Dresses are an essential building block for a modern wardrobe. They’re easy and functional, and can be dressed up or down with a blazer, jacket, or cardigan, and your choice of shoes and accessories. These foundational wardrobe pieces make getting dressed in the morning that much easier, and can take you from work to dinner in style.
Most importantly, fit and fabric are key to finding the dress that’s right for you. But before you branch out to different types of dresses, make sure you have these three essential silhouettes in your closet.
A Timeless Shift Dress
A well-fitting shift dress is timeless. Throw on a cardigan or blazer to combat an overly air-conditioned office, and after you clock out, switch it up with a black leather moto jacket for date night or post-work drinks. Cotton, wool blends, silk, and viscose are lightweight options for warmer weather, while tweeds and nubby wool fabrics work well for winter.
A smart, neutral pump (black or nude is always best) with a low heel, or an ankle boot with stockings, go well with a shift dress. In your off hours, swap in a metallic sandal or chunkier boot. Keep the jewelry simple when you’re on the clock; a necklace, bangles, or stud earrings make a sleek statement. At night, try a bold necklace, larger hoop earrings, or a stack of bangle bracelets. Depending on where you’re headed, other extras—like a skinny or wide belt, cotton or silk scarf, or wide-brim hat—can polish off your look.
A Flattering Wrap Dress
A long- or short-sleeved wrap dress is a welcome addition to your closet. This flattering silhouette has a front closure that’s tied after one side is wrapped across the other. There are also plenty of faux wrap dresses that give you the same look without having to actually cross and tie the front of the dress. If you have more of a classic style, stick to a solid black or white wrap dress, and if you tend to gravitate toward patterns, try a delicate floral print. This silhouette is easily accessorized with a wedge heel or sandal in the summer, or worn with tights and boots in the winter. It looks sharp when topped with a tweed jacket or knit cardigan. Just try to keep the extras polished and sophisticated.
A Fun Cocktail or Party Dress
Every woman needs a cocktail dress or a party dress for a special occasion. Something sleeveless, strapless, or with one shoulder makes sense for summer, but in the winter, elbow- or full-length sleeves are a smart bet. Play with color, and know what works for you: blue-based shades of red, pink, orange, yellow, and purple work best with darker complexions. For fairer skin, try warmer greens and blues. Trying dresses on will be key to seeing what hue works for you.
Choosing the right material is also important. Lace adds a nice feminine feel, but isn’t as forgiving. Silk and other blends are less structured and allow for more breathability. Leather and suede are luxurious options but—depending on the cut—might be better suited for after-work occasions. Again, accessories are key: a small metallic clutch and sandals or heels in a complementary metallic is a great option for a night out.
When curating your wardrobe, make sure to invest in these three types of dresses. With so many options to choose from, you’re bound to find the right combination of fabric and color to invest in and wear for years to come.