Different By Design

5 WAYS TO CELEBRATE NATIONAL DRESS DAY

by Lani Kim


By Kim Izzo

I don’t know about you, but after two years of sweats and yoga pants I’m ready to revisit the dress. It might be that the pandemic is finally winding down (or seems to be), or the fact that we are inching closer to spring that has me fantasizing about hitting the street, beach, or town, in a flowy, sexy, uber-feminine dress. There’s just something very freeing about wearing a dress, how it moves with you, and you with it. Dresses are a symbol of romance and femininity, as well as sexuality and power. What’s not to love? 

This March 6 marks National Dress Day, created by American fashion designer Ashley Lauren to celebrate the garment. “I remember the dresses I wore to my prom, first job interview, first date, competing in a pageant, my first red carpet event, the list goes on,” Lauren writes on the website. “This is a fun day to cherish and celebrate those memories.” 

And if you need another reason to recognize the dresses in your closet, March 8, is International Women’s Day, an event that began with the suffragette movement in 1911, where women fought and died to ensure we got the right to vote, and they did so while wearing white dresses.  

LEARN THE DRESS 

Throughout history, from Cleopatra to Queen Elizabeth (I and II), Jackie Kennedy to Princess Diana, and from Marilyn Monroe to JLo, the dress has given women a way to express themselves. And designers such as Dior answered the call by listening to women’s desires and reacting to society’s changing morals.  

I love Harper Bazaar’s history of the dress for a visual look at how the treasured fashion staple evolved over time, taking on styles and shapes that reflected the era in which it was worn. To wit, wartime brought plainer looks and fabrics, fashion rebel Coco Chanel invented the LBD, the Roaring Twenties brought dropped waists and removed sleeves, and the sixties ushered in the minidress.  

There is even what is known as the “hemline index,” an economic theory that posits when the economy is on an upswing, hemlines go up with it. Financial doom and gloom? Lower hemlines.  

Dresses can be politicized to make bold statements such as the white dresses of the suffragettes and the fictional but still resonant red dresses of The Handmaid’s Tale

Throughout every woman’s life there is a parade of special dresses that she will never forget. As Lauren said, those special moments are often made more memorable by what we wore. Prom, wedding, maternity, you name the occasion, and you’ll know exactly what you were wearing when it happened. And chances are it was a dress! 

When we compare the silhouettes and styles of the dress over the centuries, one thing is clear, women liked to play with color, embellishment, and fit. How a woman chose to wear her dresses was perhaps the only freedom and choice she had. In 2022, we are extremely fortunate to have the freedom to wear any style of dress, anytime. The only person we must please is ourselves (and sometimes our mothers…).  

WEAR A DRESS 

A sneak peek spring look from WHBM, the pleated halter midi-dress.

Of course, the most obvious way to celebrate National Dress Day is by wearing one. To that end, I suggest you go to your closet right now (actually, go after you’ve read the entire blog) and pick a dress. Or two, one for day, one for night. Wear your favorite dress and invite your friends, mother, grandmother, and sisters, and yes, the men in your life if they’re inclined, to join you in dressing up for the day.  

Trust me, after two-years of having virtually no place to go, except, ahem, virtually, it was a refreshing exercise to go through all my dresses and see what fit, what I’d forgotten, and what I was missing. 

Whichever dress you choose, know you are in the company of the women who came before you, in your family, and in history, in wearing this feminine garment.  

BUY A DRESS 

Because who doesn’t love to shop? We’re all in need of retail therapy, am I right? And there is a slew of spring lovelies to choose from. I’m leaning towards florals right now, and WHBM designs their prints in-house, making them exclusive to the brand. Add a bit of lace to a floral print with a midi-length and I’m set.  

Strapless sophistication from WHBM

Thankfully, choosing what to buy has less to do with where you’re going, and everything to do with mood. You can opt for a casual dress to walk the dog or dress down a strapless dress with a blazer for the office. The exciting part about dress wearing and shopping today is that there are no rules.  

Same for length. Confidence decides hemline, not age, not body type. Rock that mini, if you’re inclined. Or work that maxi dress like you own it.  

Hit the stores with your bestie, sister, or mother, and take over a dressing room to try on whatever you want, and even take risks and try on dresses you think you won’t look good in. You might be surprised. 

Or stick to online but organize a virtual shopping trip with your gal pals and snap up some bargains. 

MAKE A DRESS 

Who doesn’t love a project? A lot of us learned the fine art of sourdough starters during those early months of lockdown. Some took up knitting. But more than a few people decided to start sewing and while masks were the thing to make, now you can try your new skill set on a dress pattern. There are reams of YouTube instructional videos to take the guess work out. However, dressmaking is not as easy as masks. 

“A beginner would probably have a challenging time making a dress from a pattern unless someone was guiding them through,” admits sewing expert Denise Wild, who launched North America’s largest sewing school in 2004. “It’s really like a different language when you’re starting out.”   

But don’t be discouraged, there are other options, including hem tape and fabric glue for tweaks or small adjustments on dresses you already own. And if you do feel confident with scissors and needle in hand, Wild says go for it. “Chop off sleeves, adjust a hemline or neckline, add darts to give a shape,” she says. “It’s easy to breathe life into an existing piece with a bit of creativity.” 

Wild sold her studios in 2014 but continues to be a sewing, craft and DIY expert, TV host, and entrepreneur with multiple media appearances including on The Today Show. She is getting set to launch a series of online sewing courses this summer. Follow her on social @medenisewild.  

Remember when I asked you to go to your closet? Have you done that yet? Good. Now go back and remove those dresses that don’t fit, you no longer love, or can’t imagine ever wearing again. Ensure they’re clean, then bundle them up neatly and donate them to a not-for-profit such as Becca’s Closet, TerraCycle, or any local women’s shelter. Remember ladies, the right dress can empower a woman. 

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