Oh, the dress. It’s such a feminine, classic piece, and some bloggers have built their entire aesthetic around it. (When’s the last time you saw Julia Engel in jeans?) I absolutely love the way a perfect dress can turn an occasion into something completely special and memorable. But shopping for that perfect dress? I absolutely hate it.
I tend to know which stores and styles I can shop with success in order to avoid those dreaded fitting room meltdowns. But dresses? They’re a complete crapshoot for me. As soon as I think I’ve found the store or style that will work on my body, I try on a similar item that doesn’t work and I’m back at square one.
My love/hate relationship with dresses started in high school when I would get all excited to buy a dress for a dance, and then I’d leave the store hours later completely frustrated and upset. (I think we all know body image is especially volatile in your teens.) I had a really wide swimmer’s back and shoulders, and dresses just weren’t often designed with that body type in mind. I even had sales girls perplexed because I looked pretty fit but couldn’t zip up the largest sizes to save my life. Inevitably, my mom would try to be helpful, but I’d end up snapping at her because, you know, being a teenager, and we’d both leave the store frustrated and upset. Needless to say, these experiences don’t really leave you wanting more.
However, it’s hard to avoid wearing dresses forever, and I still love the way they look when they do work out! My body now is different from my teens, but I still have a much large upper body and chest than I do hips and thighs. For the most part, I end up in the 14-16 range to accommodate everything I’ve got going on on top, and then I have to hope the waist and hip areas don’t look ridiculous. I’ve noticed that even since my wedding two and a half years ago major department store dress designers like Eliza J, Maggy London, and Kate Spade have expanded their size ranges to make them more accessible to all women. And, to that, I say hallelujah! It’s virtually impossible to avoid formal occasions forever and, while I love a good pantsuit or jumpsuit, I also love having more options to pick out a gorgeous dress.
My two biggest dress shopping tips are 1.) always keep an eye out and 2.) don’t be afraid to try rental services. My absolute worst shopping moments happen when I have to find something by a certain date, and there’s just nothing that works. Now, if I find a dress that fits well and could work for various occasions, I buy it. A good example is the J. Crew pineapple dress (pictured below) that I bought last year after loving the print online. The cut of it worked well on me, and I knew that between weddings, bridal showers, beach vacations, and parties I’d have a chance to wear it. I already brought it to Miami this past January and felt like it worked perfectly for our one fancy dinner out.
My other tip is to try services like Rent the Runway where you can rent and return for a fraction of what the dress actually costs. At first, I had a hard time letting go of $60 for something I had to return a few days later, but then I realized that I was definitely guilty of buying a dress for an occasion and only wearing it once anyway. At least with Rent the Runway, you get a backup size and also a second option for free! I was still hesitant that their designer dress selection wouldn’t work on me, but I’ve had success with one Monique Lhullier dress and one Badgley Mischka dress. I just placed another order for my work gala this weekend so hopefully I’ll be 3 for 3!
I should say that none of this post is sponsored. I just know how hard it can be shopping for certain items and hope that some of these tips could translate into less shopping dread. Is there anything worse than forking over money for something that doesn’t even look great and feeling crappy the whole time you wear it? I’ve definitely been there, but I’m hoping that more designers with extended sizing and more rental options will equal happier special events!
I’ve managed to have a few good dress moments over the years which I’ve shared below. A few dresses are still available so I’ve linked where I can!
Eliza J (Nordstrom)- This is my favorite dress of all time. I wore it for my rehearsal dinner and about 1000 occasions since.
Topshop– I wore this dress when I interviewed for my current job so you know it’s a good one. Sadly, it’s just tight enough on my chest to feel uncomfortable so I’ve listed it in my Poshmark closet. (Search @kaitlin_r if you’re interested!)
J. Crew- The pineapple print dress that I fell in love with last summer. I actually returned it and ended up reordering it because I couldn’t stop thinking about it! There are quite a few listed on Poshmark and eBay right now- just search “J. Crew Ratti Pineapple Dress.”
Rent the Runway– Once of my success stories! My friend’s bachelorette party theme was sequins so you know I was bringing the sequins!
J. Crew- This gingham maxi was one I had to document because it was so stunning, but, if you look closely, you can tell my chest is struggling to bust out. Sadly, I had to return it because I just didn’t feel secure. But, ugh, it was too gorgeous! There are also a few available on Poshmark and eBay!
Eliza J (Nordstrom)– This dress was the only thing I bought during the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale the year I got married, and it was the perfect dress for my bachelorette party. A year later I wore it to see the queen herself in Vegas. Here’s a cute leopard print option from Topshop.
Vince Camuto (Nordstrom)– I fell in love with this dress after seeing it on Jennifer Lake over at Style Charade. Luckily, it went on sale right before my college roommate’s wedding, and I literally picked it up from Nordstrom on the way to the wedding!
Rosa Clara (Nordstrom)– I mean, duh. Some girls are surprised by what the end up picking as their wedding dress. I was not at all. In fact, my mom spotted it from across the store, pointed to it, and said “That’s your dress” before we even had a real appointment booked.