Here at Who What Wear UK, we're all about delivering the latest and greatest shopping edits, as approved by our team. That's why we've created a new shopping column, The Joy of Shopping, which will see me, Joy Montgomery,heading to all your favourite stores to test out new-in pieces IRL. From summer dresses to the brands you might've forgotten about, prepare for changing room selfies aplenty. Is there something you'd like me to cover? Make sure to tweet or Instagram me your requests!
I'm nothing but nerdy when it comes to the art of a good dress. From the fall of a hemline and the cut of a sleeve to the tailoring of the bust and the fullness of a skirt, there are so many components that have to be finely tuned and tweaked to create an item that will fly off the shelves. If you've ever watched a dressmaker in action, you will know the mathematical precision that goes into the creative process. Whoever said fashion was frivolous?
With this in mind, it only seemed right that I take this science and apply it to my bi-monthly shopping story. Specifically, to the subject of the summer dress. I've previously explored the best styles on the high street, but this time, I wanted to go one step further and break the dress down into its three essential types: minis, midis and maxis.
Every season, there tends to be a hem-length that's favoured by the fashion crowd. For example, last year was all about the midi, while back in the mid-noughties, maxis were all the rage. However, in 2019, the high street has gone in all guns blazing and delivered on almost every style imaginable. This is good for us, as each style of dress fulfils a unique role in our wardrobes—be it a thigh-grazing smock to chuck over a bikini or smart, work-ready midi. Each of us will have our go-to dress of choice that is guaranteed to make us feel our best. After all, when it comes to dresses, it's never a one-size-fits-all thing.
While having options is great, I can't deny that the high street's generous offering can feel a little overwhelming (even for a fashion editor). So I've done the hard work for you and tried on all the dresses at Topshop, & Other Stories, H&M and Zara to bring you the definite Who What Wear UK dress index (aka the minis, midis and maxis you need to see this season). Scroll down to see what I found, and then shop my edit.
Style Notes: This is one of my favourite minidresses (so very Mini Mouse), as it features long puff sleeves and a statement belt, which, together, creates a super high-end finish. I would avoid styling with heels to keep it from looking too twee.
Style Notes: I've seen so many fashion editors wearing this H&M smock dress on holiday, and despite not usually being a floaty sundress person, I'm totally hooked. Coming in a light airy fabric, it'll be a dream in humid climes.
Style Notes: I can't remember the last time I wore a dress that clung so insistently to my thighs. Let's just call this a body-con dress in disguise. However, it manages to avoid looking too night club–esque thanks to its fabulous statement sleeves. The bust was true to size, but you might want to size up if you're curvier in the hips and bum area.
Style Notes: Zara has been going a little loopy over tulle this season, and I am so okay with it. This halterneck dress is the ultimate party dress and features a stunning low back (bras need not apply, sadly). It's asking to be styled with kitten-heel sandals and a beaded bag.
Style Notes: It's safe to say & Other Stories is nailing the grown-up mini this season, and this simple white iteration is another holiday winner. I'm not usually a wrap-dress gal, but this was not at all gapey, which is good news for women of all bust sizes. Also, I didn't find the fabric too see-through, which is also a big plus.
Style Notes: Another tulle winner from Zara. This unusual mini is made from heavy-weight knitted fabric, which is fitted but doesn't cling as much as you would expect. This would be a great option for those wanting a party dress with a twist. The only thing to note is your bra might show a little where the sleeves attach to the dress.
Style Notes: If you're bored of all the florals flying around, then gingham might just be the summer print for you. I like that this Topshop mini comes in a brown checked pattern, which means the overall effect isn't too girly. A cute dress option for summer in the city.
Style Notes: I wasn't sure about this one initially, as it feels a tad school uniform-y, but I couldn't resist the vintage-inspired fabric, which was so different from all the other high-street offerings. It's great for those who love a shirtdress, plus the fit is on the loose side, so it won't feel too hot when the mercury rises.
Style Notes: Yes, Topshop! This is such a fab midi. I'm a sucker for a loose-fitting style, but this is nothing like the somber minimalistic shifts that are proliferating at the moment. It treads the line between classic floral frock and statement smock perfectly. A 10/10 from me.
Style Notes: With its simple silhouette and longer length, this H&M midi is a dream for summer purists. The fit is relatively loose (but not shapeless) and the fabric is just the right level of weighty. It's the sort of dress you'll want to wear every day on holiday. It's not currently available online, but you can shop a similar style below.
Style Notes: I'm not even kidding—I literally saw this Zara dress about five times over the bank holiday weekend. Apparently, London is obsessed, and I can certainly see why. It tiptoes close to the smock-dress style yet is a little more forgiving than some of the more roomy alternatives. It's also the sort of print that even minimalists can get on board with.
Style Notes: Okay, I have a weird habit of wearing dresses the wrong way round, but I just don't love a V-neck on me. Personally, I think this & Other Stories dress looks way more expensive with a simpler silhouette. The fabric is slightly crinkled, which gives a high-end finish, so I thought it looked better without the belt.
Style Notes: If you forced me to wear a floral dress, I would have to choose this one. Aside from the rogue cutout detail at the bust, I love everything about this Zara midi: the fitted waist, the tiered skirt, the longer sleeves… even the V-neckline does it for me. It does, however, come up a little snug on the hips, so you might want to size up if you prefer a looser fit.
Style Notes: You can always rely on Topshop Boutique for high-street dresses with a designer aesthetic. This zebra-print look sticks to the summer's winning formula: a longer length, a smock-style skirt and thick straps. For those with smaller busts, I would size down, as the top half is a little roomy.
Style Notes: Topshop jumps on the shirtdress bandwagon and delivers with this white style. The fit was a little awkward, so I would recommend trying a few different sizes, but once you get the right one, it's a real gem. Despite having relatively thin fabric (good for hot weather), it's not too see-through.
Style Notes: This is one of those multitasking dresses I can imagine wearing with heels to a summer wedding or simple sandals for Sunday brunch. The fabric is very silky and flowy, but it cleverly includes a popper fastening on the bust to avoid any slips.
Style Notes: Another fab frock from Topshop Boutique. More structured than the last style, this could be a great option for work (if your office isn't too scared of print), thanks to its high neckline and fitted fabric.
Style Notes: The slip dress isn't going anywhere any time soon, and this H&M lace-trim style nails the whole "underwear-as-outwear" trend without looking like you've literally gone out in your pants. It would look so nice with strappy heeled sandals for fancy Friday-night cocktails. Shop a similar style below, and then pick this one up in store.
Style Notes: This is a classic case of a dress looking a little underwhelming on the hanger but so nice on. The combination of the long sleeves, square neckline and calf-grazing length mean this is a dead ringer for far more expensive floral dresses. I found the slit at the front a tad annoying, but other than that, I think this is a real high-street winner.
Style Notes: This is stunning. Usually, I'm slightly allergic to florals, but that has totally gone out the window with this & Other Stories maxi. The fit is beautiful: Loose on top, subtly fitted around the waist and then gently flared at the bottom. Just what I want to wear to my next summer wedding.
Style Notes: If you're looking for holiday dresses, you have to stop by H&M. This orange iteration is yet another one to add to my packing list, with its light cotton fabric and vibrant orange hue. The bust didn't feel entirely secure sans bra, so it's maybe not such a good option for bugger busts unless it's something you just want for chucking over a bikini.
Style Notes: Okay, maxis are officially my favourite dress category. I've tried this Stories dress on before and it's been on my mind ever since. Like the other white mini, it's the perfect wrap dress, thanks to its secure neckline and flattering capped sleeves. The fabric is yet another example of why gingham/check is fast becoming my favourite print of the summer.
Style Notes: If I styled this dress with chunky gold jewellery, I don't think anyone would think you were wearing Topshop. Black might not seem like an obvious choice, but I'm seeing more and more summer styles in black, and it's really growing on me. It's super baggy, so it's perfect for a big dinner (priorities), plus the back offers plenty of "wow" factor.
Style Notes: And last—but by no means least—is this striped, pleated style from H&M. It might not be the most on-trend of the bunch, but it's the sort of dress you'll bring out year after year. Plus, it's another "dress up dress down" style, so you know you'll get a good cost per wear out of it over the next few months.