While it’s technically true that any outfit revolving around a dress could be categorized as an easy, breezy, one-and-done look, not all frocks are created equally effortless. With humidity levels peaking right now, throwing on a lightweight summer dress and calling it a day feels like the correct move. But what even constitutes a casual summer dress, and what are the best styles for dressing nonchalantly in this heat?
For this guide to the best casual summer dresses, we set a few criteria. One, the fabric of the dress had to be easily machine- or hand-washable, and the material needed to handle a bit of inevitable summer sweat. Two, the dress silhouette had to be a pullover or pull-on style, with no complicated zippers, hardware, or accoutrements. And three, the length of the dress needed to fall within the mini to midi range (because maxis can require a whole lot of work, not to mention hemming, for the petite dress-wearers of the world).
Of course, footwear also plays a huge role in your low-maintenance summer dress look. Pair any of the below pieces with sneakers or flats, and you’ve got yourself an "Oh, just pulled this together" vibe. Need to transition the dress from day to night? Some evening accessories, a quick going-out beauty routine, and a simple shoe swap for heeled sandals or ankle booties should do the trick. Now that we’ve got those guidelines out of the way, here are the best casual summer dress styles we’ve uncovered on the world wide web.
T-Shirt & Tank Dresses
The go-to summer dress in your arsenal (especially if you're still working from home these days and can't be bothered with more effort) is a T-shirt or sleeveless dress, preferably in a cotton or cotton-blend material. Listen, you've got plenty of soft, worn-in T-shirts — now just imagine a longer, oversized version of that same comfort. Looking for a specific color? Brands like Los Angeles Apparel or Everlane tend to have an array of hues, with T-shirt dresses in a more straight-forward shape. Or seek out retailers like Anthropologie or Missguided for trendier T-shirt dresses, with unexpected details like ruched sides or patchwork bodies.
House & Nap Dresses
Thanks to lockdown living, the nap dress (also known as a house dress) has become a fave style amongst the cottagecore-leaning indoor folk. These lounge dresses may look like they have a lot going on — a tiered construction, smocked tops, and often puffed or frilly sleeves — but they are so casual that yes, you are encouraged to take a snooze in them. Then go about your day without a wardrobe change!
Shift dresses are typically more form-fitting, with detailed feminine darting around the bust or waist. While some sheath-like bodies work well for casual summer dressing, the general goal here is to be able to move effortlessly throughout the day. So, check out pullover shift styles that offer wiggle room wherever possible — such as midi dresses that tent out or knit tunic dresses with stretch.
Slip & Cami Dresses
Depending on the material and cut, the slip dress may end up looking a bit more put-together and even nighttime-y, and a little less casual. However, we love any summer dress where all you have to do is slip it on and go — which is why the cami-top frock is not to be overlooked this season. Reformation consistently offers lightweight slip dresses with a sexy detail (like a thigh-high slit), while LOFT is a stellar source for a more low-key, but equally chic, spaghetti-strapped affair.
A linen dress is essential for summer, as its breathable flax fibers won't stick to your body, no matter your sweat levels. The material is ultra lightweight and billowy, which makes linen dresses perfect for all-day wear. The one thing to note is that the natural fabric tends to wrinkle easily, so to get rid of creases, dampen the dress and iron it using blasts of steam.
Chambray & Denim Dresses
Nothing's more casual or cool than classic blue denim. For a stiffer, thicker, more structured feel, opt for a dress made of the standard indigo you're used to. But on supremely hot days, chambray is the sister version you'll want to opt for instead — chambray dresses are more lightweight, softer, and have a smoother finish.
There's nothing a button-down shirtdress can't do — it has the range and versatility that other casual summer dresses don't have. The oversized oxford is comfy enough to be worn on chill weekends and to most corporate offices on summer Fridays (wear work trousers or culottes underneath if you must). Plus, it's got that "boyfriend shirt" wink-wink going on, and looks great belted.
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