Here are the five dress silhouettes that every Southern lady should have hanging in her closet.When it comes to searching for the perfect dress, options can be overwhelming. Walk into a department store, and on a single rack alone you may see five different length options, twenty colors and prints, and even more variety of fabrics. While the selection might seem too plentiful to sift through, we can help by telling you what silhouettes no Southern gal can go wrong with. If you keep these five styles in your closet, you will have the perfect outfit for any ocassion.
Designed in the 1890s to be a longer version of a man’s dress shirt, but for the ladies, the shirt dress, or shirtwaist dress—as it was originally called because it had no seam at the waist just like a shirt—has proved the test of time. It’s made professional dressing for women just as easy as it is for men. However, we love the shirt dress too much to reserve it for the office office. Depending on the fabric, print and sleeve, it can also be easygoing enough for picnicking—take this Draper James midi version for example. Gingham Midi Shirtdress, $350; draperjames.com
Defined as a close fitting dress, usually with a seam (or seams) at the waist and several darts in both the bust and hips, the sheath has long been popular and, based on archaeological depictions, it was even the go-to look of Egyptian Pharaoh, Cleopatra. Because this style is intended to hug curves, it’s important to focus on great fit. That’s why we recommend getting yours from Houston-based dress company Kit, which customizes each customer’s order based on her measurements and answers to a detailed questionnaire about fit preferences.
With it’s heyday in the 1950’s, this shape is the ultimate in femininity, and is what you’ll find in mid-century depictions of house wives wearing pearls and holding platters freshly baked cookies. While we may have left that ideal of ladylikeness with it’s pinnacle decade, we didn't leave the universally flattering fit-and-flare behind with it. Cinched at the waist and wide at the hem, it optimizes the feminine form. We love Southerner Camilyn Beth’s blush-colored masterpiece that could be worn to almost any event imaginable—day or night. The Emma Dress, $290; camilynbeth.com
Originally, when it gained popularity in the late 1960’s, the maxi was a little shorter than it is today, hitting slightly above the ankle. Today’s style are more likely to graze the ankle bone, top of the foot, or somewhere in between. Raleigh-based clothing line Southern frock offers up a breezy V-neck version that’s available in 7 colorful prints. Olivia Maxi Dress, $130; southernfrock.com
The queen of the shift and West Palm Beach native, Lily Pulitzer, made this silhouette famous when she started printing them in bold colorful patterns in the ‘60s. Defined by a simple shape—with it’s only tailoring being two darts in the bust—and no sleeves, the shift—not to be mistaken with the sheath, which we’ll get to soon—is not only very forgiving, it’s endlessly versatile. It can easily be belted for added shape, layered with a blazer for wearing in cooler temps, and in the right fabric it can be appropriate for any occasion. We love Southern brand By Smith’s version that has a flirty cutout in the back. Maple Dress, $298; bysmithcollection.com