Help me find a simple but elusive dress style
April 1, 2014 5:22 PM   Subscribe

I recently came across this vintage '90s Esprit dress on Etsy, but it's not my size. I'd love to find a similar modern dress, but after scanning online stores for way too long, I'm stymied. Help!

Here is a direct link to the image, in case that listing gets taken down soon.

What I like about this:
— the structured and fitted (but still fairly casual) A-line style
— the collar
— the straight hem
— the slightly-above-knee length
— the short sleeves

What I'm neutral about: the pattern. If I could find a dress of this shape, I could go for either a subtle pattern or a solid color (ideally medium-dark blue, green, gray, deep red, or purple).

Also neutral about the fabric; the linked dress is polyester, but I'd prefer something with more cotton. But I do like the slightly stiff/thick look of the fabric; I'd much rather have something like heavy cotton or linen over a flowy, clingy, silky, sleek fabric.

Also neutral about: number of buttons or snaps. That linked dress has subtle snaps going about 3/4 of the way down, which makes it seem like it'd be easy to put on. But fewer buttons or snaps would be okay, as long as it still has a collar. I'd also be okay with a shirt dress with buttons going all the way down, as long as the hem is even.

What I DON'T want:
— a boxy polo dress
— a tight sausage-casing dress
— a wrap dress
— a faux-wrap dress
— a cocktail dress
— anything with lace or ruffles or embroidery
— any dress with a belt (I have an irrational dislike of dresses with belts; I'd prefer they be naturally fitted at the waist)
— a below-knee length
— a halfway-up-the-thigh length
— a pattern with gigantic flowers
— a shirt dress with an uneven hem to replicate "a boyfriend shirt"
— a sleeveless or long-sleeved dress (short, half, or 3/4 sleeves okay).

I've looked for similar dresses in many of the usual online suspects: Boden, ModCloth, Ruche, eShakti, Lands End, LL Bean, J Jill, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Gap, The Limited, J Crew, Talbot's, Express, Ann Taylor. I've also looked through Zappos, Amazon, Macy's, Nordstom's. I couldn't find anything similar at all! At this point my eyes are swimming. I could also go look at some brick-and-mortar stores in Portland (or New York soon), but I haven't had time yet, and given my online luck I don't want to just go on a fruitless mission.

(I did buy this dress from Boden a few years ago, in a different but equally loud pattern. The cut is great, and similar to what I'm looking for here -- it's hard to tell from that small photo, but it has a similar collar to the other dress and buttons going down about halfway. But due to its loud pattern it's pretty much only a summer/beach dress. Boden doesn't currently offer that style.)

It's just frustrating because it seems like such a simple, classic cut -- does it currently exist anywhere? If you've seen something like this anytime recently, please help a casual-femme out.
posted by lisa g to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Your keyword is "shirt dress".

They were really popular in the 90s, but I have not really seen them in stores lately. However, a related style, the "babydoll dress" is making a comeback. They tend to be a little boxier and less nipped in at the waste. Maybe try Urban Outfitters?

I think you're probably looking for vintage, if you're not willing to compromise on either the belt or the shirttail hem.

That particular collar style is very 90s and probably not something you'll find on a contemporary dress.
posted by Sara C. at 5:30 PM on April 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

also look at Dickies dresses
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:31 PM on April 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know you said you've tried Modcloth already, but this dress looks similar to me (except it's bright red in color and I suspect that's less subtle than you wanted).
posted by myntu at 5:32 PM on April 1, 2014

As soon as your eyes recover check ebay. Search button down dress or shirt dress.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:33 PM on April 1, 2014

Lands End has some cute ones.
posted by moonphases at 5:35 PM on April 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fourthing Modcloth. I thought immediately of the Hepcat dress when I saw your photo. Soda Fountain is also similar. (Sorry, both have belts, but I have worn my Hepcat without.)
posted by teditrix at 5:51 PM on April 1, 2014

I have a ton of these from various places that I can no longer remember. But knowing me. probably thrift stores, Target or department stores. I usually have luck using the term "waitress dress"
posted by KogeLiz at 6:04 PM on April 1, 2014

I have the Soda Fountain dress linked above - the "belt" is more like a sash, but the skirt is a little more A line than what you want.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:07 PM on April 1, 2014

Take your Boden to a tailor and and have one (or two) made in different fabrics. My friend did this with a dress that she found especially comfortable and flattering and now she has three!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:09 PM on April 1, 2014

That's cute enough that I would almost be tempted to buy it and see if the alterations lady could alter it down for me. It's probably not worth it though.

The closest I could find was this, which I got by googling "90s shirtdress" and then scrolling through images until I found something that looked kind of right.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:14 PM on April 1, 2014

I know you said you already tried eShakti, but I just want to chime and say that their inventory is always changing. So it may be worth checking back in there every couple of weeks.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:30 PM on April 1, 2014

Thanks so much to everyone who's answered so far! That Lands End one is pretty decent, but I find the fit-and-flare skirt a little too ... flare-y. (Yet I don't like straight-cut polo dresses either; ideally I'm seeking something in between those.) This Modcloth one linked by myntu also comes very close, but the pattern is indeed a little bright. The Modcloth Hepcat is pretty good if the belt is removable ... maybe with that pattern, the loops wouldn't look too obvious. The Soda Fountain one is cute, but again flares out more than I'd like. (I'm already kinda hippy -- no need to emphasize that!) I like the Dickies dresses' style too, but those are a bit short for me. (And I meant to add that I've also looked at Urban Outfitters, H&M, & Uniqlo, and used "shirt dress" and "waitress dress" in searches ... finding more things that are kinda close but no cigar.)

I think Sara C. might be right that this is just a currently out-of-fashion cut and I should look at vintage places, or take ThatCanadianGirl's advice and go to a tailor. And I'll keep my eye on eShakti for new designs, too. I'd just thought this style might be mass-manufactured somewhere ... strange if it's not, since it seems like a pretty simple yet flattering cut for most body types.
posted by lisa g at 7:06 PM on April 1, 2014

I want this one pretty hard, myself.
expensive, but
solids, fairly close
I snip belt loops off too
posted by notquitemaryann at 9:19 PM on April 1, 2014

You can use a seam ripper to take the belt loops off, really easy and it doesn't leave huge holes.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:38 PM on April 1, 2014

I'm always looking for dresses like this and feel your pain. Wanted to come in to warn you, if you're thinking of ordering it despite its imperfections, that the Land's End polo dress runs really big (I wear S or M in most fit-and-flare styles and was swimming in an XS). Also, eShakti runs unpredictably and tends to have strange uncomfortable details at the inside of the waist -- jersey dresses with tight hard polyester bands sewn in (that are hauled further up your ribcage as the jersey inevitably shrinks), or dresses with a patch of extremely tense elastic at the back, which I guess is meant to make sitting comfortable, but actually makes it the opposite. I've found some good things there, but I also wish I'd returned some of them with prejudice.
posted by thesmallmachine at 3:10 AM on April 2, 2014

Serious thanks to everybody who read my longwinded question and took the time to answer and even poke around online, all to help my quest! But after thinking about it — and realizing that even the dresses that come close to what I'm seeking still aren't quite what I want — I'm going to take ThatCanadianGirl's advice and go to a local seamstress and have something custom-made. If that works out, I'll get a few different copies of the same dress in different fabrics, all fit to my weird preferences. Yay for supporting local businesspeople and getting away from fast fashion!

I'd used to think that getting tailor-made clothes was only for wealthy people or serious fashionistas, of which I'm neither. But I think this could be financially reasonable if I have one pattern made and get multiple versions of the dress in different colors and types of fabrics. Especially if they're well-made enough that they'll last a long time. And ESPECIALLY if it means I no longer have to spend hours of my precious brain-time surfing fruitlessly around online stores, or trying on random things in fluorescent dressing rooms and leaving emptyhanded (or worse, holding something cheap & ill-fitting that I'll wear four times and then stuff in the back of my closet).

It's taken me several years of wearing clothes to figure out the styles that I do and don't like, and which look decent on my particular body. Lately I've been entranced by the idea of seriously paring down your wardrobe to a handful of items that you truly like and making them a uniform of sorts; that's my goal. Hopefully that's what I can start here — with the result of spending less time thinking about clothes (and more time doing everything else in life). Thanks!
posted by lisa g at 9:43 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

American Apparel makes a simple cotton shirtdress. It's short, though not as short as it actually is in real life thanks the to weird model pose. But size up anyways, because American Apparel.
posted by troika at 9:50 AM on April 2, 2014

Thanks - I had that purple AA dress about five years ago, until I stained it. It was a surprisingly good and wearable style from them (though a little short for me and of course in AA's particular small sizing). For the past few years they've been sold out of most colors of that dress in most sizes, though, so at this point I don't think they'll restock it.
posted by lisa g at 10:12 AM on April 2, 2014

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