The weather is capricious, but the summer dress is calling
This begins, as so many delightful things do, with a twirl.
Embraced by blue sky, in an extravagance of sunshine and blossoms, lighter than air, the only thing to do is spin a breezy circle. The hem flies out like a carnival ride, the skirt flutters in butterfly wing colors and few things feel better than this, in a summer dress.
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only,” no less an authority Coco Chanel is quoted as saying. “Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
And what is happening right now is that the weather is teasing with just enough warmth, just enough clear sky and glittering sun, that longing hands reach for the flower garden end of the closet — the summer dresses in their rainbow hues and diaphanous touch. It may be just a touch too early to wear them, because Colorado is nothing if not capricious, but these are aspirational times.
“A summer dress is probably the most fun article of clothing you can wear,” said Erin McKean, author of “The Hundred Dresses: The Most Iconic Styles of Our Time,” in an email interview. “Bathing suits are too fraught with body-image issues; athleticwear carries the obligation of being active; formalwear can be scratchy and uncomfortable — but a summer dress is usually comfortable, airy, brightly-colored or patterned, shows enough skin to be alluring but not so much as to be uncomfortable, comes in variations that suit every body type, and is distinctly feminine.”
Consider Lilly Pulitzer, creator of one of the most quintessential summer dresses: an easy-to-wear, knee-length, A-line shift in vivid tropical prints and colors. It’s not just the lightness of the dress, but what all those palm trees and hibiscus and curling vines represent: easy days, poolsides, nights illuminated by fireflies and sparklers, mimosas and lemonade, la dolce vita.
And speaking of la dolce vita, how about Sophia Loren in a scoop-neck summer dress with a full skirt, lounging on the Italian Riviera like she owns the place. Which she probably does. Summer dresses have that sort of magnetism.
Songs are written about them. They inspire lines of poetry and scenes in plays. In his classic short story “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” which appeared in the Feb. 4, 1939, New Yorker, Irwin Shaw wrote:
“‘When I think of New York City, I think of all the girls on parade in the city. I don’t know whether it’s something special with me or whether every man in the city walks around with the same feeling inside him, but I feel as though I’m at a picnic in this city. I like to sit near women in the theatres, the famous beauties who’ve taken six hours to get ready and look it. And the young girls at the football games, with the red cheeks, and when the warm weather comes, the girls in their summer dresses.’ He finished his drink. ‘That’s the story.’”
Summer dress is an expansive category that can include everything from a jersey maxi dress to little eyelet numbers, swirling georgette and silk, sweet gingham and casual chambray shirtwaists. They have a reputation for lightness and ease, a occasionally gentle irony because Beth Bauerle, owner of The Main Paige in Grand Junction, said she first thinks of the summer dresses of garden parties and outdoor weddings.
“Those are dresses that you accessorize, that you can dress up,” she said.
(Bauerle also pointed out that, when she’s at markets and buying for the store, dresses are among the most difficult purchases because of vagaries in fit and sizing; a woman may be one size on top and a different size on bottom, and dresses don’t accommodate that as well as separates do.)
Perhaps that also is the appeal of summer dresses, that their range is so broad as to include a sleeveless, animal-print sheath, a seersucker shift, a halter-neck georgette number appropriate for a tango and a short-sleeved wrap dress made of T-shirt knit. As an added bonus, summer dresses are one of the least confounding items in the fashion world, almost universally beloved by men.
“I think men love summer dresses in part because they aren’t very ‘fashion-y’,” McKean said. “Summer dresses tend not to be very complicated or fashion-forward in the ways that make some men uncomfortable; instead, they’re simple, pretty, and body-conscious.
“There’s also the fact that summer dresses show up in happy circumstances — warm weather, picnics and parties — which means a little of that good feeling rubs off on them.”
Summer dresses symbolize lightness and airiness, the diametric opposite of all the woolen layers and Gore-Tex shells of winter. Even if they actually required hours of thought and preparation, they often look like items that were casually tossed on as the wearer danced out the door to someplace fun.
And even better? “Anyone can wear a summer dress!” McKean said. “Anyone can wear any kind of dress, actually, as long as you decide not to care about anyone else’s opinion, but that goes double for summer dress. The only prerequisite is the desire to be happy and enjoy yourself (although a Popsicle helps, too).”
So, while it may be a few weeks too early to slip on the lightness of a summer dress, it’s never too early to plan and dream — about the warmth of the sun and cool lemonades, soft grass underfoot and dresses lighter than air.
SWISS BALL TUCKS
Raise your hips, bringing your knees forward as close to horizontal as possible and maintaining a neutral spine.
Return to the extended position and repeat for 10–15 repetitions. Increase sets or mix with other core exercises as you progress.