Summer is just getting started and we’re already feeling a little bit overwhelmed with all the fetching options popping up across the dress category. We've been confronted by a host of floaty frocks for breezy weekend wear; combed online reviews to find summer’s top-sellers; scroll-shopped TikTok until our thumbs were numb. So, now, we're taking a step back to get let the experts provide some style clarity by weighing in on the state of summer dress trends in 2021. After consulting with Nordstrom managing editor Kate Bellman, TikTok trend expert Mandy Lee (known to many as @oldloserinbrooklyn), and Emma Zack, proprietor of the inclusively-sized vintage destination Berriez, we narrowed down a list of the summer dress trends that are going to take over your city (and your feed) from now until August. From clingy embellished sheaths to satiny slipdresses, there’s a summer dress trend waiting for you below.
Bodycon Going-Out Dresses
One trend that’s unequivocally back is the “going-out” bodycon look — all of our interviewees agreed that as pandemic-related restrictions lift and socializing becomes safe again, no one is staying inside. “A lot of my customers have been hitting me up and being like, ‘Do you have any going-out dresses?’” explained Berriez’s Emma Zack. Nordstrom’s Kate Bellman calls it the “skin-show” trend — it’s “about both looking and feeling good with a meant-to-be-seen attitude,” she shared. (Zack admitted that she recently “splurged” on a (now sold-out) clingy, color-blocked Mara Hoffman dress: “It’s really tight. I was like, I’m clearly losing my mind buying this ... [but I think it’s] worth my investment.”)
Classic Slip Dresses
Another near-unanimous contender for summer-long wear? The slip dress — 2021’s come-hither answer to the demure, housebound nap dress that we all lived in last summer. “They’re so easy, you can wear them inside or outside, and they’re like, casually hot — hot like sexy,” explains Zack. “You can’t wear tight clothes in summer, you’re going to sweat to death — [a slipdress] feels like you’re not wearing anything,” adds Lee. “I’m actually wearing one right now.”
Mod Revival Dresses
“It’s so great that Gen Z is having this secondhand moment, [and] I think that mod and this 60 and 70s revival is just at the beginning,” Lee says of the swingin’ look that’s brewing in the world of frocks. “Simple shift dresses, simple shift silhouettes — maybe with these crazy psychedelic patterns — we’ve been seeing that with avant basic and coconut girl,” she elaborates, referencing two popular TikTok style tribes marked by fluorescent hues and tropical, kaleidoscopic patterns. “I really think paisley is going to come back,” she adds.
Elevated Basics Dresses
This clingy dress silhouette, says Lee, is easy to spot but harder to put into words. “I don’t know if it has a name,” she says, “but I’m called it elevated basics. You’re taking something that’s a seemingly simple silhouette, and elevating it with cutouts, and ties,” she explains. “You take a simple bodycon dress and there are straps everywhere. It still looks like a dress but there might be one random cutout on the side with an asymmetrical strap here. Or, similar with a tank dress or something, the strap might be crossed. There might be a tube top and then there’s a bunch of little straps.” Bellman elaborates that customers can “look for new details with asymmetric neck and hemlines, striking cut outs, open backs and off-the-shoulder in both knit or woven dresses.”
Last summer, in an effort to cope with the domesticity that the pandemic imposed on our lives, we embraced cottagecore, an aesthetic that glamorized the short list of diversions that we were permitted — like honing our bread-baking expertise and floating around the same six-block radius in the tent-like cotton dress we’d slept in the night before. Here to elevate our closets in 2021 is princesscore — a royal and romantic style marked by weightless, frilly volume and fanciful fabrics like tulle and organza. (While we found a way to enjoy the simple life last summer, we can’t wait to reinvigorate our wardrobes with some sparkle and shine.) The trend has been growing in popularity for a few seasons, explains Lee, embodied by viral hits like Selkie’s Puff Dress and the work of designers like Simone Rocha and Molly Goddard. “Who doesn’t want to look like a princess on a really hot New York summer day?” she asks.
“I’m loving is the mesh dress. I feel like I’ve been seeing mesh everywhere,” says Zack. “It’s on Instagram, it’s on Skims, — I was on Norma Kamali last night and she has a ton of mesh stuff.” Lee attributes this to the Jean-Paul Gaultier revival that’s growing on social media, and sees many in the fashion flock “wearing underwear or bike shorts under a sheer dress.” Zacks concurs: “I actually wore [a mesh dress] the other day with my bathing suit underneath” — but, she says, customers can add “a bodysuit or high-waisted panties and a Shop Arq bra. I feel like it’s going back to the going-out trend,” she continues, “as people are trying to go out and look sexy and keep cool.”
While it may seem obvious, many of us remember a time when the streets and runways were dominated by a gradient of neutrals that runs counter to the current preference for print, pattern, and color. Lee recalls that “in the early 2010s, everything was black, gray, white. If you were wearing color, you were bold. Now I feel like maximalism is so much more popular and accepted — it’s really cool to see [a] generation [that’s] growing up with this being the norm.” Bellman adds that Nordstrom “customers really embraced the joy of prints” throughout the pandemic — and this season, shoppers can look out for “recolored stripes, quirky dots, playful checks, and gingham.” Zack concurs that “my favorite trend [is] — I don’t know if it’s a trend — really bold patterns and colorful prints. I love wearing shit like this,” she continued, indicating to the candy-colored bodysuit that she was wearing during our interview — a hand-painted romper from Berriez’s upcoming collaboration with Los Angeles-based bespoke imprint Worn Ware — “because you look down and are like, ‘Oh, this is fun.’”
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