Ladylike Dresses

When considering the idea of ladylike style, a handful of associations immediately surface. Whether those ideas are old-school (pristine white gloves and confining undergarments) or reference the recent runway trends (pointy shoes and circle skirts), the concept always feels...complicated. Between the requisite voluminous articles of clothing and perfectly coiffed hair, this look seems to be the antithesis of effortlessness. But while some aspects of this trend are certainly a lot of work, there is a way to channel this soignée spirit without so much fuss: the ladylike dress. As seen on fashion-favourites like Sienna Miller and Rachel Bilson, these slim-silhouetted frocks with modest hemlines offer a subtle and modern way to wear this trend.

While the full-skirted dress might have been the more popular silhouette on the runways this fall, its slimmer cousin is an equally feminine option. Often strapless and occasionally embellished with ultra-girly touches like peplums, corsetry, or dainty lace accents, these below-the-knee frocks turned up everywhere from Jason Wu to Giles to Nina Ricci. Unsurprisingly, the uber-talened Wu gave us one of our favourite interpretations with Look 27 from his F/W 10 collection. The way his Hand-Draped Corset Dress ($3195, 312.587.1000) is paired with minimal hair and tough peep-toe black ankle boots make its elegant chantilly lace and prim silhouette look current and cool.

Of course, while we like the contrast of the polished frock with more downtown footwear, we've noticed that most of our celebrity examples are opting for more classic shoe silhouettes. For example, Rachel Bilson was snapped earlier this year at an InStyle dinner for Brian Atwood wearing Peter Som's Blue Watercolour Chenille Tweed Strapless Dress ($1895, 310.550.5900) with a Salvatore Ferragamo Gold Minaudiere ($1950, 800.628.8916) and a classic pair of Atwood pumps (specifically the Marlo, a sold-out style from Resort 10). Aside from the footwear, we adore Bilson's dress for two specific reasons: the super-flattering peplum and the romantic swirled print. The former makes her waist look even tinier, while the modern fabric deftly updates the frock's retro shape. Speaking of peplums, we'd also like to point out that Sienna Miller recently turned up at an event wearing a stunning Nina Ricci dress with a similarly feminine shape. For the opening of Esquire House--the latest incarnation of Esquire's ultimate bachelor pad, this time in the Hollywood Hills--Miller opted for a black strapless Silk Radzimir and Lace Cocktail Dress ($6590) styled with a grey pair of Stella McCartney Faux Patent Leather Pumps ($675). We love the combination: her choice of shoe colour is unexpected and gives her outfit a touch of quirky-coolness.

In addition to these amazing after-hours looks, the ladylike dress also lends itself to daytime affairs too, as Lily Collins and Isabel Lucas both demonstrated. For example, Collins--who was recently featured in Teen Vogue's Young Hollywood portfolio and is a former Who What Wear GOTM--attended the Multicultural Motion Picture Association's luncheon honouring student filmmakers wearing a champagne sheath dress by Dior. The combination of the body-skimming fit, bow detail at the waist, and high neckline adds up to a sweetly sophisticated look that's prim in all the right ways. That said, Collins' pick definitely does have a more vintage-like vibe, so if you're interested in an even more current look, use Isabel Lucas as your model. The Australian actress was photographed at the Calvin Klein show during New York Fashion Week wearing the pale green Calvin Klein Collection Dart Detail Dress ($1495, 212.292.9000) from the Resort 11 collection with a pair of the brand's Ankle Strap Sandals ($1595, 212.292.9000). The unadorned cut and sleek silk cupro fabric make this dress the perfect pick for a ladies' lunch or a daytime work event (we'd add a cropped blazer for extra polish).

If you're ready to embrace this refined trend, we have a few suggestions that are sure to give you that ladylike look. Peplum-seekers should check out Shoshanna's Layered Silk Dress ($330); the black sheath is tiered like Sienna Miller's pick but a little more contemporary due to its slightly shorter hemline. Another excellent choice is the DKNY Sweetheart Dress ($295), which just might be the perfect party pick. We love the gorgeous vermilion hue and the fact that it has both a peplum and a sash belt--it just gives it a little extra flare. (For a non-belted style, try ABS' Strapless Peplum Dress ($275); it's also red and festive.) Also be sure to check out Black Halo's Off Shoulder Jackie O Dress ($345) if you're interested in a longer party option in an of-the-moment olive colour. Of course some of you might prefer a print frock, so we're also including Sue Wong's Floral Embroidered Dress ($468) in our roundup. The black and champagne dress has a sweetheart neckline and features an interesting mixture of sequins, beads, and floral embroidery over lace. Our final idea is an investment option, but a beautiful one: Marc Jacobs' Pansy Print Matelasse Dress ($995). The slim shape, perfect print, and hint of tailoring make this dress a masterful example of today's Trend Report.

Photo of Isabel Lucas, courtesy of Splash; Photos of Lily Collins and Rachel Bilson, courtesy of Getty; Photo of Sienna Miller, courtesy of Bauer Griffin

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