I recently had a vivid dream that led me to go hunting for summer dresses. It was in the heat of July, and I was striding across Millennium Park in downtown Chicago, past The Bean. I was wearing the most stunning bright-burnt orange maxi summer dress. I wanna say it was a cotton blend summer dress, tiered at the bottom, and perhaps had some crochet detailing near the neckline and/or sleeves.

I told you, it was a vivid dream.

When did I grow up to be like my mother? When did I start loving dresses?

This is a VERY recent phenomenon. I went through a flowy skirt love affair in college, but this is a whole new feeling. Now I want dresses for more than just formal occasions. I want a dress to take me to an elegant luncheon with friends, to the grocery store, and beyond!

Summer Dresses

But where’s a full figured (but getting fitter) bella on a budget supposed to find the summer dresses of her dreams?

I hit up the usual online plus-size suspects, and some new selections — for a roundup of maxi dresses.

Jessica London’s one of my new discoveries and I love their take on Michelle Obama style. Sleeveless shift dresses FTW! And ooh, this shirtdress is classic Seventies safari-chic. I could work that.

But I took one glance at this olive colored earth-diva bubble hem cotton jersey dress you see above, and I can’t believe I don’t already own it. It’s currently $59 – $64, so this bella on a budget will be waiting for the price to come down a tad more. Or for the knockoff to start appearing at my favorite discount stores, heyo!

Avenue is all over the maxi dress madness, but booooooo — all of their offerings are in the kind of overkill patterns that plus-size clothing emporiums seem to just love. Show me a maxi dress in an understated, classic pattern, or just a selection in bright, eye-catching, timeless colors and I’ll be a happy gal. Until then, I’ll be moving on.

Summer Dresses

I think this purple floral sleeveless chiffon dress from ye olde Lane Bryant is pretty for a tea party or bridal shower, but it’s not the summer dress of my dreams.

Courtesy of one of my fave blogs, the Fatshionista, I discovered SWAK Designs, which looks promising. Their dress selection didn’t yield what I was seeking, though the Desi dress is tres chic and on sale!

Once again I gotta give it up to the design gurus behind Old Navy’s women’s plus line — quite the selection of chic colorful day dresses. The dress in my dream was like a magical hybrid of the crochet trim maxi dress, which unfortunately only comes in black, and the soft jersey knit tiered maxi dress in bright coral.

Summer Dresses

$36.50. Too cute. I’m borderline ready to buy.

But I’ll admit, I’m a bit hesitant. I’ve had fit issues with plus size dresses bought online before. I’ve got more than one dress I’ve bought online, wore once and never again because of questionable fit. Why do I buy online? It’s definitely my preference to try my clothes on — sometimes repeatedly, to make sure I really really love it. But I have to shop online, because for some reason, most plus size clothing is offered online. Even though the average American woman is between a size 12 and 14, the selection for women these sizes and beyond in stores, still tends to be limited to unflattering, anti-trendy styles.

I wonder how many curvy girls have wound up stuck with ill fitting, wrong-sized stuff because a physical store doesn’t exist, or isn’t anywhere near where they live? Or settled for an outfit that just fits, but isn’t the outfit of their dreams?

Recently I chatted at length with Claudette Grant, designer of CGsCouture Designs, a Fort Lauderdale-area designer and professional patternmaker who specializes in full figured fashion. She admitted that she gets quite a bit of business from women who need to have their retail-bought, badly fitting garments altered to fit correctly. “If it isn’t the shoulder’s too long, the bust doesn’t fit right, or something else.” This has been my frequent experience. Claudette encourages curvy girls to seek out their local tailors and designers, and consider the benefits of working with them on the garment of your dreams, instead of settling for less at a retail store. “I mean, that’s a $36 dress. You can buy a $36 dress, or you can work with a designer who’s going to measure you perfectly and construct the outfit that’s perfect for you, made to your specifications.”

That makes sense to me.

If you’re in South Florida and are in need of full figured fashion, contact Claudette. I’m planning to meet with her soon, myself. And I know finding cute plus size clothes will be easy for my NYC bellas — I wish I could be in New York City in late April to attend Curves and Cocktails, a fabulous shopping event hosted by Belle Noir Mag. There’s bound to be no shortage of full figured fashion inspiration there.

What styles are you looking for in your summer dresses, bellas? Where are you shopping for your summer dresses these days?



nyc/caribbean ragazza says:
March 2, 2009, 1:23 pm
This ragazza is not spending a penny until I sell a script BUT I can window shop. I fell in love with dresses recently as well. Living overseas folks here do dress up more than they do in L.A. where I lived for 10 years. I had to rethink my sloppy/flip flop wardrobe. A well fitted dress is perfect for everyday and comfortable. I would love to buy a green dress, a few wrap dresses and a shirt dress.
Stacey says:
March 2, 2009, 3:15 pm
I was just thinking the same thing. I was home thinking about what I wanted to wear this summer - to work and just out and about - and I thought DRESSES, DRESSES, DRESSES!! And I was always a tomboy when I was younger. My mother had to force me into dresses. And know I just love them! They're so feminine and flirty.
Niki says:
March 2, 2009, 3:16 pm
I love when the winter stuff hits the clearance racks and all the nice "resort" and spring wear displays are put out. It could be freezing outside, but my spirits will instantly be buyoed by the sight of sexy swimsuit cover-ups, strappy gladiator sandals, and all those clothes in fruit and candy-colored hues! Having a bit of a tummy, I have always been afraid to wear the whole "cinched waist" belt look. I am glad that that look is starting to go by the wayside. I may try the corsety type tops and some of the floral print dresses I am seeing in the stores. It loks like this spring and summer is shaping up to be a mix of ultra-femme and rockstar chic.
March 2, 2009, 3:29 pm
I love dresses! Maybe for the wrong reason tho' I noticed a while ago that if I gain 10 lbs my pants show it but a dress not so much. Jesica London ALWAYS has a sale if you sign up for thier e-mail notifications and you can google for a discount code. Happy Shopping
Alyssa says:
March 2, 2009, 3:52 pm
hey, love your blog! couldn't agree more about dresses. i've been going through a dress phase lately, too. can't explain it...maybe it's the comfort & ease factor? thanks for the tips!
yaya526 says:
March 2, 2009, 4:20 pm
Torrid ( www.torrid.com) has a few cute dresses right now. There's even one that sounds similar to the one bella describes in the beginning of this blog entry. I ordered it yesterday. B&LU.com has some cuteness as well....
Chanel says:
March 2, 2009, 5:11 pm
bella, you're killing me! We just got inches and inches of snow here in DC. I am no where near being able to wear any of these gorgeous ideas you speak of :(
gina says:
March 2, 2009, 5:29 pm
I ordered a black old navy dress, and another maxi dress from nordstrom -- even though it's so cold in my office my fingertips are purple! Funny how you can't find maxi dresses in summertime, though. And why do companies insist on making them out of polyester?!
bella says:
March 2, 2009, 5:32 pm
Chanel, my sincerest apologies -- I started this post a week ago and didn't anticipate that today would be the worst weather ever. =( My bad. I'll try to find a weather-appropriate post for my bellas up north dealing with this awful cold!
MrsRony says:
March 2, 2009, 7:50 pm
You HAVE to go on Ebay!! There are several little mfgs/boutiques from all over the world and you will never beat the price!!!! Just search for Maxi dress in your size and volia!
sandra says:
March 2, 2009, 10:24 pm
I love dresses but don't wear them because the arms don't look that great and I have bad feet and can't find shoes that look good with dresses. If the shoes are jacked the whole look becomes a tragedy ;-(
BSQUARED86 says:
March 2, 2009, 10:36 pm
I'm a dress lover myself but plus size clothing can seriously DRAIN the pockets. I lucked up on two dresses for cheap when hit Torrid during one of there BOGO Free Clearance events, but those are rare. I'm definitely going to check out the retailers you mentioned!
bklynlily says:
March 2, 2009, 11:14 pm
I agree, I love maxi dresses, but being almost six feet tall and a size 18/20 makes it difficult. There's a store called lee lees valise in Brooklyn, NYC that had maxi dresses last year. I hate those loud prints on some of the dresses, I'll have to pay a seamstress to make mine!
tb says:
March 3, 2009, 9:19 am
Bella, check out monifc.com...i just received an email from her and the spring line has a convertible dress from her in Orange.....
saabsista says:
March 3, 2009, 12:20 pm
I have always been a fan of dresses for the reasons bklnlily describes. I am also six feet tall. Ever try to find a pair of quality pants when you have a 35 inch inseam? It ain't easy. I have found a number of dresses at Talbots. Yes, priceyn(I stalk the sales on the website), but the dresses are worth the trouble. High quality. Not the stuff that so often plagues plus size fashion. Why so often are plus size clothes so cheap looking and poorly made. Bella you are moving to Chi from Miami. Visited this past weekend and the clothing options are awesome! Not like here in South Florida.
Ericka says:
March 3, 2009, 12:21 pm
I was the biggest tomboy as a kid; I could get a dress messed up so I could put my overalls back on in a hot minute, much to my mom's chagrin. Now however, I love dresses. They are so easy, no need to find separates and match them, just toss on a cardigan and go. They are also very comfy (love the breeze under a dress on a hot summer day). I am also on the lookout for maxi dresses too, as I'll be working in Africa this summer and they will be perfect with the top cocvered up.
topseekrit says:
March 3, 2009, 4:18 pm
Any site/store suggestions for capped sleeves, or short sleeve dresses that are just as cute? I love dresses because it's a whole outfit in one swoop, and generally if it fits your top area, no need to worry about it fitting over hips cause it just floats right over :)
keke says:
March 3, 2009, 4:44 pm
I can agree with the comments about the poor quality/style that some plus sized stores have (I'm talking to you Ashley Stewart)!! I get so fed up at times that I just walk out. The options can be limited but here in Chicago, I found a great boutique that caters to plus sized women. Its called Vive La Femme and the owner is Stephanie. The moment you walk into the store she greets you, gives you a once over and gets to work picking out items that will fit your body type. She was born to run a boutique and it is a fun shopping experience! She doesn't do online retail, and it can be a bit pricey but the quality is great, the clothes are gorgeous and she does have a great sales rack....so when in Chicago, check it out!
LBell says:
March 3, 2009, 8:23 pm
Last year I couldn't wear skirts because of an issue with my lymph nodes that made one leg larger than the other. Thank GOD that's been resolved because I WILL be wearing more dresses and skirts this spring! Thanks for this post and the links.
sandra says:
March 3, 2009, 9:36 pm
i had the same thing happen to me. i was waiting on a food order and decided to just stroll through Marshalls. I have never been a dress girl but i ended up trying on 18, yes 18 dresses, and because it is a recession i narrowed it down to 5. the best part was that they were each 19.99 and look fab on me. im just waiting for this dc winter to pass and for spring so i can wear them. BTW im a size 14 with 40DDD so its not easy to find dresses that arent a wallet drain but marshall's and ross's can be really great its just about being willing to go through ENTIRE racks.
elle says:
March 3, 2009, 11:22 pm
Oh, Bella! I'd never heard of SWAK. I could kiss you for that link!
Dawn says:
March 5, 2009, 9:56 am
I know for a fact that I will def. be in some cute colored dresses this summer as well! I love those dresses you picked from Old Navy. They are now bookmarked for future reference. Thanks!
mama's got moxie says:
March 5, 2009, 2:46 pm
i am so feeling you on the dress thing. i too have been going through this crazy dress phase!! i've never been big on dresses, but all of a sudden it's all i've been interested in. i think i've been inspired by my little sister who always seems to have a cute dress on whenever she hangs out with her girls. it's just so interesting to see because me and my friends never did that. we went to the clubs in jeans, never dresses!
MochaSiren says:
March 9, 2009, 4:35 pm
Hey Bella, Glad you found Jessica London online. I had actually mentioned it to you in reference to your 01/28/2009 post when you were searching for nice winter coat. They really do have some fabulous stuff!
C says:
March 10, 2009, 11:24 am
Old Navy is definitely annoying having to return back to the online store BUT they're pretty good about turning it around quick. If I'm unsure, I usually buy two and return the one I don't need.
Keisha says:
March 12, 2009, 11:24 am
I am soooo with you on Plus sized stores and their obsession with whacky patterns. Especially Avenue. Also, why does plus sized swimwear always end up being black and brown, or something with a hideous floral pattern?!?!? Just because I've got more to love, MUST I look like a walking botanical garden?!?!?
Loopty_Lou says:
March 15, 2009, 3:40 am
On the subject of Old Navy: can we organize a campaign to get plus size back in the stores?!?! I think it's a disgrace that it's been taken out of the stores, like it's something that should only be kept online! I like to try on my clothes before buying, and I also sometimes need to buy something that day, not wait for 3-5 business days! Anyone else with me?? Let's all write and complain-- we deserve good fashion options, too!
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