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Elevated elegance is what they all have in common
Shopping is a long-term play. There’s going to come a day (if there hasn’t been one yet) when you have an event, look in your closet, and have absolutely nothing to wear. It’s time to forgo this in perpetuity and find that one go-to dress.
It’s choosing this dress that’s the hard part. If you decide you’re going to dish out the big bucks and commit to a designer piece, then you want to be certain that the dress you’re choosing is the one. You want to pick a style that’s classic enough to last you years but also something with a bit of modern flair.
To help you shop, we turned to two experts in the designer dress space—Camilla Franks, founder of her eponymous resort wear brand Camilla, and Edwina Forest, Creative Director at clothing and accessory label Aje—for their takes on the styles on the market right now. Their insights helped us compile this list.
A.L.C. Clair Cowl Asymmetric Maxi Dress
With a draped back and an asymmetrical hem, A.L.C. makes a classic silhouette with just a hint of ’90s edge. For evening events, pair with either gold or silver jewelry and some heels to match—simple elegance done right.
Price at time of publish: $495
Material: Polyester | Sizes: 00–14 | Care: Dry clean
Deiji Studios The Turn Washed-Linen Maxi Dress
An elevated nightgown look is in, according to Deiji Studios. The linen look is laid-back, but the midi length and twisted straps are subtly refined. Dress it up for a chic backyard party with a pair of espadrille wedges, or dress it down for everyday ease with low, strappy sandals.
Price at time of publish: $246
Fabric: Linen | Size Range: XS/S–L/XL| Care: Machine wash
Camilla Crystal-Embellished Printed Maxi Dress
This dress is luxurious boho at its finest. Franks says she keeps focus on designing silhouettes with print placements that women and people of every shape, age, and size will feel incredible in. This dress in particular features musical notes, florals, and gilded motifs.
Price at time of publish: $799
Fabric: Silk | Size Range: XS–XL | Care: Dry clean
Aje Gretta Bow-Trimmed Organza Mini Dress
Best Wedding Guest
This ethereal organza number from Aje will make any occasion just a bit more special. Its babydoll-like shape, sculptural lines, and puffed sleeves will have you standing out from the crowd of wedding guests without taking away from the bride herself.
Price at time of publish: $455
Fabric: Polyester | Size Range: US0–12 | Care: Dry clean
Norma Kamali Diana One-Shoulder Mini Dress
Swathing your body with rippled ruching, Norma Kamali’s iconic Diana dress is a striking style. It flatters figures with its stretchy lamé fabric and its bodysuit lining. Accessorize with clear Cinderella heels and two-tone metallic jewelry.
Price at time of publish: $225
Fabric: Poly, spandex | Size Range: XXS–XL | Care: Hand wash
Charo Ruiz Zinnia Mini Dress
Charo Ruiz delivers an LBD that channels a summer garden theme in every way. The shape is A-line and mini, cinching your waist as the paneled skirt flows from your hips. It’s rounded out with lace and a vibrant floral print.
Price at time of publish: $589
Fabric: Cotton, polyester | Size Range: XS–L | Care: Hand wash
Ganni Strappy Taffeta Dress
Best Black Dress
This isn’t your typical LBD dress. The sweetheart neckline is made less traditional with a cut-out front (we love the modern twist) while the hemline comes down to a chic but modest midi length. The gathered vintage-looking waist is a subtle statement.
Price at time of publish: $345
Fabric: Polyester | Size Range: FR32–44 | Care: Wash cold
Mara Hoffman Extended Dione Dress
This midi body-con dress has a coy keyhole in front, settling below the V-neck. The smocking throughout adds texture to the dress for a playfully polished look. Wear this with strappy heels and a simple black bag for a classic look that can be worn time and time again in virtually every season.
Price at time of publish: $795
Fabric: TENCEL™ Modal | Size Range: XXS–3X | Care: Dry clean
Christopher John Rogers Cotton-Blend Moire Midi Dress
Christopher John Rogers is known for his sculptural silhouettes in bold prints and colorways. Case in point: this voluminous midi dress in lime green and gold. We love the way the fabric gracefully gathers at the base of the cups and cinches the waist before ballooning dramatically at the hips and legs. The straps are adjustable, too, so wearers can create their perfect fit.
Price at time of publish: $1,298 on sale
Fabric: 57% cotton, 43% acetate shell; 100% polyester trim and lining | Size Range: 0–16 | Care: Dry clean
Alice + Olivia Puff Sleeve Dress
Best Faux Leather
Alice + Olivia’s faux leather puff sleeve dress has a punky allure that we are loving this season. A cross between rockstar and schoolgirl, this dress does it all. For the full effect, throw on a pair of studded combat boots or heeled booties, and you are good to go.
Price at time of publish: $372 on sale
Fabric: Viscose, elastane, nylon | Size Range: 0–14 | Care: Dry clean
Tove Carine Cut-Out Dress
Tove founders Camille Perry and Holly Wright are so masterful at creating elegant and artful cutout dresses. The Carine is our favorite new release; the lavender color in particular will come in handy for Easter and any other event at least through Labor Day.
Price at time of publish: $825
Fabric: Cotton | Size Range: 2–10 | Care: Dry clean
Cult Gaia Andi Chain Strap Mini Dress
A sustainable style is always going to be one of our favorite picks, especially if it’s a slip as chic and versatile as this one from Cult Gaia. It’s mostly made from Naia acetate, a cellulosic fiber consisting of 60% sustainable wood pulp and 40% certified recycled material that’s also OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified. Design-wise, the gold chain-link straps and cheery coral color on the mini silhouette make it an eye-catching summer party dress.
Price at time of publish: $422 on sale
Fabric: 79% Naia™ acetate, 21% polyester | Size Range: XS–L | Care: Hand wash
A.L.C.’s Clair Cowl Asymmetric Maxi Dress is simple but sophisticated, so you really can’t go wrong; it’s the perfect dress for last-minute dinner parties or destination weddings when you need something light to pack. And we love the way its unfussy features, like the draped back and asymmetrical hemline, still pack a strong punch. However, if you’re looking to go the designer route without spending too much money, we also love Deiji Studios’ light and airy washed linen maxi dress. Because it’s rather casual, you’re sure to wear it more often than, say, a silk maxi. Since it’s machine washable, it’s easy to care for, too.
What to Look for in Designer Dresses
It may seem obvious, but it really is important to consider where and when you plan to wear this. For example, is it intended for a day wedding or an evening extravaganza? Will this be an outside or an inside event? Are you going for a garden party vibe or cocktail chic? Consider all of the external factors, including the practical and aesthetic ones, when choosing your designer dress.
How well a dress is made justifies the price. “If you’re not aware of the care and time that goes into each piece, it can be easy to dismiss designer investment pieces as just ‘paying for the name on the label,’” says Franks. “If a piece is embellished, which can take days or even weeks of careful work; [has] features like hand-drawn artwork; [or] is hand cut and sewn, [there is] value far beyond the name of the brand.” Be sure to recognize all of the details that go into the dress to ensure you’re choosing a high-end piece.
Fit and Comfort
Forest sums it up perfectly: “Gravitate to pieces that feel comfortable and effortless…We design to make our customers feel like the fullest version of themselves – balancing and considering all their modalities,” she says. Essentially, you want to feel like your best self in the dress.
It’s important to know your limits. Know your budget, but also know yourself. For the best possible value, Franks says to “consider pieces that are trans-seasonal and have multi-wear value.” Will you wear it again and again? Can you style it in multiple fabulous ways? Is it suitable for different events and occasions? These are all questions worth asking yourself before making a purchase.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are designer dresses worth it?
According to Franks, “Fashion is art, and art is always worth the investment.” Maximize your value by choosing a piece that isn’t trend-driven and that reflects your style, so it will never feel dated. Great quality will make your purchase justified, too.
How do I care for a designer dress?
Always read the care instructions on the label. But if you need an overarching rule of thumb, designer dresses should be either dry-cleaned or hand washed. Make sure that if there’s a stain you treat it as soon as possible. Be extra gentle in handling pieces with details like embroidery, sequins, and feathers.
Why Trust Byrdie
Gaby Keiderling is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers fashion, lifestyle, sports, and travel. Her work can also be seen in Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Who What Wear, and Travel + Leisure. She’s also been to her fair share of soirées, and she has a pretty good eye for designer dresses.
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