Summer dresses: what to wear this season

Sarah Boden ladies summer dresses detail shot

After endless months of staying in, wearing mostly loungewear or leggings, things are changing. Lockdown has eased, we’re all venturing ‘out out’, and I want to dress up again. However the problem is, I feel like I’ve almost forgotten how! In fact, wearing proper clothes again is a little bit daunting. So, I’ve got to admit I’m out of practice at pulling together an entire outfit. I start thinking what will suit me and fit me? The answer, dear readers, is ladies’ summer dresses.

Now, I have always adored a dress. They deliver maximum impact for minimum effort – and I think we all deserve a bit of that right now. Separates are much more needy don’t you agree? Yes, coordinating tops with trousers or skirts takes much more time and energy. However, dresses are fast, flattering and suitable for almost any occasion, from workwear to weddings. So, choose your cut, colour and fabric carefully, and it will accentuate your best bits, and camouflage the rest. Often, long, floaty affairs will help to keep you cool when the temperature rises. Or you can turn up the heat in other ways with something more fitted and fabulous – perfect for parties!

Depending on the style, I find dresses tend to work equally with flats, sandals and heels. Subtle jewellery lets a bold print or bright colours take centre stage. Or you can add a bit of bling to plain neutrals with some statement accessories. So if, like me, you’ve been wondering what to wear this season, ponder no longer. In fact, I’ve put together a selection of gorgeous ladies summer dresses to inspire you. So, read on and get ready to rock the frock!

Franks London

As you know, I’m super keen on supporting sustainability and small businesses. So, Franks London has been a bit of a find. The Franks portfolio features exclusive, one-off pieces, which are neither trend-led nor mass-produced. Production is small and hand-finished, with a made-to-order service.

Franks offers a wide range of ladies summer dresses, in the most fabulous fabrics. My current favourite is the Katie Dress, designed by influencer and content creator Michelle Driscoll. It’s so stylish, yet still very easy to wear, thanks to its versatile midi length and soft, feminine silhouette. I love the blue floral motif, the high curved waist seam, and the stretchy puff sleeves. Then you can easily dress down this design with Birkenstocks, or glam it up with wedges

summer dresses Franks London
The Franks London Katie Dress is made from 100% viscose, and priced at £190. It can be dry cleaned or hand washed in cold water

Baukjen

Another great option if you’re keen to stock up on sustainable ladies summer dresses is Baukjen. This London-based womenswear brand has a firm focus on environmental, ethical and social responsibility, all with eco-friendly fabrics. And it adheres to a strict Factory Code of Conduct for its manufacturing and production. I have fallen in love with the brand’s Felice Organic Dress. It’s pull-on, with an adjustable drawstring waist, so you can literally dress and go. Best of all, there are pockets! Batik prints always remind me of holidays, and I like the striking colour combination of Bordeaux, crimson and lilac. Pair with gold jewellery and white or metallic sandals for a simple but timeless look.

Baukjen Felice organic summer dresses
Baukjen’s Felice Organic dress features vegan, natural fibres and low-impact dyes. Made from 100% organic cotton, you can machine wash it at 30°, and it costs £139however I’m giving you a special discount code to use STYLEDECOR15 which offers you 15% off full-price Baukjen items only!

I asked Natalie Grant, their Head of Design for her thoughts on sustainability in womenswear: “I don’t think there is any doubt of fashion’s negative impact on the environment. In fact, it’s the third most polluting industry! We all have a responsibility to lessen the damage to the planet and people within the industry. There is no such thing as ‘sustainable clothing’ so understanding the impact of our clothes and our behaviour is vital. As a brand, we are doing all that we can to ensure we are creating our clothes the best way we can. But it’s also about keeping that garment in good use for as much time as possible. And informing and allowing our customers to make better choices when it comes to their clothes.”

And as for trend predictions this season, she tells me: “Femininity reigns supreme this summer. Tiers, ruffles, pretty sleeves, and necklines are all important details. Comfort is also key so expect lots of midi-lengths, loose fits, drawstring, and elastic waists. After a year of lockdowns, we a looking to optimistic colour to boost spirits with vivid pastels and saturated brights in solids and eye-catching prints”.

Alice Early

If you need an outfit that’s slightly more formal – or offers more coverage – do take a look at Alice Early’s ladies summer dresses. Made in London, this designer’s collection is bright, modern, and suits all ages. Once again, sustainability is at the heart of everything produced.

“For me, sustainable fashion means creating garments that my customers will want to look after and enjoy for years to come,” Alice explains. “My clothes are designed to last; made using natural, organic materials from ethical suppliers and by local production teams; with an awareness of the impacts my design choices have on the people in my supply chain and the wider environment.” She continues: “The confusion surrounding the meaning of the term, despite all the green-washing and lip service being paid to it, makes it even more important for me to be transparent in the steps I take in all aspects of my production. One of the most sustainable ways to shop is to know your style and invest in items you love and will wear again and again, rather than buy masses of clothing just because it’s cheap.”

Going forward, Alice predicts a demand for joyful dressing and colour. “So I see cheerful prints and bold colours on the horizon, in styles you can enjoy and have fun in.”

Alice’s emerald green Eva Dress has certainly caught my eye. Made from a fresh, breathable crinkle cotton, it allows any creases to simply bounce out. So it will be the first dress I pack in my suitcase the next time I actually manage any sort of proper ‘going away’ holiday! I love the delicate white polka-dots and pintuck detailing on the bodice. You could wear this with a formal shoe or sandal, or add some edge with fashion trainers.

Alice Early Eva summer dresses
Alice Early’s Eva Dress is made from 100% cotton, and is suitable for hand washing. It’s priced at £280. (Pic by Sam Ford at samfordsamford.co.uk)

Mayamiko

If you’re conscious about your upper arms (or just feel the cold more than most) finding a selection of ladies summer dresses with sleeves is a must. I recommend this Dalitso Maxi Wrap Dress by Mayamiko, a responsible womenswear and lifestyle brand. Famously worn by Meghan Markle during the Royal Africa Tour, they have updated the Dalitso dress with longer sleeves and a slightly fuller shape. Ethically sourced and made in Malawi by artisans at the Mayamiko worksho, this adjustable wrap style is both flattering and forgiving. There’s even a matching face mask available, to help you stay safe and stylish!

Dalitsto Peacock summer dresse
Priced at £89, Mayamiko’s Dalitso dress is made from 100% lightweight cotton, and is vegan-approved by PETA. You can even scan the QR code on the care label, to meet the team who made your outfit

Ethereal London

While I love a dash of colour, you can’t go wrong with monochrome. Black and white is such a timeless combination, winter or summer. I’m a big fan of Ethereal London’s Zia Black Smock Tie Dress. It features a beautiful, honeycomb hand-smocked bodice and a tiered, midi length skirt. I love the peplum detail at the waist – and the brand’s signature discreet side pocket! Ethereal makes their clothes from responsibly-sourced fabrics that really flatter the figure. The company operates a pre-order system to gauge demand and avoid over-buying. And all of its packaging is recyclable.

“Dressing up is most definitely on the agenda this summer for obvious reasons,” notes Ethereal London Founder & Creative Director Annie Holt. “Uplifting colour and prints are key, with people looking for positive and fun ways to update their wardrobe…Smocking is also a huge trend. Not only is it a stylish detail, but it creates the perfect fit when positioned correctly. Our Zia dresses are all lovingly hand-smocked with the intricate diamond pattern each taking half a day to complete.”

ETHEREAL black zia summer dress
Made from soft, sustainably-sourced viscose, the Zia Smock Tie Dress is available in four different designs, all featuring hand-stitched diamond smocking and a bespoke cotton lace trim. These dresses can be machine washed at 30°. Prices start at £245

Boden

Last – but by no means least – is Boden. Affordable, long-lasting and great quality, this brand has been a stalwart in my wardrobe for many years. Their collection of ladies summer dresses never disappoints. This year I’ve treated myself to the Nicola Midi Shirt Dress in Black/Bird of Paradise. I adore everything about it, from the vibrant, jungle-themed print, to the flattering fit-and-flare shape. Public service announcement: it has pockets, too! Teamed with either my faithful flats or strappy sandals, I’m looking forward to wearing it just about everywhere!

Sarah Boden ladies summer dresses
Boden’s easy-care, viscose Nicola midi shirt dress is machine-washable, and priced at just £85

Want to keep trim and fancy trying some vegetarian meal options? Then read my post on vegetarian meal ideas!

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