Wrap dresses are possibly my favorite article of clothing. Although PERHAPS not the first thing I reach for during COVID, quarantine, staying at home, and pregnancy (I believe that particular honor goes to my husband’s Adidas track pants), they are still not the bottom of the list either, and they are at the absolute TOP of the list for travel or when dress codes are unclear. There is one in particular that I own in nearly every available pattern. Here is my investigation:
1. True Wrap vs. Faux-Wrap Dresses
There are two options for wrap dresses: true and faux. A true wrap dress opens all the way up like a long cardigan and the ties control the fit and keep it closed. A faux-wrap dress is one that doesn’t open up all the way. It might be a surplice top with a regular skirt attached to it, or nearly a true wrap, just sewn shut. I’m a big fan of both options for different reasons.
Pros of a true wrap dress:
- As mentioned above, you can wear it like a long cardigan. Over a loose knit top, a seamless bra, soft black leggings, merino underwear, and Rothys, it’s a pretty good option for travel days without having to pack it. As someone who likes to travel pretty light, it’s a nice option.
- It’s pretty much the ideal beach dress. You can put it on over swimwear without pulling it over your wet hair or putting your sandy feet through it. Just wrap it on.
- You can fluctuate sizes quite a bit. In the past ~4 years I’ve been everywhere between a size 2 and a maternity size 10, and all of my wrap dresses still fit perfectly (yes, even 8 months into a pregnancy). This is the benefit of something that ties closed. I also tend to fluctuate quite a bit from flying as I mentioned previously, so it’s nice to be able to loosen it up the day after a flight, and then cinch it so it’s properly fitted the next day when my midsection has re-shrunk by 4 inches. I still have no idea why this happens, but I think it makes these dresses good candidates for Thanksgiving attire.
Cons of a true wrap dress:
- They MIGHT fly open. A strong breeze or sitting the wrong way can potentially expose everything except maybe your belly button. I have a solution for this (below) but it is important to be aware of.
- That is the only con, but it’s a pretty big one.
2. Classic Design
Although wrap dresses come in a variety of styles, the most common one I see has the following:
- 3/4 Sleeves
- A-line skirt
- Knee length
This particular combination of features is flattering on … everyone. I was going to say almost everyone, but I have yet to ever see this style not work out for someone. This classic design makes it appropriate for:
- Work / Office settings: If you work in a more conservative environment, you might want to wear it backwards (with the V in the back). I remove the tags to do this but that might not be necessary for everyone. In most cases, I have been able to wear them in work settings the regular way, although this is one case where you may want to find a faux-wrap style. I usually will wear these with a dark-colored pashmina (as the “3rd piece”) and if it’s a faux-wrap, I’ll replace the sash with a belt to make the outfit look more complete.
- Beach and Pool: As mentioned above, a true wrap dress is basically the ideal swim cover up.
- Drinks/Dinner/Breweries after work: If you’re going out straight from work (do people really generally change clothes for dinner?), it can be nice not to look overly corporate in other settings. I feel like such a tool when I go to a brewery by myself in a blazer.
- Literally anywhere else. Brunch? Wedding shower? Bike ride (with bike shorts)? Cookout? Trampoline (again, with bike shorts)? Tiki bar? Church? I have yet to think of a setting in which a wrap dress would be a ridiculous choice of attire.
3. Patterned vs. Solid Wrap Dresses
Like any article of clothing, you have some color and pattern options. When I first uncovered my fascination with wrap dresses, I was all about the solid colors. I thought my black wrap dress was going to be my #1 most versatile article of clothing. This assessment was incorrect. In fact, I think black is probably the least versatile color you can get a wrap dress in, and patterns are a significantly better choice.
I talk a lot about picking “forgettable” but professional colors for things like pashminas, coats, accessories, etc. Those are the items you can rewear with each single-wear item (like a dress). Patterns are more versatile in terms of time of day formality. In particular, black and white or blue and white patterns seem to be flexible enough to wear to the beach and then dinner at a nice restaurant for example.
4. Perfect for Travel
I’ve pretty well covered how versatile they are, and if you need to know why that is ideal for travel, just see how you feel when you pack for a hiking trip (“travel clothes”) and then want to eat in a restaurant one night.
Beyond that, the main appeal of wrap dresses for travel is that they are small and generally wrinkle-resistant. Obviously any fabric can be made into a wrap dress, but I most commonly see them made from a poly-spandex blend which can be folded, rolled, and fit with four others into a medium-sized packing cube. I pack a large one for laundry and a small one for toiletries.
5. Layering Friendly for Weather
Not every article of women’s clothing is as happy being layered as a wrap dress. I once made the mistake of wearing a knit pencil skirt, tights, and flats, all at the same time. I don’t know if I didn’t look in the mirror or what, but it was a truly offensive look. It sounds like it would be fine, and I was in particularly good shape at the time, but I looked stumpy and about 100. That was the day I realized that you can’t just wear tights with anything.
You CAN however wear tights with a wrap dress. Generally my preference is for slightly sheer black tights, which is one reason I like black and white patterns, and also the reason that my black wrap dress ended up being less versatile than I thought. Black dress with black tights is not a flattering look. Patterns on black look great with tights. If your dress matches black tights, it also matches a black cardigan or sweater that you can put over the dress, and black boots that you can wear instead of heels or pointed-toe Rothys for additional warmth. On very cold days, I’ve worn (for example) a long down coat, a pashmina, a cropped black sweater, a wrap dress, fleece-lined leggings (in place of tights), and knee-high leather boots. It’s completely reasonable attire (anywhere) and keeps you very warm.
6. Spanx Makes the Perfect Undergarments for Wrap Dresses
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that it can be useful to have a little more under a wrap dress. The the risk of a breeze, activities, or just wanting to sit down eventually can make them tricky. Spanx makes this bodysuit, and it’s perfect. The plunge neckline means that none of your bra will be visible, and the mid-thigh length means that even if you’re jumping on a trampoline, you’re covered. They are also bathroom-friendly so you don’t need to get naked to use the facilities. I have this in both colors, and wear them basically all summer to avoid my thighs touching. The straps can be swapped out for clear straps (never done this but it comes with them). They can also be rearranged for a halter neck/fully open back to wear with a more complicated dress.
While we are at it though, Spanx, could we please have any other color than beige? I went into my dislike for beige undergarments in a previous post (seems like medical equipment?), and a light pink or lavender would be just as invisible under sheer clothing without that connotation. Even a hot pink or red would work fine. Then if you’re on a bike and someone sees your Spanx peeking out, it looks like shorts.
Our baby is due next month, and I can still wear all my wrap dresses (and they look reasonable). As I mentioned above, you can get a little more flexibility with a true wrap style. That said, even my faux-wrap dresses are still looking pretty cute at this point. I attribute this to the classic styling, the wrap top (accommodates changing sizes), and the fact that you can just pop the sash up over the bump for an empire-waist style.
With the current pandemic happening, I haven’t bought a TON of maternity clothes since I don’t really leave the house (as little as possible anyway), so it’s nice that I can wear some of my regular clothes. They were especially helpful during early pregnancy because they help avoid that “are you pregnant or just fat” look, and are still appropriately soft and comfortable (important!). Instead of a Spanx bodysuit, I wore these two items with my wrap dresses during pregnancy:
The bras are NOT low-cut enough to be invisible under a wrap dress. They have the look of a cami layered underneath, so if you pick a matching color, it’s a cute look. I’ve heard that some people manage to wear regular Spanx throughout pregnancy, but that seemed so unappealing to me.
Although I’m not to this point yet (first time mom, still pregnant), in theory, wrap dresses would be ideal for nursing mothers. They’re accessible, soft, stretchy, (usually) washable fabric, and flattering. I look forward to testing this theory.
8. How Many Wrap Dresses Do You Need?
Short Answer: Probably not as many as I have.
It turns out I have 14 wrap dresses (short sleeve and 3/4 sleeve) and 4 wrap tops (long-sleeve sweaters and short-sleeve). I might be a little bit nuts about these, and probably don’t NEED all of them.
Five seems like a good number of wrap dresses to have, assuming they are all either black/white or blue/white patterned. That number will cover a work week, fit perfectly rolled up in a zip pouch, and look different enough from one another that nobody thinks you are wearing the same thing every day.
My Wish for Wrap-Style Clothing
There are a couple of things that can be particularly frustrating for wrap-dress aficionados. If you are reading this and design clothing, please take note:
- No Buttons: Why would you put buttons on a wrap dress?! It’s the worst of both worlds. You lose the flexibility in sizing that you get from a true wrap or stretchy faux-wrap style, but it still has the ability to pop open if you’re not being careful. Even worse, the presence of an inner button holding the whole thing together is not usually information that is shared in an online description, so you don’t find out until it arrives.
- True or Faux: Yes, I shop online the majority of the time. It’s more fun for me. I like to save images to my Pinterest account, think about it for a year, and then pull the trigger on a whole board after a few imperial IPAS that I thought were regular IPAS (and turned out to be stronger than expected). The sorting and filtering functions are pleasing to use. I like to use ShopStyle. I like sitting on my (relatively new, very comfortable) couch while I shop. But here’s the thing – when you shop online, sometimes they leave off important descriptors. Possibly as important as whether or not the dress uses inner buttons for closure. For instance, is it a true wrap or faux wrap style?! Usually it says “wrap,” and more than half the time, when it arrives, it turns out to be a faux-wrap . This is fine, depending on the particular dress, but I prefer to know this in advance.
- Tops: I didn’t really get into wrap tops, but it may be apparent that I really enjoy leggings. Wrap tops seem to be overwhelmingly available in cropped form. Why would this possibly be the case? I would love to see more longer or tunic-length wrap tops. I would buy all of them.
To date, this is the only one I’ve seen that fits all my criteria:
It was apparently available at Anthropologie at one time, and may not even actually be a wrap top. However, but the sleeves, pattern, length, and V-neck are pretty much ideal. It’s the perfect combination of sexy, polished, and comfortable. Is there a designer that routinely makes anything like this? I want one for every day of the week. I envision myself coming out of a yoga class in a longline sportsbra and black leggings, wrapping on a top like this, slipping on my Birkenstocks, and getting a coffee across the street from the yoga studio. I’m THISCLOSE to starting sewing again so I can have some of these, but I would really like to avoid that. If anyone knows where these can be purchased, I would love to hear about it!
Mimi · September 3, 2020 at 8:13 pm
Your articles are extremely entertaining to read. Your visual writing style makes me want to buy everything you’ve discussed!
Wren · February 22, 2021 at 8:52 pm
Thanks so much!