It’s 7 a.m. The clock is ticking and the idea of mixing and matching an impeccable work ensemble is, shall we say, daunting. Enter one of this season’s romantic daytime dresses.

“The ease of dressing in dresses can’t be beat,” says Tim Gunn, chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne Inc., and veteran mentor on Bravo TV’s “Project Runway,” who adds that dresses are very important for the label this spring. “Especially in warmer weather when all you need is a dress, shoes and a bag, and you’re out the door.”

Uncomplicated apparel choices are extremely valuable to women, considering 60% select their clothing when they wake up, rather than before they go to sleep the night, according to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™.

When Do Women Select Clothing for the Day?
Before go to sleep 36%
When you wake up 60%
Changes in Women’s Sizes:
Size 0-6 25%
7-11 29%
12-14 22%
15+ 21%

The appeal of daytime dresses is long-appreciated. To wit, an item from The New York Times reads: “Natty little frocks in cotton voiles, some of them semi-tailored and close fitting, are proving very popular with women generally…. It is thought that the vogue of last Summer is going to last through another season.” The item is dated April, 1918, yet could very well be describing modern trends.

This spring, day styles include shirtdresses, belted sheaths, wrap dresses that come in prints or solids, bold brights and muted natural tones. Overlays, crochet details and lace trim add to their femininity. Milly designer Michelle Smith sees dresses as the quick and simple option for women pressed for time. “Dresses are very easy to wear,” she says. “You just slip one on; you don’t need to coordinate a whole outfit. I think women appreciate this.”

Smith also points out that her daytime dresses are retailing very well this spring because feminine and colorful looks are trending right now. Popular Milly styles this season include the hand-beaded hibiscus print shift, a sleeveless yellow knit dress with bead detail on the neckline, and a strapless navy dress with gold chain detail.

H&M spokesperson Jennifer Uglialoro says daytime dresses have been in focus for about a year now. The trend continues this year with the addition of two-piece dresses and skirts. “It’s feminine and stylish, versatile, comfortable – daytimecomfortable over jeans or khakis, and with tights and high heels it works perfectly for dinner or more formal work situations,” she says.

The Monitor finds that the majority of women (37%) wear clothes that are “business-like with freedom” to work, allowing plenty of leeway for the myriad of dresses to be found in stores.

Uglialoro says this season’s dresses differentiate themselves by being more voluminous and in some cases longer than previous seasons. Women can wear them, “at work, school, weekends, dinner – anywhere. Most styles work from day into evening depending on styling and accessories. Many women wear their dresses over trousers for function and comfort.”

Popular styles at H&M right now include the volume dress, the couture-inspired dress and the tunic.

At Una, a boutique in Portland, OR, owner Giovanna Parolari says dresses comprise most of the items in her store right now. “I try to make my dress choices elegant and comfortable at the same time,” Parolari says. “Here in Portland, it seems like they’ve always been the thing to wear, despite the rainy weather. Women wear them to parties and they wear them to the grocery store. You can throw on a dress with Wellingtons (rain boots or shoes) to dress it down, or put on heels and go out somewhere nice.”

Parolari stocks Una with dresses made of mostly of allnatural fibers, including a shiny cotton navy piece from Rodebjer with buttons running down the front, and brightly colored and patterned styles from Catherine Andre. The prevalence of cotton options is in keeping with Monitor data that reveals the majority of women (about 61%) are willing to pay more for natural fibers such as cotton.

At Liz Claiborne, a bevy of spring dresses are made of cotton. Gunn says that while the different designs appeal to a woman’s mindset, rather than her age, there are styles that are appropriate for everyone. “Shifts, which expose arms, can work for younger women, while a shirtdress interpreted in a seasonal color or modern print can be more appropriate for more mature women,” he explains.

Liz Claiborne’s dresses range from clean shifts to flowing shirred models, in bold graphic prints and bright solids.

“Regardless of the style, we are always mindful of the principles of silhouette, proportion and fit,” Gunn says.

These days, part of having the right fit means offering a wide range of sizes. The Monitor statistics show that most women (29%) say their current dress size is from 7 to 11. Following are those sized 0 to 6 (25%). About 22% say they’re dress size is 12 to 14, and 21% say they’re 15+.

Milly’s Smith says the dress trend is strong, as she’s offering as many day dresses this season as last. Her target customer ranges from 16-to-45 years old, and different styles appeal to the different women in this group. How and where they wear them is a varied as the garments themselves. Says Smith, ” Work, luncheons, out for dinner, weekend parties, shopping… there is a day dress for every occasion.”

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing Thursdays in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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