Why I Bought this Essentiel Antwerp Dress

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The year 2020 broke my addiction to heels to make me look taller and Spanx to make me look thinner. I no longer wanted to sacrifice my comfort for my appearance. I no longer wanted to feel trapped in my clothing. But I didn’t want to lose my personal style for these freedoms.

A lot of clothing that is seen as stylish yet comfortable for women is crafted in dark and neutral solid colors, occasionally embellished with a bit of embroidery or beading. That’s fine if it fits your aesthetic, but it doesn’t fit mine.

So, when I see something that fits my aesthetic and my body, I get excited. Sometimes, it’s a score at a price I am comfortable with. However, the older I have gotten, the more often that piece is more expensive than most of the other items in my closet.

essentiel antwerp dress
I love this dress but it makes me a bit ragey too.

Is it because I am GenX that the idea of $209 for essentially a viscose caftan makes me angry? I mean come on, it’s viscose, this price is ridiculous, they sell viscose at Old Navy, at Shein, at Forever 21 for an eighth of this price. I won't shop at those places, but does that mean $200 is an acceptable price for such a basic garment?

I’m smart, I am creative, I figure things out. I could totally make this dress. I own a sewing machine, it’s not a fabric that requires a serger, the only two buttons are on the cuffs and I could switch out proper cuffs for an elasticized one. I bet I could even find this fabric, or something similar to it.

I have played this dance for YEARS. I love X, but I can’t justify the price, so I buy Y. But Y isn’t quite right, so I buy Z which isn’t quite right either but now I have spent as much as X and have two pieces that I don’t love. Which means I spend even more on another item trying to catch the thrill of X which is now out of stock in my size, or I stop and feel frustrated by my closet.

essentiel antwerp dress wardrobe oxygen

This is why I bought this dress from Essentiel Antwerp, a brand I never heard of before I scrolled past this jaw-dropping print on a page at Nordstrom.

For last week’s Friday Shop, I was considering making a collage of boldly printed pieces I’ve gravitated towards this summer. I ran out of time, but when seeking out size-inclusive offerings I found this dress. However, this dress was only available in size Medium so I couldn’t add it to a collage. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the print and all the ways I could style the dress.

essentiel antwerp viscose review
A closeup of the fabric of this Essentiel Antwerp dress. A crepe-finished viscose.

Come on Alison, this dress is ridiculous. Hand wash and line dry? Viscose? It’s going to look like a tent on you. You will look shorter, and rounder. It’s going to hit your boobs and go straight down. You’ll look like one of those wrapped traffic boxes.

I had to tell myself to eff that noise I was making. To stop having those “rules” about fashion get in the way of who I am and want to be. Stop all the judgment that is blocking my path.

I looked at the photos and thought… a Medium may work. I am a size 14 with a large bust; I am usually an XL. This dress stated that a Medium was a size 6; a size I haven’t worn since I was a teen. But with the full sleeves and tent-like shape I was curious to see if it may be a different silhouette, but possibly a great one. And well, Nordstrom makes it easy to return if it’s a fail.

Alison of Wardrobe Oxygen in an Essentiel Antwerp dress cinched with a universal Standard belt bag

I wore it just yesterday with this belt bag I got years ago from Universal Standard, my white Tevas, and my North Face cap because my hair was on second day and I was heading home to ride my Peloton and didn’t feel like doing hair to have it destroyed in a few hours. I caught my reflection in the mirror before I left and thought… this is the kind of clothes I enjoy wearing. Practical, comfortable, but not at all boring.

Shop Black Leather (and leather-look) Belt Bags:


Essentiel Antwerp dress on Wardrobe Oxygen styled with a black elather belt bag and black North Face trucker cap

I've worn this dress to run errands with my white leather Birkenstocks and my big silver Jenny Bird hoops. No makeup, my everyday hair, and a black and white print face mask. Three women, all different ages and shapes and styles stopped me to not just compliment but ask where I got the dress.  

Alison of Wardrobe Oxygen wearing an Essentiel Antwerp dress as a swim coverup

This weekend, I wore this Essentiel Antwerp dress as a beach coverup. Hand wash and line dry be damned, I am going to treat it like my other viscose pieces and wash on gentle, hang on a hanger or over the curtain bar in the bathroom to air dry, and steam it before I wear it (or a few minutes in the dryer).

I’ve been playing with the sleeves. They can push up a bit, but on my solid arms not enough to make it look like the model on the website. I tried rolling up and it’s messy because the sleeves have a heck of a lot of volume. I rolled under, which worked and looked better. But honestly, with such a breezy silhouette, having the sleeves buttoned on a hot day wasn’t any hotter than rolling them above my elbows. Come fall I may have a tailor shorten the sleeves so they aren't quite as… much on my petite self.

Alison in a blue and black and white graphic print sleeved caftan dress from Essentiel Antwerp

I’ll feature this dress again for I have played with it and made some great looks with belting and even some strategic wearable pinning. I haven’t yet tried, but I can see a lot of ways to make this work into fall and winter. Nordstrom has a small selection of Essentiel Antwerp, as do FARFETCH and YOOX. The Essentiel Antwerp site has the biggest selection (including several other dresses with full silhouettes), but they do not ship to the US.

As for the beach bag, it was swag from when I was an ambassador for a skincare company. Each quarter, the brand would send me a supply of their product and my assignment (a photo on Instagram featuring a certain hero product or theme). I wasn’t paid money, but each delivery came with the best swag. One of their summer products came in this bag from Roller Rabbit.

Black and blue and white print Essentiel Antwerp dress on Wardrobe Oxygen

This is not a bag I’d normally buy. Cotton absorbs moisture, the print is a bit more twee than my usual style, and yet again, this Gen X-er is freaking out over the price for something I could likely make myself (though never would). But dang if I don’t love this bag!

It fits just right over my shoulder, I can also carry it in my hand with my elbow relaxed and it won’t drag on the ground. As a 5’3” person this is not common. Also, I can fit in it two thick beach towels and all kinds of other pool/ocean essentials and It doesn’t weigh a ton. It’s lined with an interior zipper pocket and two ties so you can cinch the top.

Roller Rabbit beach bag on Wardrobe Oxygen

I’ve thrown it in the washer and dryer a handful of times over the years and while the lining isn’t all flat against the exterior anymore, it still looks good and works well, whether carrying a few things or completely stuffed.

Roller Rabbit also has this same exact bag in a pink/red colorway and a darker blue colorway. I am super into this embroidered version of the same bag. When researching the brand Roller Rabbit for this post, especially since I think it used to be called Roberta Roller Rabbit, I found this 2010 New York Times article about Roberta Freymann, the woman behind this brand, and much more.

The hat is Banana Republic, I think this is my third summer wearing it. This hat from Banana is similar (might be exactly the same) but is only available in black. The shoes are Teva. The sunglasses are ROKA.

Shop the Look:


A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Oh wow. I have to admit, I put off even reading this post because of the photo with it – I just don’t care for the dress on the models. But I LOVE it on you. I had the same types of thoughts you did – wouldn’t it just make us petite, curvier types look shorter and rounder? – but you look amazing in it.

    This is what I love about your blog. I’m so used to assuming that because I don’t look like the models, clothing automatically looks worse on me. It’s always amazing to be reminded that this isn’t always true.

  2. This dress is SO YOU. It’s rocker, badass, edgy and interesting. All the things. As a fellow Gen X’er who didn’t grow up with money, I have incredible feelings of guilt around buying nicer clothing. I usually scratch the itch by buying second-hand. But sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. And then I end up in the same stupid cycle of not *loving* the things for which I have settled. You’ve inspired me to purchase the damned things I truly love.

  3. I do that “but I could make it myself” argument all the time… because I do sew 80% of my wardrobe, and i could sew the other 20% if I wanted. The thing is, I’m wearing a $100 sweatshirt that I made, because that’s the price of good fabric. If I paid myself time to tape the patterns, cut and sew… it would be a $200 sweatshirt. I’m also wearing $40 store-bought jeans that I altered, because that’s much less than it would cost me to make them. I say enjoy your dress and consider it a bargain! 🙂

  4. Your comments about buying X, Y, Z—yes, I can totally relate! I think that’s a mindset for me that’s hard to change because there are old emotions tied to not being able to afford better (I was younger; I made less $; as a kid, my parents had some financial hardships, etc). And, honestly, there are times when I’ve shopped just because it was fun in the moment or because I was upset & wanted a quick fix! These are things I’m trying to change. Shoes are one of my favorite things, and I am happy to say I’ve broken myself of buying cheap shoes just because they are “cute” (I’m looking at you, Target!). Not to say cute/cheap shoes can’t be comfortable at times, but I’ve had more bad than good. It’s worth it to spend a bit more, if you are able to. All that to say, loved today’s post & you look great in that dress!

    1. A family activity was shopping TJ Maxx, thrift stores, and yard sales. It was always about scoring the best bargain, even if it wasn’t the best choice for us. Old habits die hard!

  5. I splurged on an Essentiel Antwerp jacket a number of years ago—it’s the most expensive item I’ve ever bought, and I have zero regrets. The fabric is great quality, the pattern is gorgeous and always gets compliments, and the cost per wear is now extremely reasonable. It taught me the value of buying better, for sure. Your dress looks great, and you feel great in it. Win win.

  6. Among the many reasons I love your blog is your honesty about money, spending, and the mind games we play with ourselves around clothing and other desires. Not buying what I really want has cost me hundreds of dollars, and dozens of hours (shopping, fussing, consigning). I’m moving to a new house with less closet space, so I can only afford what I really love. And thanks for the reply to my question last week about the long-sleeved Breton.

    1. When we toyed with doing a year in an RV, it got me really thinking about what do I actually love and wear. It’s good to have a reason to pare down, it reminds you of how much stuff you have that you don’t even need/want/love/use.

  7. That print is everything…and that’s what makes the dress worth the price. Yes maybe you could buy material and sew this dress for a fraction of what you paid for it, but would you have thought to make the dress out of this blue/black/white print? And if you did, would you have thought to have the pattern run in that direction?

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