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While some people consider white button-downs and a good pair of jeans the makings of a successful capsule closet, big, voluminous, puff-sleeve dresses that take up space are what I consider wardrobe staples. If I can imagine a dress knocking the makeup over on my vanity as I’m walking by in the morning, I know I need to have it. Even better if it prevents people from getting too close to me, takes up multiple seats, or can’t fit through doors without hitting the walls.
My obsession with frothy dresses actually began out of not being able to find pants I liked that fit me well. While I don’t like labelling myself as “plus-size” or any other title (I personally feel like these labels prey upon people’s insecurities), I’ve never been “skinny,” and I’ve dreaded shopping for pants and jeans for most of my life. Dresses, for me, acted as one-and-done outfits that would fit my multiple sizes and weight fluctuations. (At this point, I probably wear jeans once or twice a year.)
Over the years, I’ve cultivated a collection of big dresses. I started with maxi dresses when I was in high school and college, before moving to ‘80s vintage prom frocks (I loved finding old Betsey Johnson secondhand) and puff-sleeve options that I would layer over T-shirts or under cardigans. Both provided an equal amount of statement factor in different ways: the maxis for their long, lengthening shape, and the puffy prom concoctions for their tiered tulle skirts.
And while many people might not consider big dresses a versatile style staple, I find that these voluminous styles offer such a wide range of styling opportunities that I’m constantly inventing new ways to wear them.
One of my favourite examples of this is a white Simone Rocha dress I own. Designed as a classic white button-down with cascading ruffles at the top, at the waist, it blossoms into a giant tulle skirt with lace at the bottom. When I bought it last year, it was the most expensive piece of clothing I ever purchased, even on sale at 50% off. But I somehow convinced myself that the investment would be well worth it, as I could see wearing it multiple times in many different ways — and I have, with a colourful crochet tank top from The Series over it; with a sequined bra top from the Simone Rocha x H&M collection on top of it (think: gothic wedding vibes); and open, like a duster jacket, with a slip dress underneath it. (Of course, I also think it looks amazing on its own.)
One of my other favourite ways to shake up the look is by pairing a T-shirt underneath an eye-catching dress. One of my favourite looks is an upcycled piece by Taylor Dorry that is made out of an actual quilt. I frequently wear it with a graphic tee — like the one featuring a cat face, by 3 Women, or a tourist tee reconstructed with big puffy plaid sleeves to add an extra dimension, also by Taylor Dorry.
Part of the reason why I love big dresses as a wardrobe staple is their all-in-one function. I’m a maximalist who loves colour, prints, and unique silhouettes. I truly feel like there is nothing else that makes getting dressed up easier than choosing a giant frock. I find that printed options, especially, take on a different form depending on how you style them. One of my favourite things to do is choose two (or more) prints of different scales (the more they vary, the better) and pair them together. I recently wore a giant Marimekko maxi dress with the brand’s signature blue flowers all over. I then threw a long, painterly Marni jacket over top of it with smaller florals, and it gave the piece new life, plus an entirely new structure.
So, while many people may stock up on their favourite cotton T-shirts or vintage Levi’s as everyday staples, I’d rather invest in massive smocks and reinterpret them over and over and over again. A few more of my favourites that easily lend themselves to new ways of styling are Chopova Lowena options with chaotic prints and metal embellishments, Selkie puff dresses that have a very different look when worn with a cardigan versus when worn with elbow-length opera gloves, and a Comme des Garcons dress made out of plastic that I like to layer with detachable collars and little cropped jackets.
Nothing feels more intrinsically “me” than wrapping myself up in as much puffy, billowing fabric as possible and moving in a cloud through the world, and that’s what ginormous dresses offer.
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