Fashion: Address the Dress: Tips for Finding the Perfect Dress

Dresses. They’re one-hit wonders. But for many of us who dress each day out of a closet brimming with separates, dresses can be intimidating. This season, however, fashion designers have addressed the dress in a whole new way by giving us instant comfort in stylish shifts, flowing maxis and elegant wraps. If you haven’t shopped for dresses in a few years, it may be time to rethink your wardrobe.

“If you’re trying to edit some of the chaos out of your life, it may just be worth taking another look at the practical benefits of one-piece dressing,” says Paula Reed, London fashion expert and author of “Style Clinic” (Collins Living, $27.95). “The right dress can add height, broaden your shoulders and skim your hips. You can vamp it up, play it down or simply enjoy the pure feminine pleasure in a swish of fabric or nipped-in waist.”

dressHere are Reed’s tips to putting yourself on the best-dressed list this spring and summer:

— Dresses can be tricky because they have to fit well in so many different spots: shoulders, waist, hips, bust and length. Here’s where label loyalty pays off. Try lots of different designers, and when you find one whose cut works for you, stick with it.

— Pear-shaped figures will benefit from the defining and smoothing effects of a sharp-shouldered, bias-cut style.

— A-lines are the best hip minimizers.

— The best necklines for large bosoms are the boat-neck, V-neck, keyhole or square. Avoid round necks, high necks or turtlenecks. Reverse and shawl collars are also slimming and lengthening. Stick to fitted, body-skimming silhouettes, and at all costs, avoid crossover styles that cut your bosom in two.

— A curvy figure looks best in fabrics that drape rather than cling. Never leave your waist undefined. Even the subtlest curve at the waist will look better than a boxy drop from the shoulder that will only add width.

— An hourglass shape with a full skirt and nipped-in waist will give boyish figures some feminine oomph.

— A tailored, waisted shift will subtly shape a boyish frame.

— A curvy figure will stop traffic in a wrap dress.

— Heavy arms can be disguised by slim (not tight) three-quarter length sleeves.

— Empire waists lengthen petite frames.

— An all-over print keeps the eye moving and disguises a multitude of figure faults.

— In the fitting room, make sure you can sit down, cross your legs, bend over and reach up without pinching or squeezing (which will make you look bigger than you are) or exposing more than you want to.

— For work, keep dresses simple. A tailored shape is best in most office situations. Shirtdresses and A-lines are great options. If you need to cover up, consider a jacket that echoes the lines of the dress or a sleek cardigan. Invest in the best dress you can afford. An ill-fitting tailored shift looks bad on everybody.

— When buying dresses to wear on the weekend, quantity wins out over quality. Between beach days, lunch with the girls, country weekends and city shopping trips, it’s good to have options and be able to wear, trash and move on.

— For evening, the little black dress is everyone’s favorite option, but it isn’t the only one. Check out other colors and prints. Go for lingerie details, such as lace trims and chiffon layers.

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