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The Amazing Summer Dress That Fits Any Body and Any Budget

A style that is versatile, flattering and affordable

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illustration of woman wearing a shirt dress and walking her dog on sidewalk next to lake
Amber Day
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The shirtdress has been called many things — a closet chameleon, a wardrobe workhorse, a classic, even "perfect." My favorite description? Versatile.

Because, honestly, who among us wants a one-hit-wonder hanging around just taking up space? Like music and people, the best dress can relate to any season, any mood and very nearly any body.

What to Look for

The shirtdress with the ultimate versatility has the simplest cut. Skip over the variations with defined waistlines, pleats, lapels, puffy sleeves and a partial row of buttons marching down the front.

Instead, you’ll want a straight-shooting stretch of cotton, linen and the occasional synthetic fiber unencumbered by either a seam or elastic at the waistline. Look for long sleeves that can roll up or fasten down and buttons down the front. Lengths can range from mini to maxi, making it adaptable for any height.

This summer, you can find these ultimate shirtdresses at retailers from Amazon to Anthropologie. And, they are available at online resale stores such as Poshmark and ThredUp, where large-sized linen-blend shirtdresses from J. Jill and Eileen Fisher were recently listed for $28 and $62, respectively.

And if you’re lucky, you may find one already in your closet (keep reading for styling tips!), at a neighborhood thrift store or on sale at your go-to retailer.

Singing Their Praises

I’m not the only one singing the praises of the shirtdress. Customers of all shapes, sizes and ages have joined the choir with five-star reviews on the websites of retailers:

“Very versatile, as I’ve worn it as a dress, a tunic, a light jacket and a swim coverup,” wrote AC about her knee-length European linen shirtdress ($50). Meanwhile, 71-year-old Bonnie M. wore the maxi version ($60) “to my granddaughter’s wedding in Marfa, TX [and] it was perfect!”

Under the title “A Whole Wardrobe in one Dress,” Honey Vinegar (age 55-64 from Georgia) gushed about the petite chambray midi shirtdress ($55) she bought: “When I purchase anything, I have to envision how I am going to wear it and with what to get my money’s worth on. When I saw this on sale, I saw boots, ballet flats, tennis shoes, sling-back oxfords, Mary Jane’s, wide belts, a blazer, etc. This one dress gives me a whole wardrobe!”

R. Felder, a size 5X, voted with her pocketbook after the success of her relaxed linen midi shirtdress ($70) in flame red: “I received many compliments on the color and the fit. I will purchase this dress in another color.”

Many Ways to Wear It

As these reviews illustrate, the straight-shooting shirtdress can be a blank canvas for your many moods. Simply swapping jewelry, shoes and purses and then adding or subtracting a belt can create entirely different looks.

Feeling cool and casual this summer? Slip on your sneakers and let it flow in the breeze. Need something sleek and sophisticated? Add a belt and wedge sandals or kitten-heel mules. Heading out on a date night? Go for strappy heels and a spritz of perfume, then unfasten more buttons on top and at the bottom.

A foundational piece for so many different looks makes the shirtdress a vacation-friendly style, especially if you’re packing a single carry-on. It adapts well to multiple climates — and by extension seasons. Remember those long sleeves? They roll up when you’re outside and active during the day, then roll down when you’re blasted by air conditioning indoors or at night when temperatures cool off in the desert or mountains.

For more extreme temperature shifts, you can layer a sweater or jacket over it or a turtleneck under it. Adding straight jeans or yoga pants under your shirtdress and unfastening more buttons from the hemline can create both warmth and drama.

Size Wise

Shirtdresses can flatter a variety of shapes and sizes as the following examples illustrate. After you read my ode to this versatile style please share your own great finds and tips in the comments section below.

Petite: As the mother of two petite daughters, I’ve had a front-row seat to the struggles they’ve faced as fashionable adults looking for options that fit their shorter frames. That’s why I was happy to see the extensive offerings for petite women at both Loft and Gap, including shirtdresses suitable for women twice to thrice their ages.

Vertical stripes draw the eye upward for the petite woman, creating the illusion of height in a black-and-white maxi ($70) or a rich, indigo blue-and-white mini ($39). Both retailers deliver a casual chambray option in a midi length with either long ($55) or short ($42) sleeves.

Plus: Ditch the dainty and pick dramatic prints for plus-sized shirtdresses. Graphic patterns in black and white ($58) or black and ecru linen ($68), exotic batiks in blue or olive ($70) and an abstract floral in mocha and white ($148) deliver eye-catching interest.

For something subtler, vertical stripes create a slimming effect in pink and white poplin ($95) or blue and white linen ($70). Top-rated plus styles in solid linen include a relaxed midi ($60-$70) in seven shades and a knee-grazing option ($75-$90) in five hues.

Tall: While a few retailers like Gap ($40) and J. Crew ($90) offer tall versions of select shirtdresses, some sleuthing turns up even more choices. Happily, shirtdresses that earn the ire of more compact customers can be ideal for tall shoppers. Too long? Too overwhelming? That’s music to those inching toward six feet, who also can take comfort in the range of lengths from mini to maxi that make it easier to find something suitable.

Consider a mid-calf number in a dramatic green botanical print ($80), or a graphic black and white pattern ($58). On the solid side, you can find a maxi-length European linen style in sand, golden brown or black ($60). For a night on the town, add accessories and hit the party in this maxi Chessie dress in fire red or black cotton ($168).

Classic: Most of the previously mentioned shirtdresses come in standard sizes too. And, adding to the above menu are even more styles to choose from. Summery linen goes to all lengths — in solid shades and pinstripes ($50) that bare the knee and long, lean silhouettes that graze the calf ($68).

For those in the cotton club, there’s a crinkled gauze midi ($90), a striped poplin ($50) and an organic cotton mini ($40). Not feeling that daring? Me neither, which is why I lean on this pro tip: Order a tall so it hits at your knee. If sleeves are too long, simply fold them back to mimic French cuffs.

With these tips, you’re all set to find a flattering shirtdress that suits your spirit and shape. As you can see, there are plenty of choices this summer, no matter your budget or size.

 Do any of you own a shirtdress? Let us know in the comments below.

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