Dresses, we’ve got a few. More than we’ve had in a while. Not so long ago I’d even persuaded myself we’d reached peak dress and it was time to pause and think of other options.
But a few weeks is a long time in fashion and there’s a new dress in town. You will definitely have seen this one around: it’s midi, it’s full and wafty, it’s got a slot neck (a narrow V neck), a seam just under the bust and several tiers. It looks quite a lot like something left over from 1976, especially when it’s a mishmash of three different Laura Ashley-esque floral prints, like Zara’s ‘voluminous’ print dress (£49.99, zara.com).
I know. Giant alarm bells should be ringing: boho is tricky enough without it being voluminous and looking like you could have bought it in Kensington Market. I’m quite sure that if I’d come across this dress on the rail in Zara I’d have kept on walking.
Who wants a dress shaped like a tent at our age when you need all the help you can get?
Boho: Me+Em tent dress
As it is, I saw it on a woman out shopping with her young adult daughter and, since not only did she look great in an effortless everyday sort of way — but she wasn’t a model and had to be in the region of 50 — the seed was planted.
A tent-shaped boho dress can look cool on a grown up, in the city, on a summer’s day (the yummy mummy was wearing rope-bottomed flatforms, more of which later).
Then, two days later, another version of the dress turned up, this time in the park on a younger woman (mid 30s).
This one was grey-and-white striped seersucker with a little navy tufted embroidery detail, a dark red bobbly trim on the tiers and neckline, and full long sleeves.
The second stop-and-ask in as many days revealed it was also Zara and the owner said she liked it so much she’d gone back and bought one for her mum, too. If you needed confirmation that this dress works on mums, too — and I definitely did — then who could ask for more?
Since then, I’ve bought the dress — it just hits the spot somehow, when a more fitted style looks too dressy. Volume is what separates the old from the new — and I’m sold on the easy pull-on shape. (This dress comes kaftan style, without fastenings.)
The obvious concern with a full A-line dress is: ‘Will it make me look big?’ The answer, I can confirm, is no, providing the shoulders are neatly fitted and the neck slot is open to just about your breastbone. Any higher and you will look swamped.
TENT DRESSES: THE RULES
- Keep sleeves long and full.
- And length midi or midaxi.
- Go for a mix up of fabrics.
- Wear with open flat sandals or rope soles.
A mixture of prints lightens the look (the Zara dress has the stripes going both vertically and horizontally) and the tiers themselves are crucial; they’re what gives the dress its pretty puffiness and stops it from looking like an actual tent. If you can’t get your head around the unstructured shape, pick one that works as well with a belt.
Me+Em does an attractive poppy red, purple and jade green paisley print, boho maxi dress (pictured) which comes with a slim cord-tie belt (£295, meandem.com). Length is important — the hem of this dress needs to be bottom of the calf or longer — and long or three-quarter sleeves keep it looking fresh and elegant.
If the idea of print and tiers doesn’t appeal, then Aspiga has a pretty plain white cotton midi dress (£150, aspiga.com) with pintuck detailing on the bodice and open work lace details.
It also does a crystal embroidered cheesecloth style in four different colours, including khaki (£140). I’m not convinced that glamming up this dress is the answer, other than with big sunglasses and a bracelet or two, but each to their own.
Those are the basics. Otherwise, the way to keep your tent dress looking modern is with low, plain, open footwear, and if you want to be really summer-of-2021, you can get yourself some solid rope flatforms (£65, office.co.uk), though a strappy flat leather sandal (£59.95, massimodutti.com), a cork footbed Birkenstock style (£65, boden.co.uk), or a low canvas espadrille (£59, broraonline.com) will work just as well.
This dress is not going to change your life, but it could change your summer.