Dresses Buying Guide

by Stephanie Petersen
Published April 28, 2010 | Updated December 12, 2014

Dresses can be the easiest thing to throw on in the morning because you don't have to worry about coordinating a top and bottom. However, dresses can sometimes seem like the trickiest thing to get right. Will you be wearing an appropriate dress for the occasion? Will it feel comfortable or will you be adjusting yourself all day or all night? Most importantly, will you feel confident in the dress you choose? This buying guide is here to help you learn how to buy dresses that you will love to wear.

Dresses for Every Body

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  • One of the keys to feeling great in all of your clothing is to choose pieces that show off your best assets. Most women know the body parts they dislike better than they know the parts they want to show off, but this list should help you see how concealing one leads to highlighting another.

  • Don't look at my arms!

    Keeping triceps toned is difficult for many women, but chances are your wrists are much narrower than your upper arms. Show them off by choosing dresses with 3/4-length sleeves and wearing a thin bracelet. Dresses with a flutter sleeve can also de-emphasize a flabby upper arm, but steer clear of cap sleeves, which would only accentuate the area.

  • I just can't deal with my belly.

    Many women -- especially mothers -- know how frustrating a soft mid-section can be when shopping for clothing, but dresses are one type of clothing that can be a wardrobe's saving grace. Look for dresses that cinch underneath the bust line, such as empire waist dresses, or right on the narrowest part of your waist, like wrap dresses. Dresses like this will accentuate your thinnest part while the fabric will flow over your middle, camouflaging it.

  • I hate my hips.

    Like women who are unhappy with their mid-sections, women who don't like the size of their hips can find refuge in the world of dresses. Unlike most pants, dresses can be loose over your hips, de-emphasizing wide hips or saddle bags. Look for dresses that celebrate your curves by cinching in around the waist before flowing over your hips, such as wrap dresses, kimono-style dresses, or A-line dresses. You'll also like wearing dresses with color blocks that are darker down the sides and lighter down the middle, making your hips appear to shrink.

  • My chest is too flat.

    When you feel like you don't have much to show off, that may be because you're looking in the wrong place. Try backless dresses or strapless dresses, which will show off plenty of skin in an unexpected way. Without the burden of a large bust, you can wear a sexy dress, like a slip dress or a spaghetti strap dress, without looking overly sexy. You can also wear dresses with a lot of details on the bust or dresses with high necks, such as turtleneck dresses, halter dresses, sheath dresses, and slash-neck dresses.

  • My chest never fits into dresses.

    Don't try to mask a large chest with high necks -- you'll only emphasize it. Instead, show off your assets with a V-neck or scoop-neck dress. Showing off a pretty decollete will keep your body visually in proportion and bring others' eyes up toward your face -- where they belong.

  • I'm not short; I'm height challenged!

    Don't cut yourself short when it comes to the length of your dresses. Petite women can show off with dresses that end above their knees. Extend your legs by wearing shoes and tights in the same color as the dress or by showing off bare legs and wearing shoes that are close to your skin tone. Stay away from dresses with color blocks that visually chop up your height; dresses with one continuous color will give you the illusion of more height.

  • I'd rather wear pants than show anyone my legs.

    Don't give up on dresses just because you don't like your legs. A full-length formal dress is a classic look and will conceal your legs. When you want to wear a casual dress, try a mid-calf length dress with knee-high boots in a matching color. Your legs will look thinner, and you'll look taller. Or try a casual maxi dress, the perfect look for a summer evening or a weekend brunch.

The Right Dress for Every Occasion

  • When you build a wardrobe of dresses, you'll always have the right thing to wear. You can buy your dresses when the need arises, or you can plan ahead. Look at your closet and see which types of dresses you are lacking and which old dresses need to be replaced. (While you're at it, take out all of the dresses you haven't worn in more than a year and donate them to charity.) Then fill in the gaps in your wardrobe, so you'll always be prepared.

  • Everyday dresses:

    Casual dresses are the dresses you'll want to have a lot of in your closet because you can wear them to the office, to many restaurants, or just when you are running errands. These include shirt dresses, wrap dresses, turtleneck dresses, sundresses, and more. You can wear them any day of the week. Deciding what to wear has never been so easy.

  • Special occasion dresses:

    Evening and formal dresses are necessary for special events. You'll want to have dresses on hand for invitations to weddings, parties, the opera, or whatever else may come your way. If you have formal dresses for each season and each type of occasion, you'll never be caught off guard. Consider buying one cocktail dress and one gown for each season. Or, if you know you usually only go to very formal events around the winter holidays, just buy one gown that's suitable for colder weather and buy shorter dresses for the rest of the year.