I’ve been experimenting with ways of getting more use out of the sorts of autumn dresses I’d usually “save for best”. Dresses that I’m happy to invest in, because they are more often than not bought for a work event or a special occasion, but that then tend to sit forlornly in the wardrobe waiting for their next outing. Which is a travesty. A travesty I tell you!
Why do we always seem to spend the most money on the items we wear the least? The “only for best” shoes that we can’t even walk in (guilty of this many times over, seduced by the red soles), the ridiculous dresses that require tit tape, Spanx and someone to hold the hem as you make your way perilously from taxi to wedding reception…
I’ve found the 3 best autumn dresses for 2021 and I’m going to show you how to wear them for daytime. It’s really quite easy – so much so that I’m almost embarrassed to write it out – just add knitwear. Oh, and flat footwear. With some welcome warmth on top and a newfound ability to run for the train as the doors start to shut, the “save for best” dress becomes a daily staple – and one that’s effortlessly chic and pulled together at that.
The striking all-over print that has always felt a little much for a quick run into town suddenly takes on a new role when it’s paired with a chunky cable-knit jumper – it offers a flash of bold pattern to lift an otherwise unremarkable bit of autumnal dressing. Because what would I have on otherwise? I’ll tell you: pale blue skinny jeans. My autumn-winter uniform. Jeans and a knit, white trainers and a big coat. Isn’t it a nice change to have something bright and perky going on downstairs?
(Not to mention the fact that the maxi skirt part of the special occasion dress is a hell of a lot kinder to the undercarriage than a daily sartorial diet of tight, restrictive denim with ill-placed crotch seam.)
Here are 3 different autumn dresses that all look snazzy and special for an evening out but are equally great under woolly layers and with wintery boots or trainers on the feet rather than skyscraper heels:
1. Leaf Print Shirt Dress, £39.50 at M&S*
This is a real winner, this dress, but I feel it only comes into its own when you cinch the waist with a belt.
It has been made with reams and reams of fabric and so initially I felt a little swamped when I tried it on (I think it runs on the large size) but with a belt gathering the waist, the volumes of fabric suddenly felt highly luxurious rather than unshapely.
With a V-neck jumper thrown over the top (this one is from Reiss here*) and some boots in autumnal brown (these are Carvela, here*, and supremely comfy despite the heel) it becomes a throw-on dress for everyday wear. I’d probably stick to a navy cable-knit jumper in future but was trying to be snazzy with my styling here.
(I also decided to use a stick from the woods as a prop and I’m not sure whether it’s all a bit Lord of the Rings for my liking. You live and learn.)
2. Floral Printed Midi Dress, £198 at Reiss*
This was something of a departure from the norm for me: the high-neck, the clinging fabric, the print-from-a-nineteen-sixties-sofa-set. However the gathering across the chest and back seduced me and I have no regrets: it’s “gothic heroine meets Hen Night in the West End” and I’m here for it.
On a side note, there were so many dresses in Reiss that I loved. I’m definitely adding them to my list of “places to always check when you need an outfit in a hurry”. The tailoring is really good and the styles are sharp and feel somehow professional. Like what I’d wear if I was the daughter in the TV show Succession.
Actually if I was the daughter in Succession and potential heir to billions of dollars then I’d probably be in head-to-toe Tom Ford and Dundas and Saint Laurent but let’s not split hairs here. Or heirs. Hohoho.
So, heroine from a gothic novel but then – what’s this? Stompy boots to bring things back down to earth:
I’ve had a good old rave about these Russell and Bromley boots already but here we go again: beautifully made and absolutely worth every penny. I’ve wanted to invest in a pair of R&Bs for decades and don’t know what took me so long, to be frank.
I particularly love that I don’t have to do up all of these laces each time, because they are fake ones. What a tease and a thrill! Every time I look at the boots to put them on, my heart sinks a little because I see the laces, but a split second later my brain kicks in and reminds me that there are zips up the sides…
It’s the ultimate emotional rollercoaster, let me tell you.
The pretty little pink cardigan is from M&S* and is made from the softest cashmere – it looks great buttoned up and tight, twinset style, but equally good thrown over a dress to keep out the autumn chill.
3. Flower Field Tiered Maxi Dress, £295 at Me+Em*
I mentioned in my last try-on post (for Reformation dresses) how I thought that Me+Em were quite literally a cut above when it comes to finish. This was the dress I was referring to. It just slipped on like a dream and hugged all the right places.
The zip-front and side stripe give it the sport-luxe feel that Me+Em are so good at and the floral print is gorgeous. It’s also incredibly easy to dress this down, perhaps because of the dipped hem which gives a less weighty feel to the front of the skirt.
The dipped hem is a clever trick, really; it stops you looking like one of those knitted dolly toilet roll covers. Do you remember those from years go by? Anyway, with many long dresses your feet completely disappear so that it looks as though you’re floating. With a dipped hem, you get the sense of luxurious length at the back but it shows your feet and a bit of leg at the front. Very smart.
I’ve dressed this one down with my trainers of longtime habit: Adidas Stan Smiths. These, however, are Stan Smiths with a difference: from a line called Primegreen, they are vegan and made with 50% recycled materials. If you’re looking for a leather alternative. People rave about Veja but I found them a little uncomfortable and I don’t like the yellowed sole on them…
So, Primegreen Stan Smiths on my feet (these are £75 here*) and a navy textured cashmere jumper from M&S (£79 here*). Navy jumpers seem to be my jam, these days – black feels so harsh by comparison and I feel as though it tends to wash me out. I’ve relegated all the black knitwear to the shelf, cedar wood balls sandwiched between the layers. I should get some of those vacuum storage bags really, shouldn’t I?
Which is your favourite dress? Let me know. Along with any handy tips for dressing down the dressing up dresses.
(Sizing and shoot info: I am 5’8″ and hover between a UK 10 and a UK 12 in most brands. Here I’m wearing all size 10 or small. Shoe size UK 6. Images shot whilst away this summer, the house was amazing – it’s here at Kate & Tom’s.)