Sundresses for Truly Hot Summers

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breathable sundresses for summer
The dress in the image above is from Boden

It drives me bonkers when dresses made from heavy fabric or layers of polyester are recommended as great summer dresses.  Where do these people live, the Arctic Circle?  Here in the Washington DC area, summer is hot, and it is humid.  We call most days of July, August, and even much of September and August as “soupy” or “swampy” or “thick” because it's more like swimming through humid air than roasting in an oven.  And the idea of a polyester dress, ponte knit, or even a stretchy jersey dress for more than a few minutes outside sounds like utter torture.  So below I share dresses for a truly hot summer.  The kind that won't have linings that get all stuck to your legs, the kind that won't feel as though they're melting and fusing onto your back.  The kind of dress I live in all summer long, usually with a pair of slip shorts like I shared in Wednesday's post on how to prevent chub rub.

My favorite kind of sundress makes it possible for me to wear a standard bra without it being on full display, is below the knee so I can wear slip shorts or some other item for modesty and to prevent chafing, has a full enough skirt that it doesn't cling to my rear or legs or show sweat stains below the waistband, is either made with a synthetic that works to cool or wick moisture or dry quickly, or is of a natural fiber that breathes.  I want a dress that looks cute with flat sandals, and one that is breezy without looking like a crumpled paper bag.  Oh, and if it could also be opaque and not only available black and look a bit polished and stylish, that would be fantastic!  Below are some possibilities:

breathable summer dresses inclusive sizing

First row: JIBARI | Garnet Hill | Grass-Fields |  Hackwith Design House |  lemlem 
Second row: Princess Highway | Banjanan | Kaela Kay | NIC+ZOE | Marela
Third row: Cece | Tory Burch | NIC+ZOE | lemlem | Talbots

printed summer dresses

First row: FARM Rio | Thought| Tanya Taylor | Talbots | FARM Rio
Second row: NIC+ZOE | Tanya Taylor | Banjanan | Tanya Taylor | Vince Camuto
Third row: Dolan | Equipment | Garnet Hill | eShakti | Lauren Ralph Lauren

breathable sundresses 2020

First row: J. Crew | Universal Thread | Eileen Fisher | Talbots | Kaela Kay
Second row: Tanya Taylor | Thought | eShakti | Boden | Rebecca Taylor 
Third row: Garnet Hill | J. Crew | Whistles | eShakti | eShakti 

When creating this post, I went beyond my tried and true retailers to find brands that were sustainable, ethical, owned or designed by Black women and other people of color.  I will continue to research and feature new designers and brands and while sticking to the style of Wardrobe Oxygen. Some of the new to Wardrobe Oxygen retailers:

  • Banjanan: Caroline Weller is the woman behind Banjanan, a sustainable clothing company designed and created in Jaipur, India. It is a zero-waste company that is made with organic voile, shipped in compostable bags, carbon-offsets any shipping or business travel, and by this fall will have phased out viscose and rayon for a polyester made from 100% recycled water bottles.  Unfortunately, Banjanan only goes up to a Large, which on their size chart is an 8/10.  What a missed opportunity, I know I am not the only one who would rock the heck out of some of Banjanan's pieces. Banjanan is associated with HATCh Showroom.
  • Grass-Fields: Founded by Christelle and Michelle Nganhou, twin sisters from Cameroon, Grass-Fields was created to put the love back into African print clothing. The clothes are made in Cameroon by a team that gets three times the average salary and the clothes are available up to a US size 20.
  • Hackwith Design House: Launched in September 2013 by designer and founder Lisa Hackwith with just one limited-edition design, now Hackwith Design House offers a limited edition design every week with only 25 of each made but also have a Core Collection, Swim, Basics, Plus, and Intimates. Both their Plus and Swim collections are available up to the equivalent of a US size 28. Everything is made in-house in Minnesota with a goal for longevity and low waste.
  • Kaela Kay: Catherine Addai left her corporate job at the end of 2017 to focus on Kaela Kay full-time.  With a focus on Addai's Ghanaian roots, the line emphasizes the beauty in the prints and colors that come from and represent Africa through the Ankara textiles.  The collection is available up to US size 22 and custom orders are also possible. Kaela Kay clothing is produced in Toronto, Canada by local seamstresses.
  • lemlem: Supermodel Liya Kebede was inspired to launch the brand following a trip to her native Ethiopia where she met a group of traditional weavers who no longer had a market for their craft. lemlem Foundation, lemlem’s philanthropic arm, is a non-profit that helps women artisans in Africa by connecting them to healthcare, education and pathways to jobs. Five percent of lemlem’s direct sales, proceeds from special collaborations, and donations advance this mission.  Again, it is unfortunate that this line only goes up to a size L which is the equivalent of US 10/12.

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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. Hi Alison!
    Such a nice roundup that surely took a lot of time. And nice to see such different brands. I follow a lot of UK fashion bloggers because I find their style is more aligned with mine. Through them, I found out about a brand that seems right up your alley and even with shipping from the UK seems reasonable for the uniqueness and high quality. Kemi Telford is a Nigerian woman living in Britain and I know you’ll love her fabrics and styles and her story. Lots of POCKETS in her dresses and skirts.

  2. Such beautiful dresses! Thank you for the inclusion of off-the-beaten-path designers and POC! xoxo

  3. I love Columbia sportswear dresses – wicking fabrics and some cute designs. I’m not sure about size ranges, although I did see that their Freezer dress is available up to 3XL. Great for being moderately active outdoors; they’re my summer go to.

  4. Your post to include women of color designers makes me love your posts even more. Thank you, Allie, for your universal way of thinking and your belief in the inclusion of those that others would not consider. You’re awesome!

  5. Often “swampy” where I live, too. Thank you for these great suggestions! I love the quality and beauty of dresses from Marketplace:Handwork of India and from Oh My Gauze!, too. Marketplace empowers artists who use traditional methods and fabrics; Oh My’s clothes are cool and flowy and fun.

  6. What a great post! Thank you for spending the time to find new resources, particularly designers of color.

  7. Wow, Kaela Kay’s dresses are stunning! Thank you for sharing these sites, many of which I had not seen before.

  8. Can you explain the breathability of polyester made from water bottles? Sounds great from an eco standpoint but not so much from a comfort one. I do love viscose and rayon over cotton for cooling but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

    1. I didn’t share that detail for the breathability of the dresses, just as a detail for the brand as a whole. I don’t think it would be terribly breathable but there is a time and a place when a polyester-like fabric is a good choice!

  9. I applaud you for the diversity in option you are striving to achieve, and these prints are gorgeous. At the moment, with our personal economy what it is, most of these are out of my price range. Our local consignment shops are re-opening with masks required, limited shoppers, so maybe I will try to find something in there made from cotton or linen. It was heat index of 97 here in NC yesterday, so yeah, swampy.

    1. Good luck with your thrifting adventure! It’s such a great way to get the look for less, I am glad to see thrift and consignment stores reopening and finding ways to go online!

  10. These are considered wardrobe staples around here. I mean the heat index was 102 yesterday (yes, really). I appreciate that you found dresses that are natural, breathable fabrics. That’s a must for summer.

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