I’m on the hunt for the perfect summer dress that can handle the heat waves we should all be starting to expect. I want something that will be cool without being naked, grown up without being stiff, and won’t overwhelm a normal sized frame. No suggestions? Charlene, Pacifico, CA.
Ever since Irwin Shaw conceived his bittersweet story, Girls in Their Sundresses, and Bruce Springsteen gave the idea his own twist in Girls in Their Sundresses, the idea of a perfect warm-weather garment hangs temptingly in our imaginary closet, along with the perfect white shirt, the perfect white t-shirt, the perfect jeans. We hunt it all over the stores, convinced that if we could find it, at least one of our dressing problems would be solved.
Well, I’m sorry to say that the mythical garment does not exist. It cannot, because the clothes are worn in context; they work or not, depending on our body, our lives, the world around us. And all of that is subject to change.
This does not mean giving up research. It just means that you have to put aside the idea of the perfect dress, a garment that embodies all sartorial ideals. Instead, look for the dress that looks perfect now (and hopefully a few years later).
Although we tend to equate wearing fewer clothes with being cooler, more coverage can actually be more protective without raising body temperature as long as the clothes aren’t too sticky. Think of the garment as a wearable sunshade, then look for lightweight, natural fabrics like linen, silk, and cotton, as well as midi lengths and sleeves.
For reasons probably deeply rooted in childhood, we also tend to equate summer dresses with dresses with frills, that is to say with ruffles and puffy sleeves. But a slightly more streamlined look can add a touch of sophistication that Shaw himself might have appreciated; a vibe that’s more like mint juleps on the porch than frolicking in strawberry fields.
And the one that Jennie Baek, a style advisor at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, says can be dressed up or down with a simple change of shoes and bag, which is key when considering packaging.
For example, this tea dress from Lisa says Gah, with flutter sleeves, provides both coverage and sea breeze; ditto this style of Anthropologyand that chiffon look. Other options include a crisp striped shirt dressa net white poplin number or a swingier, looser grip on the same of the Kit.
To finish, the wrap dress is a permanent problem-solving choice. Attach one.
Answers to your style questions
Each week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a fashion-related question from readers, which you can send her anytime via E-mail Where Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.
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