It was a huge trend during European spring summer and it is hitting our stores now – the tent dress.
In its most ubiquitous form it is high necked, long sleeved and floral, chaste and practical. And often hideous.
I’m now convinced that fashion designers are out to get us. For a few years now, women (well me) have been wandering around the stores, shouting into the wind that they would really appreciate a dress that (a) wasn’t too short (b) wasn’t too tight and (c) had sleeves. Designers answered us with the ankle-grazing sack dress, throwing in a prudish high neck and some Nanna-style leg o’ mutton sleeves for good measure.
For any of us over 50, you may as well have added a grey bun, frilly apron and rimless glasses. I am all for a forgiving cut, given that I’ve been holding in my stomach and covering my upper arms for the last, oh, 30 years, but this dress has to be approached with great trepidation.
This style looks absolutely gorgeous on a tall, slender young thing with no bosoms and a long neck. As does everything. That is fashion’s cruel joke. But pop it on a more mature model and you will be clutching your sides with laughter and/or screaming with horror in the Zara change rooms.
If you really want to fast forward things 40 years, pop one on – maybe in a wallpaper-style floral – and pair it with trainers, like the teenagers do. What looks sweet and feminine and appealing on the young can look positively geriatric on the rest of us. It is, however, a very useful dress if you follow these rules:
- Yes, it can have a high neck and long sleeves but let all the detail be at the top. Don’t then have a frill at the hem, tiers, flounces etc. Keep it balanced.
- Avoid those granny style dresses that have a yoke, or even worse, a frilled yoke. Yeesh. It says Little House on The Prairie. It says archaic and potentially illegal sect, it says Mrs Doubtfire. Unless that’s the look you’re after, avoid.
- A mid-length will be less ageing than a full length, and you can make it look more youthful if you put it with a cool, casual sandal.
- If it’s a print, make sure you absolutely love it. Because that is going to be a hell of a lot of fabric to look at all summer.
A much better proposition in my mind for an airy, easy-to-wear summer dress are the plain cotton caftan styles, with a Nehru collar, button though and with or without sleeves.
Australian label Oroton has some very beautiful examples, (the designer Sophie Holt was at Country Road for many years) a sophisticated take on Aussie hot weather dressing that would look good on anyone from 18 to 90.
Also super cute are the cotton headscarves, which are a lifesaver for hair that hates humidity. Chic, flattering, simple. And no frills.