Everyone you know likely has one staple they swear by for the summer—maybe it’s a great bucket hat, a pair of sandals, or a trendy bikini. For me, I live for a fabulous dress. In fact, as other people begin to embrace fall trends, I’m donning every frock I can until New York’s freezing weather forces me out of it. Basically, I am a poster child for dresses. And while this is arguably the one piece of clothing I can’t live without, I’d be lying if I said that all are created equal. I’ve probably owned more dresses than I can count, but the ones that have stayed a consistent part of my wardrobe over the years are always staples. But what exact dresses fall into the timeless category for someone who admittedly has way too many?
By doing a serious sweep of my wardrobe and looking through Instagram, I’ve narrowed down the 10 best staple dresses for summer. It was a bit like picking my favorite child, but I somehow managed to survive the process and land on pieces that have been truly life-changing for me (and hopefully you too).
No summer wardrobe is complete without a puff-sleeve dress, in my opinion. It may seem like everyone owns this staple, but that’s because it’s one of the most trustworthy pieces to buy. You can find it in classic minimal hues like white, black, and brown. But you also can find it in fun colors, prints, fabrics, and hemlines, making it one of the most versatile dresses you can buy, hands down. Whichever puff-sleeve dress you choose to purchase, you can rest assured that this is one piece you won’t ever regret buying.
Not to be hyperbolic, but possibly one of the best purchases I’ve ever made in my life was a minimalist maxi dress. I can’t tell you how often my Staud cotton maxi dress has paid for itself in compliments and continued usage. And if you get nothing else from this story, I beg you to please do yourself a favor and find a maxi dress you love and invest in it. It’s the type of piece that will never go out of style, and it always looks good on everyone. You really can’t go wrong with this dress, but should you need a little guidance, I suggest finding a maxi dress in a minimal hue with intricate details (think: ruching, cutouts, and dramatic silhouettes) to make maximum impact with this item.
If you’re commuting again, you’ll need a dress that works for the office. When searching for a corporate-adjacent dress, you should keep what I deem the four Fs top of mind—fit, fabric, function, and fashion. You want to avoid wearing anything too risqué so that you don’t get the side-eye from your HR department. To do that, opt for dresses with more modest hemlines in breathable fabrics such as silk, cotton, and linen to ensure you don’t overheat. And most of all, don’t be afraid to search for dresses that have that signature flair—maybe a trending hue or interesting design details. It’s a corporate-friendly dress, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cute.
Not all staples must come in neutral hues—enter the printed dress. A floral-print dress isn’t groundbreaking, but considering it always manages to come back into the conversation, this is always a safe investment. But should you decide you want to spice up this staple dress, simply opt for iterations with more psychedelic takes, vibrant hues, and other fun design details to make this piece feel more trend-forward.
You can’t round up the best dresses to shop for summer without mentioning the iconic slip dress. While some iterations of this dress may feel like lingerie, this is arguably one of the best pieces you can add to your wardrobe. It’s perfect for a balmy night out, it can be dressed down with sandals for the farmers market, you can throw it over a swimsuit, you can pack it for a trip, and it even is the perfect piece to layer under a trench coat when temperatures begin to drop. The slip dress is that staple, 1000% times over.
Come summertime, all I want is an excellent halter dress. It’s the ideal silhouette for various occasions—weddings, vacations, date nights. It provides the right amount of spice for any situation, and it’s a staple that you can buy now and know that, without a doubt, it will come back in style time and again. My suggestion for shopping for this staple is to find versions that meld the timeless nature of the piece with trend-forward elements (e.g., a linen halter dress in a vibrant hue or a halter dress with metal hardware).
Hear me out on this: Cutout dresses are the replacement for LBDs for the summertime. Yes, this dress style started as a beloved trend among the fashion set, but considering that it will continue to be a big trend throughout the rest of the year, it’s safe to say this dress has earned a place in the forever arsenal. But if you find yourself doubting the timelessness of this style, simply opt for iterations that are on the modest side, such as cotton maxi dresses or linen dresses in neutral hues.
Most people pack away their knitwear once the summertime starts, but I love to keep a knit dress in the mix. Before you burst out sweating even thinking about the thought of knits in the heat, let me give a few scenarios to shed light on why this staple is a must-have for the summer. If you’re staying near the water and the temperature drops at night or you’ve just gotten out of the pool and are a bit cold, nothing beats putting on a crochet dress. Or if you want to buy a dress that can be worn in the fall as well, a lightweight knit dress is the perfect solution. Knit dresses are, in my books, a seasonless staple. You just have to invest in the right one.
The secret to surviving sweltering heat in style always comes down to two things—opting for the best fabrics for the summer and investing in a cotton dress. Poplin dresses aren’t necessarily a niché micro-trend (they’ve been an essential part of women’s wardrobes forever), but if you find the right piece, it will be far from passé. Personally, I recommend investing in dresses that can be worn as staples but have unique details such as ruching, bows, dramatic hemlines, and necklines and feel more elevated. You want this dress to keep you cool and be something you can throw on in a pinch and always look effortlessly cool.
Last but not least, you can’t even talk about classic summertime dresses without mentioning linen dresses. I can’t fully name favorites in my dress collection, but I can say that I would not survive summer in New York without this piece of clothing. This dress is the universal summertime staple. Everyone from French women to Italian women swears by this piece. And frankly, once you own a linen dress you love, you get the hype. It’s the best piece money can buy because it never goes out of fashion, you can find it at any price point, you can wear it anywhere, and it’s the easiest piece to incorporate into your closet. A lovely little linen dress embodies what summertime should be all about—soaking up the sun in style.