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The ultimate guide to buying a new dress

Shopping for an on-trend wedding, formal, work, casual or party dress online? Here's the advice you need to do it right and make the perfect purchase.

Last updated:

Spoiler alert: it’s easier than you think.

Finding dresses to fit a particular woman could almost be considered a science. Heck, even the pros don’t get it right every time. (We’ve all been witness to red carpet fashion fails, am i right?)

Lucky for you we’ve put together a simple formula and from here on out it’s going to be a walk in the park finding that dream dress - especially since we've named a couple of stores here that get it bang on time and time again. When beginning your search, there are a few things to take into consideration: what’s the occasion and is there a dress code? Do you prefer synthetics or natural fabrics? Finally, the key to achieving best-dressed status? A well-fitting dress that suits your body shape - a gal’s got to flaunt her best assets!

Whatever your needs may be, finder.com.au has compiled the best dress buying guide - even for the most seasoned shopper.


Best online retailers to buy dresses:

These local and international retailers all have a wide selection of dresses to spend your time trawling through. Remember to check out each return policy before shopping up a storm in multiple sizes.


Types of dresses | Shop by occasion

Here's your directory to what occasions call for dresses and where you can shop for that perfect fashion piece.

Guide: how to shop for dresses by occasion

  • Everyday shift dresses are great to wear in the office, for social outings or when you're running errands. These could include shirt dresses and long sleeve dresses. When you have plenty of casual dresses, it's good to know you can wear them any day of the week.
  • Special occasion dresses are usually for formal and cocktail events. You would want to have some of these dresses on hand for weddings, parties or formal dinners. These may include long dresses, cocktail dresses and party dresses.

Wedding dresses

Guide: Where to buy wedding dresses online


Bridesmaid dresses

FreePeople_blue

Free People

Sail Away Dress, $249

Guide: Where to buy bridesmaid dresses


Cocktail dresses

Guide: Where to buy cocktail dresses


Party dresses

Guide: Where to buy party dresses


Evening Dresses

JennyYoo_eveningdress

Nordstrom

'Annabelle' Convertible Tulle Column Dress ($378.61)

Guide: Where to buy evening dresses


Formal dresses


Work dresses

WorkDress_NewLook

New Look

Black Stripe Jacquard Mini Dress, £27.99


Festival dresses


Races dresses

Guide: Where to buy spring racing dresses


Types of dresses | Shop by style

Here's your directory to the different types of dresses based on style. If you slowly fill your wardrobe with a collection of well-fitting dresses you'll always be the best dressed.

Everyday dresses

Casual and free, these are the dresses you can wear anywhere from work to the beach.


LBDs

A must for any girl's wardrobe. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to Little Black Dresses. Pick a style that works for you and wear it like a BAWS.


Maxi dresses

Maxi dresses can be worn day or night and seem to make everyone look elegant. Despite their length, they don’t discriminate against the vertically challenged. For the shorter figure, long lines and dainty prints won’t make you look overwhelmed by the amount of fabric. A belt around the waist can help break up the fabric and make legs look longer or shorter, depending on your needs.

Guide: Where to buy maxi dresses online


Bodycon dresses

The ultimate figure-hugging dress, bodycon (short for body conscious) dresses are for those wishing to flaunt their curves. The important thing to keep in mind is that they shouldn’t make you feel self-conscious about your body. They should make you love your figure. Wear it in black or wear SPANX underneath to make you look slimmer, or colour block with panels to highlight your waist.


Mini dresses

Want to flaunt them legs? It doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, if you have legs you want to rock, a mini dress will do the trick. Petite figures can make their legs seem longer in a mini by wearing nude heels. Mini dresses come in a variety of lengths, so experiment to get it right. Generally, try not to make the dress end at the widest part of your leg or it won’t be as flattering.

MiniDress_Dixie

Shopbop

Dixie Mini Dress, $358.28


Shirt dresses

Shirt dresses are long shirts that work as dresses. The biggest downside of shirt dresses is that they are relatively shapeless, so they won’t flatter shape without the addition of a belt. They tend to suit women with larger busts. Wear it without a belt for a casual look, or add a belt to find your figure. As shirt dresses offer a lot of camouflage, it’s best to keep your accessories down to a minimum around them.

ShirtDress_NewLook

New Look

Blue Check Roll Sleeve Shirt Dress, £24.99


Peplum dresses

Small waists and big shoulders love peplum dresses. They flare out below the waist, which helps to balance out wider shoulders, while the shaped waist adds that feminine touch. Petite figures can benefit from peplum dresses,as they gives the waist a “place”, making everything below it seem longer.


Swing dresses

Popular in the 1940s and 1950s, swing dresses are loose-fitting dresses with wide skirts. They are sometimes referred to as smocks. Typically, swing dresses aren’t worn with belts, so they don’t have much shape. They’re particularly good for curvier figures as they can hide rather than hug the figure. Bold block colours are a classic look, while bold prints can make for a summery look.

SwingDress_NewLookNew Look

Black Deep V Pinafore Swing Dress, £17.99

SwingDress_Shopbop

Shopbop

Alex Perry Cloque Swing Mini Dress


Curvy and plus size dresses

Though not exactly a "type" of dress, plus dresses often have their own space on shop websites and are dedicated to showing off the assets of the curvier woman with on-trend, fashionable attire.


Shift dresses

Like shirt dresses, shift dresses are long and shapeless. They are a classic and work-friendly look and are often sleeveless. Small waists and petite figures can benefit from tighter shifts, while curvier figures can look for dresses with darts or shifts with A-line skirts to complement their figures.


A-Line dresses

As its name suggests, A-line dresses are small up the top and push out at the bottom. Curvy bodies can benefit from A lines, as it accentuates the waist. On the flipside, petite and boyish bodies can benefit from A lines, as it gives them a more “feminine” curve below the waist.


Wrap dresses

Wrap dresses add layer and depth to your look while also giving you some breathing room around the waist. Essentially, they “wrap” around your body and either clip or tie around the waist. They come in both long and short lengths and work well on the curvy and/or busty woman to flatter the silhouette without hugging the body too much.

WrapDress_NewLook

New Look

Sophie Stripe Strapless Wrap Dress, $119.95

WrapDress_Dissh

Dissh

Mari Wrap Maxi Skirt, $69.90


Sheath dresses

Sheath dresses hug the body while still giving the tummy a little room to breathe. They suit shorter legs, as they tend to fall above the knee or at mid-thigh. Since they draw attention away from the waist, they’re also good for anyone trying to hide a tummy.

Sheath_Nordstrom

Nordstrom

Illusion York Beaded Sheath Dress, $373.14


Types of dresses | Shop by make

Love a specific fabric? Or are you an ethically inclined shopper? Look below for inspiration to suit your lifestyle and preference.

Denim dresses


Dresses made from natural fabrics

esprit1

Esprit

Stripe Dress in Coral, $69.95

esprit2

Esprit

Wool Blend Sweater Dress, $119.95

esprit3

Esprit

Structured Knit Black Dress, $99.95


Searching for cheap dresses online? We know a few:

Cheap dresses


How to achieve best dressed status #101

Dress sizes

Let’s start from the beginning, get to know your size. For the perfect measurements, reach for your tape measure and pen and paper. Jot down your bust, hips and waist and see where you fit on the table below. Keep in mind that size varies brand to brand and also internationally. When it comes to retailers that offer free returns, sometimes it’s best to shop a few different sizes and return what doesn’t work.

Size

81012141618

Bust

82 cm879297102107

Waist

63 cm6873788388

Hips

88 cm9398103108113

Determine the shape of your body

Generally, women's body shapes are grouped into one of five categories: pear, wedge, rectangle, apple and hour glass. Each one of these categories have a corresponding dress design that fits perfectly. If you find a dress that looks good on a model or mannequin, don't rush to buy it until you identify your body shape.

  • Pear-shaped bodies mean that the woman has a wider lower body compared to her upper body, the hips are wider than the shoulders. Dresses that fit this shape should emphasise the women's shoulders, torso and stomach.
  • Strawberry-shaped is the flipside to a pear-shaped body. The woman generally has a broader chest, wide shoulders and narrow waist. Look to dresses that emphasise the lower part of the body.
  • Rectangle-shaped bodies are when the hips and shoulders are approximately the same width. Dresses should focus on the arms and legs to match this shape.
  • Apple-shaped bodies means that the back, ribs and shoulders are broader. Dresses should emphasise the midsection of the body to match this shape.
  • Hourglass-shaped bodies mean that the waist is tinier, while the shoulders and hips have similar proportions. Dresses should focus on the curves.
What's your body size

Highlight your best assets

Remember when we said you need to flaunt your assets. That’s what we’re talking about here. What do you like about your body? What don’t you like so much? There’s a few tricks you can employ to shop dresses that will show off your best assets and play down the features you don’t want to highlight. For all the women out there loving their pins, it’s a no brainer you need to be rocking a mini dress.

The flipside, if you’re looking to play down your height a maxi dress can create the illusion of being shorter. Specific patterns on dresses such as stripes can also work in your favour, consider how these can influence the woman's unique body features. A general rule of thumb being vertical stripes will lengthen your legs. Hey, legs 11!


The best deals in fashion

Did we mention we have a range of coupon codes you can use to get discounts off your order? Look out ladies, we’ve got you covered.

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Enjoy 25% off over 20,000 selected styles at THE ICONIC. T&Cs apply.

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