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The Romantic Summer Dresses Waking Us Up from Our Nap-Dress Winter

These five dress trends are defining the season ahead.

Paige Campbell Linden

With all due respect to nap dresses, summer 2021 is arriving quickly and bringing with it an energy that's anything but sleepy. You may relate if you're currently in a mood to throw on a party-ready frock just to run to the supermarket. Or perhaps you're itching to break your legs out of their soft-pants comfort zone and slip into a minidress to reunite with pals you haven't seen in a year. It's not solely festive, flowy designs that are drumming up these feelings of anticipation and optimism—see: a vaccine rollout running ahead of schedule and the promise of warm days ahead and lots of safe, outdoor reunions—however, the new season of dresses does hit a bit differently this year. Buyers and designers can vouch for it, too.

"When designing the spring collection, we actually had no idea where we would be now," says Mara Hoffman, whose eponymous line is no stranger to beautiful, ethereal creations. "[When] we put it together last summer, we didn't know when we could be with each other again. There was no opportunity to wear anything that we weren't wearing indoors. It was very much a shot in the dark." Fast-forward several months later, and Hoffman's dresses are some of the latest on the market that strike the perfect, and timely, balance of effortlessness and excitement.

"People want ease. They want to feel good and look good," says Hoffman as to why romantic summer dresses are an enduring seasonal style. "This upcoming summer in particular, we are really feeling the energy and longing for connectedness in the air that is so close to our grasp."

On the buyers' end, Celenie Seidel, senior womenswear editor at Farfetch, shares, "With summer always comes a sense of happiness and freedom, and naturally the associated joy will only be amplified in 2021 if we are lucky enough to have some version of life as we knew it." Meanwhile, Caroline Maguire, Shopbop's fashion director, anticipated that consumers are ready to transition to a wardrobe of "bright novelty dresses that are easy to pull off."

That said, should you be in the market for a dress that might help shake off the doldrums, all three of the aforementioned experts have pinpointed five trends that are indicative of an exciting, if not highly unique, season ahead.


Ease Over Everything

It can't be overstated: Buyers and consumers are interested in creative, not complex, approaches to dressing. "This spring is all about chic, breezy silhouettes—think apron-style, relaxed fits, and trapeze-shaped dresses," explains Shopbop's Maguire, who suggests styling the pieces with simple tees or tanks if you don't wear them solo. Hoffman echoes part of this sentiment as well, and refers specifically to a classic silhouette that always delivers. "I think you can never go wrong with a wrap dress. They really look good on everyone and are an easy classic," she says. "Summer is a special time, and I want to be able to throw something on and feel good in it all day so I can make the most of the season."

Extended Agnella Dress

Mara Hoffman
$450

Stevie Apron Dress

Lee Matthews
$460


Short Attention Spans

While you may not be keen on calling the decade ahead the "roaring '20s," there is one small correlation between the 2020s and the 1920s that can be confirmed: Hemlines have hiked up. As Farfetch's Seidel describes it, this summer sees the pendulum metaphorically swing in an opposite direction from this past winter. In other words: "The micro mini offers the ultimate sweatpants departure."

Garda Dress

Ciao Lucia
$295


Making a Comeback

The next dress trend is for anyone who views even the most casual summer reunions as an occasion to get decked out. "We are also anticipating the appearance of the 're-emergence dress,'" Seidel says. As the moniker suggests, this is the kind of no-holds-barred design that you might wear to your first real formal affair in more than a year. Or maybe just on a Tuesday—that's for you to decide. "[It's] making up for all the 'lost-out' opportunities and embracing a new anything-goes kind of glamour."

Sequined Midi Dress

Paco Rabanne
$1889


Eye Candy

For some, the enduring appeal of a neutral, solid-color dress just won't do for the months ahead. Enter "garden-party prints," as Maguire refers to them. "We're all in need of some mood lifters, so bold fashion details are an obvious must this season. Popping prints—animated florals, prominent polka dots, or gingham—mixed with a few unexpected details and novel embellishments will definitely bring an optimistic outlook to our closets."

Gianna Dress

Tanya Taylor
$495

Maxi Dress

Playa Lucila
$150


All About Arms

"This season is all about feminine and flirty pieces with a touch of high volume," explains Maguire. While the puffed-up-sleeve look is one that's stayed in the zeitgeist for the past decade or so, it's fitting for the moment as it lends a bit of drama to a silhouette without being overly fussy or difficult to wear. "Fabrics used to accomplish such volume in a piece give the appearance of luxury—no matter the occasion," Maguire adds.

Leonara Dress

Mara Hoffman
$575

Karoline Dress

Cecilie Bahnsen
$1935
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