Dresses and skirts are great alternatives to jeans and shorts (and athleisure wear) for in relaxed environments, yet so many women worry that they will be overdressed if they choose to wear these as dresses and skirts are often associated more with more formal attire.
What to Look for When Choosing Dresses and Skirts for Relaxed and Casual Environments
In this podcast episode, Jill Chivers of 16 Style Types and I discuss what to look for when choosing dresses and skirts so they don’t look so formal and fit well into a more relaxed environment and lifestyle.
How do you get the balance right when wearing a skirt or dress whilst still feeling and looking more relaxed and casual?
Skirts and dresses are much easier to fit for many women’s bodies as they don’t require the same level of tailoring and fit points (rise, waist, hips, bottom etc.) of the pant. So if you find that pants that fit are hard to find – consider wearings skirts and dresses instead!
They also add a more feminine feel to your outfit which may be something you enjoy, and in summer, dresses can be cooler than a top and a bottom as the weight of the garment falls from the shoulders, rather than having to be held up at the waist.
1. Style Selection
Choosing a style of skirt or dress that isn’t what you’d expect to see in a corporate boardroom or office is your first step in making your outfit less formal.
Not sure what style of skirt flatters your figure? Find out here.
A flared skirt is always more casual in feel than a straight skirt. So if this style suits you (8s, Xs, As, Vs) then it’s an easy way to go.
Maxis are another skirt or dress style that is more casual. They can be quite practical when you have young children and need to get up and down off the floor as you don’t have to fear flashing anyone. They can be made from knits or light cottons or chiffons which have movement and also allow you to move freely too. Find the right maxi for your shape here.
Why not find a skirt with some unusual construction so that it doesn’t read “formal suit skirt”.
If your skirt style needs to be straighter (8s, Hs, Os) then read on to get my tips on how to make them less dressy too.
2. Fabric Selection
When choosing a more casual skirt or dress, consider the fabric first. A woven fabric (such as you’d find in a traditional suit) is always more formal. Instead, opt for less structured fabrics such as cotton or knits.
Stretch fabrics add a casual element to any garment as they come from sportswear and underclothing. Knits are great in dresses (all the Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses are made from a jersey knit).
Even if your body shape requires a straighter shape (8s, Hs, Os) which can be seen as a more formal style as it is reminiscent of the classic skirt suit, when you choose a fabric that is less formal such as a knit, it will always lower the level of refinement down a notch.
I have a few in scuba knits, that I’ve made myself (as I’ve not found anything I like in stores). This is a two-way stretch knit in a thickish fabric, so ideal for a straight skirt – and they just pull on and off (no need for me to put a zip in – now that’s my kind of sewing!).
Why not consider other athletic-inspired fabrics such as marle fabrics (it’s traditionally seen in grey tracksuit pants and sportswear tees). As marle is strongly associated with sportswear, this fabric will make the item more casual and relaxed in its feel.
The other option is cotton, the whole boho trend which is very relaxed and casual, is based around dresses and skirts made from light, soft cottons.
3. Colour Choices
What colours are you more likely to find in dressier dresses and skirts? Well, it’s most likely in a dark colour or neutral.
To make your dresses and skirts feel more casual and relaxed, wear colour rather than neutrals (particularly the grey/navy/black of the corporate uniform).
Colour always makes an outfit less formal. Add some colour and fun with your skirts and dresses.
4. Prints and Patterns
Prints and patterns also help to make a garment more casual. There are lots of tips on choosing patterns here (so you can find a flattering one), and choosing a skirt in a print or pattern in multiple colours allows you lots of scope for wearing different coloured tops and wearing a higher colour contrast than you would otherwise do as it moves the bulk of the colours away from your face (I’ve written a whole post on this topic here).
Choose to wear coloured patterns in straight skirts to reduce their level of refinement again (knit fabric + multicoloured pattern = more relaxed skirt).
5. Accessory Choices
Then what do you wear with your skirt? Diamonds and pearls or wooden beads and chunky silver? Remember that all your accessories, from shoes to jewellery can dress your outfit up or down, depending on your selection.
6. What you wear it with
And then how do you layer other pieces with your skirts and dresses?
You’d not a blazer or formal jacket with a relaxed dress or skirt, but instead, opt for a jeans jacket or a knit cardigan or shrug. Avoid the button up white cotton shirt and find a comfy knit top instead.
So there you have it. Your guide for what to look for when building a casual skirt and dress wardrobe that works for your more casual lifestyle.