Wearability: summer dresses

I keep meaning to write more wearability posts. I blog about garments I’ve made when they’re new, but rarely come back to record how they proved in the long term. The UK has just had the hottest May on record, so this post covers three different summer dresses that I’ve been wearing a lot recently.

I’ve chosen this group of three because they’re the same colour and they’re made from very similar fabrics, allowing me to concentrate on the differences in the patterns.

The oldest of the three is a Style Arc Toni I made in 2018. My original blog post is here. I’ve made the pattern a few times but this one is my favourite version. The dress is just below knee length (shortened from the original pattern length). It’s sleeveless but has dropped shoulders that provide a lot of coverage. The main features are the side drapes and the high collar which runs into a deep and narrow v neck. There are pockets hidden in the side drapes.

A woman in a garden wearing a white sleeveless dress with draped sides and a high collar

This is an easy dress to style. I’ve been wearing it with trainers or flipflops and no accessories other than my chunky titanium bracelet.

It’s great for very hot weather. It hangs from the shoulders and otherwise doesn’t touch the body. The high collar and dropped shoulders provide a lot of sun protection and it still looks fairly smart. What I’ve never managed is to make it work on cooler days; it looks awkward with a long sleeved layer underneath and very peculiar with tights or leggings. Oddly my dark grey version of this dress doesn’t have the same problem.

The one thing I don’t like about this dress is the armscye. It’s not got any shaping; you just stop sewing the side seam at a certain point and put your arm through the resulting gap. I normally sew the side seam up higher than the pattern says to, but even so there is a risk of bra band exposure because the dress is so unfitted. And the end of the side seam is a weak point that takes a lot of stress; I’ve had a couple of my Tonis tear there. It ought to be possible to adjust the pattern to improve this. I shall have a try next time I make it.

The next one is McCalls 7727, a dramatic fabric hog of a shirt dress. Original blog post here. The top half is a fairly standard shirt dress with a yoke, concealed button placket, long sleeves, princess seams, and a stand collar. The unusual feature here is the enormous circle skirt with a high-low hem. The back of the skirt is almost floor length. There are pockets in the side seams.

A woman stands in a garden wearing a white dress with long sleeves and a wide skirt

I usually wear this one with the belt from the photo above and trainers.

This looks like it ought to be a lot of work to wear. The length can certainly be a nuisance: it drags on stairs and sometimes catches on the backs of my shoes. And I always wear the dress with a half slip in case a sudden gust of wind makes the skirt fly up. It’s certainly not for days when you want to fly under the radar. However despite all that it always puts a smile on my face when I put it on. I made this thinking I probably wouldn’t wear it all that much but found it is a regular pick for hot days. I occasionally think about making a version in black poplin too, although the prospect of cutting out those enormous panels has meant I’ve not done it yet.

When I make this again I’ll make the skirt a tiny bit shorter at the back and longer at the front. I’ll also line the yokes and use flat felled seams on the sleeves so when I roll them up there aren’t overlocked seam allowances showing.

The last one of the three, Burda 116 9/2014, is much more recent. I made it in January this year. Original blog post here.

It has long sleeves ending in elasticated bands, a deep shirttail hem, a drawstring waist, and a lot of pockets. The collar is unusual. It’s a band collar but ends before the button placket. The placket itself is concealed and runs to just above the waist.

This one is the least successful of the three. It’s comfortable but I’ve yet to find a way to style it really successfully. The original version in Burda was worn as a dress with bare legs and the top two buttons undone, carefully photographed. In practice that means it’s open almost to the waist and requires a concealing layer underneath, so no good for very hot days. One button undone looks wrong with the unusual collar. All done up is definitely a Look and needs a jacket over the top. OK if in the mood but not easy to wear.

Worn over trousers it tends to look like a protective smock and not a dress. The best thing I’ve found to put with it for cooler weather is my black fake leather leggings. I should have made the dress in black instead of white as it would have been much more versatile. It’s saving grace is the elasticated cuffs – a detail I am going to steal for other projects.

Three white dresses is enough for my wardrobe. When they wear out I’ll definitely remake the white Toni, and probably the McCalls. The Burda won’t get remade, but I’m not throwing it out right now either.

12 thoughts on “Wearability: summer dresses

  1. Super cool with a wearability post. i love to see your makes, but this post is even better, and makes me think about the wearability of my own wardrobe. Thanks for getting me thinking

  2. Love this post! So often while writing a pattern review after sewing a thing, the trauma of making it colors my opinion, but after months of having a garment, I really start to understand how flaws that seemed so big at the time really weren’t a deterrent to use, or the opposite, where I realize that while the sewing was great, the garment itself is not something that I actually use and enjoy. It would be really interesting to do a similar review for my own wardrobe and see which garments I have that would be worthy of re-visiting.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love all these dresses and your reflections on their wearability. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Burda with all its interesting details. I would embrace the smock look and wear it unbuttoned with pants and a contrasting shirt underneath, loosened at the waist, like this: https://cupofjo.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/sharon-mrozinski-marston-antiques.jpg. What about layering a very lightweight chemise underneath it when the weather’s hot? You look great in white, by the way!

    1. Thanks, that is a very cool arty look. I also tried it with a white camisole underneath yesterday and it worked well, so I think that might be the answer.

  4. I love that kind of review and reding your thoughts on the dresses. It’s nice contrast to hear about the long term success (or failure) of a garment (as opposed to ravings about the latest in-pattern).

  5. I love wearability posts. Thanks so much for sharing. You are definitely selling me on the stylearc pattern with its shoulder and neck coverage but I love the others too

  6. I liked reading about how these dresses are working (or not) after wearing them a while. Reading about the sewing process is nice, but sometimes a longer term viewpoint is even better. Sort of like the difference between reviewing a sewing machine fresh out of the box vs. having put it through a wide variety of projects over time.

    I envy those who can wear white garments without finding a smudge of something after 5 minutes. If I’m lucky it’s something that will wash out. Yeah, white and me… not so good.

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