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The Essential Dress Buying Guide

Dresses just might be a woman’s most versatile wardrobe staple. They look fabulous, transition from day to night with ease, and are a breeze to accessorize uniquely with each wear. Even better? With varying materials, styles, and fits to choose from, it’s easy to find your perfect fit. No matter what your day holds—whether it’s lounging at the beach or socializing at a charity gala—we’ve put together a list of must-have dresses that will have you ready for anything.

Dresses On A Rack

Casual Dresses

Casual Dress

Casual dresses are multitasking pros. They can be dressed up or down, fit the dress code of most social situations, and are amazingly comfortable. With such high versatility, they truly are go-to pieces for every occasion—whether that’s running errands on a Saturday morning, grabbing drinks with friends, or packing for a week-long vacation in only a carry-on. And depending on the style, casual dresses can be worn in any season—making them year-round essentials.

When the sun’s out and the temps are high, opt for a breezy summer dress. These are often made with lighter fabric and are designed to be cool and comfortable on warm spring and summer days. A beach casual dress, for instance, like a cool cotton shirt dress, a linen sheet dress, or a flowy and fun maxi is perfect for lounging seaside or perusing the local farmers market. Varying lengths offer the coverage and warmth level you want, and many summer styles work great with additional layers when chilly evenings or cool fall days strike.

When the temps do start to fall in colder months, there are two main options for keeping casual dresses in your wearable wardrobe. You can either add layers like tights and a jean jacket (if the color and print are suitable for cooler weather—think dark colors or neutral prints) or opt for dresses with a warmer design and material—like a comfortable sweater dress or cute plaid shirt dress made from fleece. Over-the-knee boots also help keep your legs from getting cold and look super chic with winter dresses like a slouchy sweater dress or a leather skirt and sweater combo.

Work Dresses

Business Casual Dress

Dresses that fit a business-casual dress code don’t have to be uncomfortable or boring. A simple yet elegant sheath dress is a classic go-to and can be worn in a variety of ways, but other options such as a patterned or embroidered shift dress, a wrap dress, or a sweater dress can add a touch of fun while still remaining well-suited for a professional environment. These dresses can be paired with a sleek pair of heels or a stylish flat like a d’orsay or a modern slide.

Business-casual dresses generally should be knee-length or below and semi-fitted. But every office is different—if your work environment is more casual, options with more flow, like a short-sleeved maxi dress, might be acceptable.

Party Dresses

Cocktail Dress

Cocktail and party dresses are made for fun. Meeting semi-formal dress codes, they’re classy and elegant but allow for a great deal of stylistic freedom. Varying in design and material, the endless options available allow you to show off you own personal preferences. Typically knee-high or above, these dresses can be full of sparkle, feature elegant lace, or embody a neutral color that can be worn again and again.

New Year’s Eve dresses are prime party attire examples. Whether it’s an alluring bodycon, a trendy skater dress, or a sweet high-low; like the perfect gold sequined dress, these festive numbers are ready for champagne toasts and dancing.

And of course, we can’t leave out the reliable and well-loved little black dress. The LBD is versatile, looks great on everyone, is easy to dress up or down, and—depending on the length and style—can be worn for every occasion from brunch to black-tie events. These dresses are easy to accessorize can be paired with a wide variety of colors, jewelry, and shoes options.

Formal Dresses

Formal Dress

Events and celebrations that call for black-tie attire are your chance to dress to the nines with formal dresses and ball gowns. With elegant floor-length hemlines, these dresses will have you feeling like royalty. While floor-length hemlines are generally advised for a formal setting, midi dresses are also an option—depending on the event and venue. Complete your look with heels and simple accessories that complement, not overpower, the dress, and a chic updo or hairstyle.

If gowns and floor-length dresses aren’t your thing, an elegant pantsuit or tailored jumpsuit can be an acceptable and stylish choice instead. Incorporate lace or a unique material like velvet in your look for an unexpected, fashionable look.