As someone who, prior to 2020, seldom wore anything but dresses, the last year has proved a struggle. I invested in my first pair of non-gym leggings, which I took to wearing like a second skin. Then, there are jumpers. I think I now own more wool than a flock of sheep combined. Still, I long for the moment where dresses—the fancier the better—are called for, an idea I seem to share with every designer out there.
It's always around this time that Who What Wear brings you its annual dress trends round-up, a certified edit of the most noteworthy frock looks for the year ahead. And while occasionwear had no place in our wardrobes in 2020, a host of our favourite brands—both high-end and high street—have concentrated their efforts on creating breathtaking dresses, just in time for rescheduled weddings, get-togethers, and evening plans. Just to be clear, when I say breathtaking, I mean breathtaking.
Sure, there are more conventional dress trends that cater to the everyday. Knitted textures are staying put, as are puff sleeves. But the rest? They're the stuff of fashion dreams. Cue tulle (and lots of it), joyful prints, "look at me" colours, sheer fabrications, and a revert back to mini hemlines. (Brace yourself.) Keep scrolling to see nine dress trends 2021 has to offer. Let's all keep our fingers crossed for a year in which we can wear them all.
While somewhat ambiguous, there's no denying that spring/summer 2021's dresses are beautiful. Featuring tulle by the tier, divine fabrics, sparkling additions, and a gorgeous colour palette, Net-a-Porter has seriously invested in this category, buying over 3000 such dresses for spring/summer 2021 alone.
Is it a crime to want to feel sexy again? Absolutely not. Is there an easy solution? Cue the slinky LBD. While black dresses always make an appearance come the autumn/winter collections, designers have reimagined them for spring using form-fitting silhouettes, lightweight fabrics, and plenty of alluring cut-outs. Jacquemus's black slip dress is already proving to be a top-selling piece from Moda Operandi's pre-orders. Though, there are lots of options out there to choose from.
Blame it on cottagecore or The Crown, but the puff sleeve—particularly on dresses—is a look many designers and brands are carrying through to 2021. Make yours work for the everyday by picking a dress that's otherwise minimal. The volumised sleeves pack all the statement you need.
"This season, we saw dresses uplifted with feel-good prints at Valentino, artisanal crochet and tie-dye dresses from Gabriela Hearst, and bright jewel tones in emerald and pink from Bernadette," confirms Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear buying at MatchesFashion. Essentially, if a dress doesn't make you smile, don't buy it.
Matches has invested heavily in what it's calling an indoor/outdoor dress. "With more and more staycations and more people continuing to work from home, versatile dressing this summer will continue to be important," stresses Wiggins. "This type of dress will become an essential for our customer. It can be worn either at home or away but also while you are working on Zoom." In our opinion, no dress is more up to the task than those of the (thinly) knitted variety.
Like most colour trends, the simplest ways to channel them are with accessories or in dress form. And no colour was more prevalent in the spring/summer 2021 collections than pink. "Roksanda's flowing maxi dress and the strapless Molly Goddard dress with a ruffled skirt were two of the most memorable looks from London Fashion Week," recalls our editor Emma Spedding.
Sweetheart necklines were one of 2020's breakout trends, but for spring 2021, all the focus is going to be on open backs. More versatile than you think, this style works well for more formal occasions, but it also doubles up as an excellent beach dress (pandemic willing).
Sheer fabrics "will be a welcome contrast to how we have been living over the past year and will feel exciting to put something special on," continues Wiggins on her dress trend forecast. And she isn't wrong. Whimsical, see-through fabrics always look romantic and act as the perfect antidote to the jersey we've largely been living in.
Although I once would have been terrified of this trend, what 2020 has taught me is that life is too short to be hung up on insecurities and things that hold you back. While I'm sure the designers don't share my exact same thought process, the sentiment still stands. Be bold and daring with your fashion, and what's more daring than a bangle-grazing hemline? Keep your minidresses simple and streamlined, paying homage to the '90s trend as you go.