With summer is in full swing, learning how to style a shirt dress should be high up on your agenda. A wardrobe essential that can be worn day-to-night, beach-to-bar. It’s the perfect item to reach for on “I don’t know what to wear” days.
The earliest shirt dresses date back to the Victorian era when they were then known as shirtwaist dresses (shorthand for what we now know as a blouse) but it was Christian Dior who made shirt dresses iconic when, in 1947, he brought a ‘new look’ to womenswear - a more feminine version of a man’s shirt (standard collar, button front, sleeves) and by the 1950s, the shirt dress was a fashion staple across the world. 70 years on and the style is as popular as ever, with the likes of Meghan Markle just one of several stars nailing how to style a shirt dress on multiple occasions.
Shirt dresses are the perfect addition to your capsule wardrobe and straight-to-market stores such as Cos, Zara and Mango bring out variations in different fabrics and patterns every season, so you’ll always find a style that suits you. Whether you’re creating an outfit for the office, lunch with friends or sightseeing; you’ll find a shirt dress in an array of colors and patterns to meet your brief. While the trappings of the best shirt dresses might change with seasonal trends, the fundamentals of the design remain the same, making it one of the best dresses to invest in.
How to style a shirt dress
Celebrity stylist Gemma Sheppard takes you through how to style a shirt dress this season. From weekend casual to smart work attire and everything in between, whatever your size or height we've got a shirt dress for you.
1. How to style a shirt dress for work
When it comes to summer outfits for work a shirt dress should be top of your list. The shirt design gives your look added polish, thanks to the tailoring aspect, while the dress silhouette adds a more feminine feel to your overall look. Opt for linen and cotton iterations as they're two of the best fabrics to invest in when deciding what to wear in the heat.
A sturdy investment piece, while shirt dresses are ideal for the spring and summer season, they'll work in cooler months too. On chillier days layer a cardigan or your best blazer over the top of your shirt dress, or wear a slim fit, fine knit or roll-neck under your dress for a cozy but smart finish.
RRP: $68.99 / £39.50 | This polka dot midi shirt dress from M&S is stylish, chic and professional. Whilst it comes with a self-fabric belt, swapping the belt to a leather iteration will instantly elevate the look - you could also try one of the best designer belts.
RRP: $19.99 / £14.99 | Swapping out fabric belts for more striking designs helps to up-style any outfit, making your chosen dress look more expensive. Adding different belts can help alter the feel and mood of the dress rendering it smarter or more casual.
RRP: $25 / £17.50 | This fitted cardigan comes in a rainbow of colors and while black is the most timeless, you can add personality to your shirt dress by styling it with a bolder and bright iteration (depending on your office policy). This look can be worn all year.
2. How to style a denim shirt dress
Denim aficionados will know that the denim trends 2022 hailed the return of the denim dress and the shirt dress was at the forefront of the look. As effortless as your best jeans, denim shirt dresses manage to combine cool and casual with just a hint of androgynous styling for an outfit that will always look directional. While darker denim iterations will add polish to your look, light wash and light weight designs will err on the side of more casual.
RRP: $79.99 / £49.99 | The soft chambray denim of this shirt dress is incredibly versatile. I’d wear it unbuttoned at the top with a vest underneath, teamed with trainers or summer-ready sandals. For extra wear it would look fabulous as one of the best beach cover-ups - left undone and tied at the waist over your best swimsuit.
RRP: $69 / £37 | Cage sandals were a hit on the runway and formed the basis for one of the big shoe trends 2022. This pair will go with everything and thanks to their multiple straps, they'll offer great everyday support too. Ideal for pairing with denim, thanks to their neutral hue, consider your summer comfortable flats sorted.
RRP: $84.45 / £60 | One of the biggest sunglasses trends 2022, the cat-eye silhouette is one to buy now and wear forever. Flattering on all face shapes, the cat-eye frame adds a retro finish to any look. A statement style that won't cost as much as the best designer sunglasses - they will still look like they've stepped off the runway.
3. How to style a shirt dress for weekend casual
Thanks to its more tailored design, learning how to style a shirt dress for the weekend is something of an artform, the key, however, is all in the accessories. Lean into a more relaxed look by opting for a shirt dress that's slightly looser - mimicking a man's shirt. To draw attention back to your silhouette, add a slim tie belt, that feels more nonchalant than a buckled design. Opt for classic accessories such as a pair of trainers or a summery pair of espadrilles to get you weekend ready.
RRP: $69.90 / £49.99 | Pair this belted, linen-blend beauty with a basket bag and Castañer wedge sandals - a perfect Sunday brunch outfit idea. The sleeve length is ideal if you’re conscious of your upper arms but want to avoid long sleeves in summer.
RRP: $135 / £85 | The summer shoe that will become a firm favorite. From what to wear on a cruise to weekend activities with friends, the espadrille is a timeless piece that will give any look a smart and summery finish. We love the fresh ivory hue.
4. How to style a shirt dress for an occasion
Still searching for what to wear to a wedding this summer? Shirt dresses make for some of the best wedding guest dresses as they pair together tailoring and femininity for a flattering finish. To learn how to style a shirt dress for an occasion, look for luxe fabrications and great prints that will elevate the style from everyday wear to party-ready attire. Investigate how to wear a hat with your shirt dress if your event this season requires one.
RRP: $885 / £735 | If you are looking for something to wear to an occasion, take a look at this beautiful design from Australian clothing brand, Zimmermann. The billowing sleeves and skirt are flattering for all body shapes (particularly apple and pear shaped bodies), while the pattern screams English country garden.
RRP: $256 / £250 | This Themoirè pastel pink bag with ruched detailing taps into the handbag trends 2022. The sugary hue pairs brilliantly with the Zimmermann dress highlighting the pinky floral print. This cute clutch with additional shoulder strap can be dressed down after an occasion with your best jeans.
RRP: $115 / £90 | Add an edge to your look with chunky gold jewelry. One of the big jewelry trends 2022, weightier pieces offer a more masculine finish to pretty floral outfits, adding a balance to the sweetness of your look. This hook-lock bracelet delivers a sports luxe finish, for a real point of difference.
5. How to style a shirt dress with trousers
Another way to wear your shirt dress is over loose-fitting trousers. An ideal look to pack for a summer vacation, this chic pairing is a winning holiday outfit idea as it adds versatility to your existing wardrobe and helps to create a capsule edit when traveling abroad.
To style a shirt dress with trousers, layer your shirt dress over a vest top or camsiole and wear the dress completely unbuttoned (like you would a kaftan). Tuck a slouchy bag under your arm and add a kitten mule for an effortless day to evening look.
You can also forgo the vest top and wear your shirt dress buttoned to the waist, before leaving it undone and worn over a pair of wide-leg or palazzo shaped trousers. This style works particularly well with linen and cotton designs and the shirt dresses should be relatively straight in cut and ideally midi, midaxi or maxi length.
RRP: $135 / £79 | This Scandinavian clothing brand make some of the best basics and this shirt dress is one to add to your wardrobe stat. The longer line makes it ideal for pairing with trousers, or wear as a dress, and enjoy the relaxed fit.
RRP: $295 / £245 | In buttery soft nappa leather, this gathered top mini pouch is the neutral hued bag that can take you from weekend stroll to wedding-ready in a jiffy. In a camel hue, this bag can be worn on the shoulder, across the body or as a clutch.
RRP: $89 / £75 | Going all white is a great look for a vacation outfit and these wide-leg trousers are just right for pairing with a long line linen shirt. The high-waisted design will help to highlight your curves, skimming a midriff for a flattering finish.
6. How to style a shirt dress as a beach cover up
One of my favorite ways to style a shirt dress is as a beach cover-up! Smart enough that you won’t feel out of place if you go for lunch or a post-beach cocktail, a button through shirt dress done up fully or partially is a great option for chic poolside style. Look for less tailored silhouettes, or oversized designs so that it feels relaxed and effortlessly thrown together.
RRP: $35 / £30 | This cool, nautical, stripe shirt dress will have you feeling ship-shape in no time. The striking blue and white design is ideal for warm weather, while the vertical stripe will help to elongate your silhouette. We love the oversized cut.
RRP: $360 / £199 | In keeping with the nautical theme, these knot fronted sliders will seriously up your sandal game this summer. With a thick front band, you can guarantee good grip for long sunny days. All you need now is to sort that pedicure.
RRP: $175 / £125 | Add a touch of glamour to your beach-ready attire with chunky gold jewelry. These hoops are ideal for reflecting the sunshine as you top up that tan. They can easily be styled out for evening alfresco dinners post-pool too.
7. How to style a maxi shirt dress
Maxi lengths conjure up instant glamour, with big silhouettes the name of the game when it comes to this style. Taking its lead from the Fall 2022 fashion trends - full skirts are back and this shape is balanced almost entirely by an emphasise on the waist. Make sure your maxi shirt dress features a dramatic A-line and high- waist cinching belt to nail the look. Remember, to add polish to your outfit, swap self-fabric belt designs for wide, wrap obi iterations, or statement buckle belts to really highlight your curves.
RRP: $325 / £290 | Think how fabulous this stunning dress from Staud will look during the summer with a slight tan, a scarf tied lightly at the neck and a pair of gladiator sandals . In hot pink this dress features one of the major fashion color trends 2022. Ticking the sustainability box, it is made from recycled taffeta.
RRP: £190 (UK only) | Wondering how to wear a scarf? One of the most under-utilized accessories, scarves are great for adding texture and color to an outfit. In this instance, the black graffiti print will contrast with the bold pink for a statement finish. A great way of adding detail and an easy switch out for jewelry.
RRP: $51.99 / £29.50 | The gladiator sandal made a welcomed return to the runway for the summer, so if you have a pair lurking at the back of your closet, it's time to dig them out. This all black pair will go with pretty much anything and are ideal for both smart and casual outfits. We love the additional toe post.
8. How to style a plus size shirt dress
When it comes to the best plus size dresses, a shirt dress is a great cut for a fuller figure. While you can go for oversized fits, these can have a tendency to add bulk to your frame, where as A-line and fit and flare variations are some of the most stylish dresses to hide a tummy, as they contour your frame, nip in at the waist, before flaring out over a midriff.
As a shirt dress will have a button front, make sure to really consider fit, as the last thing you'll want is buttons that gap and leave you tugging at your clothes. A smart and tailored design, look to the best plus size clothing brands that will accommodate larger bodies.
RRP: £36 (UK only) | A white shirt dress is so chic and this pretty and summery Broderie Anglaise design is ideal for evoking the sunny weather. In a pure white hue, it will also make an excellent choice for a what to wear for a bridal shower.
RRP: $34 / £23 | Add a pop of color with this fun crossbody bag. Tapping into the latest trends with a quilted finish, we love the added brightness through the cleverly placed rainbow stitching making this budget friendly piece a real winner for us.
9. How to style a shirt dress for petites
If you’re petite, to ensure a shirt dress doesn’t swamp you, choose a shorter length that can be cinched at the waist. Petite ranges are designed for women who are 5”3’ and smaller so the cut will be shorter on the torso and arm length - giving you a better overall fit. For the best petite dresses, it is always worth looking at department stores or online sites that stock petite specific categories.
Keep your accessories smaller too. Instead of a huge handbag, which will look will out of proportion, an on-trend mini bag will fit the essentials without overpowering your look. When choosing footwear, a flatform will give you extra height whilst ensuring maximum comfort.
RRP: $265 / £219 | This cute shirt dress is cut with stature in mind. Made for petites, the shorter hem length and fuller skirt will help add curves to your frame, while the wide sleeve will keep you cool all summer.
RRP: $39.90 / £25.99 | Designers went wild for micro bags on the runway, shrinking classic tote designs to their new minimalistic aesthetic. This classic canvas design with tan trim will go with everything.
Gemma Sheppard's must-haves
RRP: £17.50 (UK only) | Giving a delicious and effective natural summer glow whilst nourishing the skin at the same time. I also put it on straight after the shower and then add minimal foundation for the perfect sun kissed look.
RRP: $69 / £60 | Elevate your favorite sunglasses with these must-have, glasses chains. Adding instant luxe to your look, they'll set your eyewear apart and of course, practically, you won't lose your sunnies.
Gemma Sheppard is an international fashion stylist with a successful consultancy business working with luxury and high street fashion brands. Resident stylist on Channel 5’s award-winning makeover show 10 Years Younger in 10 Days, Gemma is a TV regular and frequently dominates the news headlines.
Gemma’s ability to defy trends and shatter expectations means her extensive roster of clients stay at the forefront of style conversation. Whether a platinum-selling pop star, a talent show judge or award-winning, prime-time TV presenter, Gemma’s fashion-forward styling gets her clients noticed for the right reasons.
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