barth; $320.
11. Vintage Glory
Dive into summer in this 1950s-esque swing dress adorned with retro-style under-the-sea illustrations of crabs, shells and sea stars. Scoop neckline at the front and a V-back, and handy side pockets at the hips. Underwater Fanta-sea Swing Dress by Voodoo Vixen; $99.
12. Airy Queen
Bold patterns and brightened colors enliven a summery frock with a hankderchief hemline that is perfect for your next tropical getaway or sunny staycation. Sun Lilies Scarf Sundress by Tommy Bahama; $145.
13. AC Included
This navy-blue sheath comes with perfect ventilation, in the form of the tiny, all-cotton eyelet fabric. Extra breeziness is provided by the side slits. But don’t worry it’s not a peep show; a separate liner provides necessary coverage. Eyelet Maxi Dress by Chico’s; $149.
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.
A version of this story was originally published in July 2019.