How to Choose a Summer Maxi Dress

How to Choose a Summer Maxi Dress

how to choose a maxi dressIt’s hard not to look lady-like in an elegant maxi dress, especially when we spend so much time in trousers and jeans. If your wardrobe is crying out for a feminine touch, look no further than a maxi dress. Unlike many other styles, maxi dresses are comfortable and practical and make for a great day-wear staple. I’ve been living in maxi dresses at one stage when my daughter was little. They camouflaged a multitude of issues and were the perfect solution when I wanted to look feminine but missed my waxing appointment yet again (you know, the joys of being a busy mother!). I went back to wearing maxis about a year ago and they are solidly one of my favorite summer styles now.

For some reason many women are afraid of maxi dresses, be it because they don’t know how to style them or don’t know how to find the flattering ones. One of the biggest myths out there is that petite girls can’t wear maxis. Forget about that! Maxi dress (when chosen correctly) creates a very strong vertical proportion that elongates the silhouette. If you are a plus size girl, there are also plenty of styles that will look slimming and flattering.

Maxi dresses are quite a common choice when it comes to evening wear but those occasions don’t come up that often so let’s look at how to choose a maxi dress for day wear as you are guaranteed to get a lot more wear out of those.

Let’s look at key characteristics that you need to take into consideration when looking for a maxi.


If you are to buy a maxi for daywear, these fabrics would work the best:

  • cotton
  • jersey
  • chiffon/silky materials

Cotton maxi dresses can work beautifully with a pair of flat sandals or wedges as a chic city look or a laid back holiday ensemble. There are two types of cotton – stretchy and non-stretchy. You have to be careful with stretchy cotton, especially if the style is very figure hugging.  The dress I have in the photos is a stunning number by Diane Von Furstenberg. It is cotton and has a good bit of stretch to it but the material is very structured so it doesn’t cling to lumps and bumps (which is the biggest danger with stretchy fabrics).

If choosing stretchy cotton, give preference to good quality structured cotton that drapes rather than clings.

Be particularly careful with very figure hugging styles, especially if they are in a block colour instead of a print. There is literally nowhere to hide in those- no imperfection will go unnoticed. Ignore this, however, if you are one of those lucky ladies with the perfect body and proportions.

Jersey is a bit more forgiving than cotton as it is a more fluid fabric that drapes in a different way. Again, a tight dress will remain just as unforgiving even in this fabric but flowy and drapey styles can work beautifully. Don’t forget that jersey is polyester so the fabric doesn’t breathe as much as natural materials do and can feel heavy and clammy in hot climates.

Silky materials look great in block colours as well as prints and more often than not are the most forgiving fabric in regards to the fit. Also, chiffon styles tend to look a lot more modern and contemporary. A few years ago there was an abundance of stretchy maxis that were great at the time for sunny days and holidays but fashion constantly evolves and maxis are not an exception. I don’t urge you to follow trends but you do have to be aware of what’s of current interest to avoid looking dated.

Another major advantage of maxi dress in silky fabrics is their versatility for dressing up and down. You can go with a boho vibe for a casual look with flat shoes or can put a pair of heels on and dress it up for most semi-formal occasions.


Continuing on the subject of trends, you have probably noticed from the images above that the modern maxi works around a slightly more relaxed silhouette giving an effortless and laid back vibe.

However, for obvious reasons not every shape looks great in a free-flowing unstructured style.

Here are a few tips that will help you to find the cut that will flatter YOUR shape:

  • Wrap dresses work for most shapes, especially the ones that require the waist to be emphasized to balance out the hips. Without it the silhouette will look as wide as the widest point across the hips. Bardot style dresses that are very popular at the moment will also help to balance out the proportions for a typical pear shape.
  • If you are a proud owner of a good bust, your best option is to stick with dresses that have a pronounced waistline – without it you risk looking heavier and a size bigger. The above mentioned wrap cut will work perfectly as well as any other style that has a set waistline or an option of adding a belt. Raglan sleeve can look very flattering on a big bust and subtly minimize it if needed.
  • V-neck is a universally flattering neckline and will help to elongate the silhouette.
  • Go for layered dresses where the lining is shorter than the covering layer (which makes the bottom of the dress semi-transparent) if you feel that the typical floor length maxis are too ‘heavy’ for your silhouette. Slits will have a similar elevating effect.
  • Asymmetric hem can give more depth to the silhoutte and elongate it.
  • Choose the length of the dress carefully so that it doesn’t visually chop your height. Lengths below the ankle usually work best. Keep in mind the shoes you’ll be wearing with the dress. I like to have the option of being able to dress the dress up with heels and down with flats or wedges. Don’t invest into dresses that don’t give you the opportunity to do that. You don’t want to commit to heels only with a dress that is too long for you or to flats only if the length barely covers the ankle.
  • If you have a broad shoulder line, try halter neck style that is floaty at the bottom – this will help to balance out the proportions
  • Shirt style dresses are one of the most versatile cuts as they can are suitable for work as well as off duty

From the practicality point of view I would recommend seriously considering what you are doing with the sleeves. Unless you are buying a maxi dress for holidays, you will end up feeling a lot more limited with a sleeveless dress. Let’s face it – Irish summers don’t have us spoiled with temperatures so more often than not it is a tad too chilly to be walking around in a sleeveless dress. I personally prefer dresses with sleeves. As much as I love layering, I prefer to have a dress that is a no-brainer in regards to cover ups.

If you opt for a sleeveless style, denim jackets, blazers and biker jackets are great cover up options. Just make sure you think them through at the time of purchasing the dress!

Colour and Print

Here are a few things to consider when deciding between a block colour and a print:

  • Prints and patterns distract the eye and effectively hide figure imperfections, however, they can have the opposite effect and create unflattering optical illusions. Make sure to look at yourself from a distance to ensure the pattern is not creating any funny effects. Pay particular attention to the bust and hips area as they are the most ‘sensitive’ ones to print illusions.
  • To elongate the silhouette, look for prints, lines, focal points and details that create a vertical illusion making the eye go up and down instead of left to right.
  • Small dense prints are safe enough as they subtly blend together from the distance.
  • Bold large patterns can have an overwhelming effect on the silhouette if they are very dense, so opt for large scale prints only when there is a lot of negative space (space between the pattern)
  • Stripes are a great way of directing the eye and creating a slimming and flattering silhouette. Vertical and diagonal stripes are the safest ones to play around with, especially when they are fine.
  • A block coloured maxi dress can be quite a show-stopper! It’s a lot of colour and fabric after all! As there is no pattern to distract the eye, you need to make sure the fit is immaculate.
  • For obvious reasons (since there is so much colour) you need to ensure the colour works well not only with your colouring but also with your overall skin tone
  • White works beautifully on tanned skin but against pasty white complexion – not so much. So choose colour wisely!
  • To reduce the in-your-face effect from the colour block, go for semi-transparent fabrics, textured materials like lace or cut detail like slits, thin straps, etc. (doesn’t have to be all of those in one dress, just pick the one that appeals to you the most).
  • Opt for a bit of detail for added interest – asymmetric cut, ruffles, rushing, draping, embroidery, etc.
  • With very clean and simple styles accessorizing is a must – long pendants and necklaces will work particularly well to enhance the vertical proportions.

Hope this post will give you plenty of inspiration ladies! If you haven’t worn a maxi for years (or ever), definitely consider getting one this summer!

Let me know which style is your favorite and don’t forget to share with your friends!

Natalie xx



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