summer days: the shift
As an ambivalent dress wearer, I was in two minds about this, but the demands of hot weather prevailed, and I have to admit that when it gets truly hot and the humidity just settles like a film on you, a lightweight cotton dress is the most wearable option. Something in the right cut can make it appropriate for professional settings and if you work in an office, a jacket can easily make a dress like this look smart.
The trick is finding something in a sturdy cotton or linen that doesn't need a lining to look decent, but is also breathable, with the perfect mix of structure and room to breathe and move. I have a navy shift similar in cut to Sofia Coppola's dress above and it's a total life saver. I love how easy and pulled together she looks in that dress. And it's perfect for maternity and regular wear - versatile!
Also important is finding something that isn't too short. I think dresses go into "beachy" territory when they're cotton AND too short. Or too floaty and "boho". Something knee-length and in a clean elegant cut makes a lightweight cotton or linen dress look more sophisticated. I don't like jersey dresses either - so uncomfortable clingy in the heat, and they just look limp and sloppy.
Finally, I expect all my summer dresses to be machine-washable. It's one season where you're going to perspire and get sticky and dry-cleaning something you want to wear often is ridiculous.
I did a bit of lazy shopping and rounded up some dresses on Net-a-Porter that fit this criteria pretty well. In fact, I am extremely in love with that particular A.P.C. dress...except that it's already similar to my own. (I cheated a bit with the Reed Krakoff as it is lined, but the shape is perfect.)
From left: A.P.C., Levi's Made and Crafted, J.Crew, Reed Krakoff, 3.1 Phillip Lim
A dress is the easiest way to minimise the number of items you have to put on in the heat, and a perfect sophisticated summer dress will let you keep it easy in flip-flops and flat sandals, but still look polished when you swap them for beautiful flats or heels, and whatever jewellery you like.
It's almost worth the heat.
Pictures from zimbio and net-a-porter