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18 summer dresses for effortless style, according to experts

Present realities have shifted your summer dress options — and some of your needs. We asked fashion experts about the best summer dresses right now.
Woman wearing floral dress. Woman wearing denim dress. Woman wearing linen dress. Shop summer dresses for 2020 from Macy's, Nordstrom, ASOS, Amazon and more.
If you’re looking to add some summer basics and musts to your wardrobe, it could make sense to match that with the reality of home living. We consulted experts on how to shop for the best summer dresses right now.C/Meo Collective; Draper James; Old Navy

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With the summer heat officially here, there’s sometimes nothing more relaxing than a flowy dress to help combat the warm weather. But as things heat up, this unique season also brings along some new dress trends that are refreshing closets as people make way to spend more time in the sun — doing so according to safe social distance practices, of course.

SKIP AHEAD How to shop for summer dresses | Tie-dye | Neon | With puff sleeves | Crochet | Denim | House comfort

“After weeks of casual stay-at-home attire (shout out to our most loyal sweatpants and pajamas), the need for easy, stylish, single-item outfits is more essential than ever,” says Matthew Friedman, a spokesperson for retailer Milly.

That’s why one of the unexpected trends for summer 2020 is stay-at-home, effortless shirt- and nightgown-inspired dresses. Whether you’re still working from home while social distancing and don’t need anything too professional for those Zoom calls or are chasing kids around in the heat, comfort is key — now more than ever before.

The ‘must- have' trends or the ‘in- season’ pieces feel very obsolete.

Sharufa Rashied-Walker, Designer, Jinaki

Jinaki designer Sharufa Rashied-Walker says that, to her, the biggest fashion trend of summer 2020 has been “anything goes” as people adjust to their lives turning upside down this year. “As we've had to adapt to new ways of living, the ‘must-have' trends or the ‘in-season’ pieces feel very obsolete,” she says. “We've been forced to take a look at what really matters in our lives and, for some, fashion doesn't have as strong of a hold on our priorities as it once did.”

Instead, as many across the country traded suits for loungewear or fancy dresses for laid-back athleisure wear, she’s seen fashion this summer turning to freedom: Wear what makes you happy. “Gone are the days of excessive buying and hoarding of garments that end up in landfills,” she says. “Tie-dye, crochet, neon and statement sleeves are trends that are uplifting, colorful, fun and can provide some escapism or optimism for better days ahead. Stay-at-home ease is definitely here to stay for the summer and beyond.”

If you’re looking to elevate your summer dressing beyond t-shirts and denim shorts wardrobe, it could make sense to match that with the reality of home living. We consulted experts on how to shop for the best summer dresses right now and got some solid tips on the best options around.

These times are not built for complicated fashion — seek out brands that have a consistent fit, silhouettes that flatter your body type and color palettes and prints that lift your spirits.

Kathryn Sukey, Head of Design, Draper James

How to shop for summer dresses during coronavirus

Go for the practical. “These times are not built for complicated fashion — seek out brands that have a consistent fit, silhouettes that flatter your body type and color palettes and prints that lift your spirits,” says Kathryn Sukey, head of design at Draper James. “If you look good, you feel good and you can go out into the world to do good.”

Take a chance. Right now is the perfect moment to be experimental with your personal style, says Poshmark seller stylist, Allyn Wang, and anything that boosts your mood goes. “If you want to wear a maxi dress while watching Netflix, go for it. If you want to wear heels with a matching sweat suit to get the mail, do it,” she says. “We’ll be staying home more than usual, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun.”

Focus on what sparks joy. It’s very important to buy items that will make you feel good and that you love, more so now than ever. “If you are going to spend money on clothes, the number one rule is to ‘feel you’ and be comfortable,” says stylist and designer Paulina Castro.

Picture it how you’ll wear it. “Look for practical pieces that you can wear in many different ways and different occasions with items that you already own in your closet,” says Castro.

Go for transitional pieces. Castro recommends choosing pieces that you can wear from daytime to evening to help make life a bit easier — advice we could all use right now.

Avoid buying items just because they’re trendy. Instead, when you try clothes on, look for pieces, fabrics and colors that flatter your figure and accentuate your features. This way, you will get the most wear out of whatever it is you’re investing in.

Best summer dresses in 2020

Experts we consulted about summer dresses noted various trends that included tie-dye dresses, neon summer dresses, puff sleeves dresses, denim and crochet options — and options especially comfortable for wearing at home.

Tie-dye summer dresses

From this time last year, Poshmark saw a 75-percent increase in orders and listings of women’s tie-dye apparel. From a splash of bright colors that brighten moods to relaxing pastel hues, summer dresses are all about the tie-dye print this summer.

1. White Mark Women's Dye Maxi Dress

Keep cool in this sleeveless maxi dress that comes in three tie-dye options— green and white, orange and blue and red and pink. With a flutter neck detail, this comfortable dress can be dressed up for a party or dressed down for work.

2. Jinaki Afefe Kaftan

Soak up the warm weather in this hand-dyed turquoise kaftan that can be worn as a dress or layered when it gets chillier. The lightweight piece is one size fits most — leaving you feeling breezy and making a statement. Taraji P. Henson, Amanda Seales and Teedra Moses have all sported designs from the Black female-owned brand.

3. Karen Kane Tie Dye Handkerchief Hem Dress

Whether you have a weekend filled with errands or a busy day at work, this fluid jersey dress is an easy option to keep you cool during the blistering summer weather. Throw on your favorite summer sandals or go-to sneakers, classic Ray-Ban aviators and match your breezy dress to your face mask.

4. Asos Satin Mini Smock Dress

If the last time you wore tie-dye was when you went to summer camp, then consider this stylish-yet-classic green and grey dress from Asos. The relaxed-fit dress features a trapeze cut and tie-keyhole neckline that creates a slouchy-meets-sophisticated look.

Neon summer dresses

Sukey says she’s been seeing a desire for “optimism, head-to-toe” be reflected in major pops of color. People aren’t shying away from dresses that make a statement, and instead are rocking styles dripping in bold colors for an added boost of happiness, wherever they can get it.

5. Romwe Ruffle Sleeve Dress

Make summer memories in this short tank dress with a round neckline and flirty ruffle detail at the sleeves. The loose A-line fit is both cool and comfortable while the seven vibrant color options make it pop. The mini dress is appropriate enough to rock during work video calls or to a virtual dinner party with your family, yet fun and stylish.

6. Eloquii Dolman Sleeve Maxi Dress (limited availability)

Rock sunshine with every step in Eloquii’s marigold and white floral-print maxi dress. From the wide ruffle hem and jewel neckline to the fluttery dolman sleeves and elastic waistband, this cotton dress is flattering and should bring you joy with its fun print.

Summer dresses with puff sleeves

Mini dresses with puff sleeves in eye-catching prints and colors are dominating summer 2020, according to Wang. “They’re a little whimsical, a little 80s and a little extra, making them the perfect pick-me-up on a day when you need a bit of optimism,” she says.

7. C/Meo Puff Sleeve Mini Dress

Step up the drama with this stand-out floral mini dress. The elbow-length puff sleeves and sweetheart neckline give this draped dress a bold silhouette.

8. Asos Puff Sleeve Polka Dot Dress

This mini dress is all about the playful polka dots. A square neckline balances out the sweet puff sleeves while simple tie back detail finishes the bubbly look.

Crochet dresses

As people strive for comfort, one trend they’re embracing is crochet dresses. Not only does this style allow them to play around with bright color palettes or stick to a monochromatic look, but it also can feel akin to loungewear.

9. Tobi Crochet Bodycon Dress

Bright crochet patchwork details pop all over this form-fitting bodycon dress. The colorful squares pop against the white borders and give this dress a festive feel.

10. Asos Crochet Lace Midi Dress

Fall in love with both the color and texture that the crochet detail gives this party dress. Worthy of any summer celebration, this on-trend style features an overlay for an illusion midi hemline.

11. Milly Floral Crochet Dress

Milly’s crochet cocktail dress is an elevated look for a night out. The sophisticated cap-sleeve dress exudes sophistication with scalloped crochet knit flowers, keyhole back and banded waist details that accentuates the body.

12. Carmen Marc Valvo Sleeveless Crochet Dress (limited availability)

A white loose crochet overlay sits atop a contrast lining, giving this sleeveless dress a flirty vibe. This sheath dress with boat neckline can be dressed down with a denim jacket or dressed up with strappy heels or chunky wedges.

Denim summer dresses

As many have traded in their jeans for sweatpants, denim has found a new home this season in dresses. From a dark wash take on the traditional wrap dress to denim shirt dresses that feature ruffles and dramatic sleeves, these stylish looks can be worn well into the fall, making them a lasting investment.

13. Asos Denim Shirt Dress

If you automatically associate denim dresses with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake at the 2001 American Music Awards then you’re not alone. Fortunately for you, Asos put a modern spin on this mid-wash denim dress combines two hot summer dress styles: denim and puff sleeves. Plus, it has pockets — what more could you want in a chic look?

14. Draper James Chambray Faux Wrap Dress

From the sweet ruffles at the hem to the flattering wrap silhouette, this cotton dress is timeless. The flutter sleeves add a playful touch for a polished-yet-casual summer staple.

15. White House Black Market Denim Dress

This faux-wrap stand out gives the denim dress trend a more elevated feel for a special event. The flounce sleeves and seaming detail give this effortless look an elegant feel. Add a touch of color to your look with yellow drop-down earrings and your favorite long-lasting lipstick that won’t transfer onto your face mask, if you choose to wear makeup.

Comfortable summer house dresses

“For an easy transition out of pajamas into something that’s arguably more comfortable and certainly cute,” Friedman says shoppers are looking toward house dresses. These styles, which are inspired by nightgowns and T-shirts, are just as easy to wear as loungewear but with the added bonus of dainty prints or a matching tie at the waist.

16. Yidarton Short Sleeve Slit Maxi Dress

Whether you’re headed to a summer party or work meeting, you can stay comfortable-yet-put-together in this casual long dress. You’ll appreciate the soft stretch fabric, matching belt and ease that comes with this lightweight maxi dress. Available in 26 colors and prints, you’ll likely find a colorway that complements your personal style.

17. Old Navy Linen Shirt Dress

Throw on this diamond printed shirt dress and be prepared to handle whatever the day throws your way — in comfort. From the dolman sleeves to the pointed color, it’s all about the little details that make this navy dress an easy win.

18. Amazon Essentials Short-Sleeve Swing Dress

After months of rocking quarantine comfort, don’t give up on easy ensembles just because you’re ready for some fresh summer air. That’s why this versatile scoop-neck dress is an essential for everyday life this season.

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