How to Wear Dresses If You're Not a Girly Girl

A bit of background: I’m not a girly girl. The vast majority of my wardrobe is leather and denim, and my friends would have a collective heart attack if I veered into the world of printed dresses and delicate slips. Sick of feeling like I’m missing out on spring fashion, though, and annoyed by this classic case of trends clashing with personal style, I cornered our resident not-so-girly girl, Fashion Director Natalie Cantell, seeking advice for pulling off a spring dress in a way that still feels like me.

Cantell long ago figured out how to wear a dress without sacrificing her penchant for menswear-influenced pieces. When designers started dressing her for fashion week, she tells me, she quickly had to figure out how to style things in a way that toned them down a bit and made them feel more her. I needed to know what she knows: “How do I wear a dress without feeling like I’m playing dress-up?” I asked.

“I get it!” she says. “For me, dresses are like lipstick. I love it in theory, but it doesn’t feel like it’s meant for me.” But Cantell promises that wearing a dress is not as hard as I’m making it out to be: “There’s plenty you can do to make a dress feel like it belongs on you, especially with a few key pieces on hand,” she advises.

To prove it, Cantell took three new-season dress styles from Topshop and turned them into hero looks for not-so-girly girls everywhere. Layer away!

The Grown-Up Overall Dress

The Dress

Firstly, black denim makes this dress style a 10 out of 10 on the approachability scale, so I’m feeling good about this already.

The Layers

Apparently the biggest mistake we make with a dress is assuming it’s a total look. “If a dress feels too girly or slinky, you’ll feel better if you juxtapose it with something tougher, more structured, or more relaxed,” Cantell advises. In this case, turn to spring’s iterations of two wardrobe staples: a button-down with cropped statement sleeves and a relaxed blazer in this season’s must-have dusky pink. (Side note: This is the best spring blazer we’ve found anywhere.)

The Accessories

Take note, because wearing fresh white sneakers is the quickest way to tone down a spring dress. The addition of a pearl-embellished leather crossbody, oversize earrings, and a statement cap makes this feel like it’s straight off the runway. Basically, we’re talking the epitome of elevated daywear.

 

The Edgy Wrap Dress

The Dress

Wrap dresses are something I really want to get on board with, especially since they’re tailored to fit perfectly and therefore are one of the most flattering dress styles out there. However, a pink floral print puts this firmly in the category of dresses I would talk myself out of but love on everyone else.

The Layers

A dress worn over jeans is what street style is made of, and like all street style, it seems to have been born from fashion meeting function. Cantell swears the dress-over-pants trend is the result of street style stars being given dresses to wear to fashion week at the absolute last minute.

“I can name more than a handful of people who have told me they were sent a dress and either hadn’t shaved their legs, or only tanned above the waist, or it was too cold, or the split would blow open when they walked–this is definitely how some seemingly perfectly planned street style looks have come to be!” she says. On a subtler layering note, the addition of a barely-there cropped tank makes a deeper neckline more afternoon-friendly. And finally, lace-up details with eyelet hardware keep the layers on trend.

The Accessories

When your day turns into night before you have a chance to pop home, you want your afternoon wear to transition seamlessly into the evening. These mules with a slight heel are as comfortable as they are cool, and they’re destined to get thrashed all year long. An embellished denim jacket toughens up the look with deconstructed details exposing flashes of skin, making it all feel more summery. Also, these wire frames are a final nod to that ’90s vibe. Who knew a floral dress could look so badass?

 

The Cool-Girl Slip Dress

The Dress

Very glam. Very shiny. Not entirely sure I’d have places to wear it often enough to justify the purchase, but Cantell assures me that with the right styling it's entirely versatile. Spoiler alert: she's right. 

The Layers

Dressing a slinky slip up with heels and a clutch? Apparently way too obvious. The less expected cool-girl approach calls for layering it over this season’s denim (relaxed, with a raw-edge hem and a slight crop to show a little ankle). I appreciate the on-trend layering, but it’s definitely still a strong look. For me, it’s the long-sleeve tee with a little statement cuff that immediately makes this feel a lot more wearable, not to mention trans-seasonal. I take it back: I would definitely wear this all the time.

The Accessories

Slides and a mini bag are obviously the perfect additions to every outfit this season, and these are two ultra-versatile accessory upgrades. Layered necklaces are even better worn over the black shirt; it’s the perfect backdrop to make gold jewelry pop.

 

Looking for other great dresses that’ll carry you through the season? Shop more go-to spring dresses on Topshop now.

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