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Style notes: How to compare women’s dresses online

Dresses are the foundation of women’s fashion and the cornerstone of every good wardrobe. Us ladies want one in every style and colour so we're here to lend you a little helping hand by finding you the best deals and prices on the UK's most fabulous dresses. 

If you feel you’ve exhausted every dress website and need a little style inspiration before you buy a dress online, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compared some of the best dresses available online especially for you, from the high-street's amazing fast-fashion, cheap dresses to the best designer fashion dresses.

Not only that, but we’ve also prepared loads of helpful tips and tricks to guide you in choosing a dress that leaves you feeling amazing. And finally, we’ve put together some practical pointers for buying dresses online so you can have an easy and fun shopping experience - no need to thank us!

When buying a dress online, what different styles are available?

With so many dress styles and only 24 hours in a day, online shopping for your perfect new number can sometimes be overwhelming. We've put together a comprehensive A-Z guide of dress styles to make it all a little easier for you.

1. A-Line – A-line dresses are narrower at the top getting gradually wider towards the bottom (looking like the letter A – hence the name). This kind of dress works well for most figures, but especially pear-shaped women.

2. Baby doll – Baby doll dresses are a shortened variety of the empire dress (see details of empire dress further down) and tend to have a sweetheart or straight neckline. This dress is often said to resemble negligee, so be careful how you wear it.

3. Bandeau – This dress resembles a bra at the top, falling to create a dress. Bandeaus traditionally tend to be more fitted, often having detail on the front, such as a bow or a zip. This style of dress is great for show casing a curvaceous figure.

4. Bodycon – When it comes to women’s dresses, only those who are really body confident are going to be wearing the bodycon. Made from stretchy fabric that clings to the body, this style of dress emphasises your bust and bum (great!) but also the tummy area (not so great!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Empire – The waist line on an empire dress sits above the natural waistline, often right underneath the bust. This style is brilliant for shorter women who want to lengthen their figure; it’s also great for disguising a bottom-heavy figure.

6. Kaftan – This style is perfect for shoppers on a budget looking for a cheap dress that doesn’t compromise on style. Designed to be more of a beach cover-up than a dress to wear out, simply pair with shorts and a strappy top underneath and go from beach to bar in style.

7. Maxi – Maxis are made for summer, with the floaty style perfect for hot weather. This dress is figure flattering for every kind of shape, but if you're not blessed in the height department make sure you pair it with some heels to elongate your figure.

8. Mini – This is a very broad umbrella term for any dress that is short in length. The most popular in this category is the little black dress, often shortened to LBD.

9. Shift – The shift dress is cut just above the knee and falls straight down from the bust. It can have a variety of neck lines, but usually they tend to be higher. The dress has no definition at the waist and generally isn’t figure hugging. This style is perfect for ladies that want a little bit of comfort, or something a little looser on hot days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Smock – Originally designed for pregnant women, be careful when wearing a smock as it can be unflattering on a larger frame. If you have a straight, slim figure this dress will sit amazingly on your frame. Smock dresses are also kind to the apple-shaped lady, concealing her problem area, her tummy and middle.

11. Tea – Think quintessentially British style, think tea dresses. Traditionally worn to afternoon tea, the tea dress has now been adopted by mainstream fashion and nails that 'just threw it on' look. They traditionally have a floral print and stop just above the knee. Team with a cardigan, mannish brogues and ankle socks for a cuter-than-cute look. 

12. Trapeze – Approach the trapeze dress with caution as it can be unflattering on some figures. Trapeze dresses are cut above the knee, with no waist line and a fuller bottom.

13. Wrap A winner for all, this dress has been awarded our ‘favourite dress in the whole of the UK!’ The wrap dress is great for all body shapes (it can hide a multitude of sins!). This style crosses over underneath the bust and then falls down concealing the tummy area. If you’re a busty lady, this should be a wardrobe staple as it will enhance your gorgeous figure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding dress types is half the battle, now let's look at what dresses will flatter your figure.

If I buy a dress online, how will I know what will suit my body shape?

Apple-shaped ladies – Bigger bust, rounded tummy, slender hips and lovely pins. When buying a women’s dress online, follow these tips:

  • Go for dresses with a V-neck to show off your best assets.
  • Pairing your dress with a tailored jacket is always a good little trick as it makes your waist look trimmer.
  • Look for a dress with detail at the side to draw attention away from your tummy area - wrap dresses are ideal.
  • When it comes to dress shapes, go for an A-Line skirt as the fullness will balance out your proportions.
  • Pattern is a must; it adds texture and depth to your look.
     

Pear-shaped ladies – Small bust and big bum, thighs or hips. When browsing dresses online be sure to follow these golden rules:

  • Strapless dresses are a must as you have narrow shoulders to show off.
  • Detail around the waist is brilliant as it will emphasise your tiny middle.
  • A-Line skirts work well if you have a pear-shaped figure as they will make your waist look tiny whilst skimming your hips.
  • Maxi dresses are brilliant for disguising larger hips. Make sure you find one that has detail at the waist to emphasise that teeny middle!
     

Hourglass figures (the lucky few!) – Lovely balanced figure, curvy hips, big bust and a tiny waist. Although you have an amazing figure you should still try and follow these rules when shopping for dresses online:

  • A-Line dresses are always going to look great as they will mirror your figure beautifully.
  • A narrow fitted dress, such as a pencil dress, will emphasise your lovely balanced proportions.
  • Unlike many other women, you can get away with draping material as it will only further accentuate your figure.
  • Make sure that your clothes are nice and fitted to flatter your shape.
     

Slender Ladies (banana shape) – Small bust, small waist, and small hips. You really can buy most dresses online, but to make the most of your figure, review these tips below, but you’ll look good in almost anything!

  • When looking for dresses you want to try and find one that has lots of details such as ruffles and layers.
  • Pair your lovely dress with a chunky necklace; it will enlarge your bust.
  • Go for material that will drape over your figure and create curves.
 
 

 

What fabric should I go for? 

When it comes to choosing which fabric to opt for it’s mostly down to personal preference. If you’re looking for a cheap dress you may want to bear in mind that certain materials, such as polyester, cost less to manufacture than others, while some fabrics are easier to maintain.

  • Acrylic – Synthetically made material, typically manufactured in the Far East and South America. The material is lightweight and very soft to the touch and tends to be used as a cheaper alternative to cashmere or wool. The only thing you need to be aware of is that acrylic isn’t as durable as more expensive alternatives. Garments made of acrylic tend to develop ‘bobbly bits’.
  • Chiffon – Thin meshed fabric, almost translucent in nature, that is a very popular fabric for evening wear. The most important factor to be aware of with chiffon is that it’s prone to fraying as it is very delicate. However, the likelihood of fraying can be reduced by hand washing.
  • Cotton – Natural fibre, largely grown and spun in Africa and India. The cotton industry can be exploitive, so many retailers now make their garments from fair trade cotton; if you’re keen on environmental issues, be sure you check the label.
  • Denim – Thicker and rougher style of cotton. If you are looking to buy a denim dress, be aware that it’s likely to shrink a little after several washes. Denim is also prone to fading, though this sometimes enhances its appearance!
  • Elastane or spandex – Used for its elastic properties. If you are buying a dress that is largely made of elastane, bear in mind it’s not always the most durable material and will lose its elasticity over time.
  • Lace – Consists of patterns and open holes. Lace is seen as a very luxurious and elegant material and is often used as the top layer of a dress (over a less see through material). Lace can often be more expensive that other materials as there is a lot more work involved in the production process.
  • Leather – An expensive material if genuine and made from cattle hide. It is more commonly used to make accessories, such as bags and belts, due to it being durable and flexible.
  • Linen – Again very expensive as there is a lot of work involved in the production process. However many people don’t mind spending more on linen garments, as they’re known to keep you cool in hot climates due to the fabric being breathable.
  • Nylon – Often used as a cheaper alternative to silk. It is synthetically produced and was traditionally used to create ladies stockings.
  • Polyester – Commonly used for clothing garments and household linens and is relatively cheap to manufacture.
  • Poplin – Cheaper alternative to cotton as it is usually a blend made of cotton and polyester. However if you are looking for a lightweight dress poplin will not be suitable, as it tends to be heavier than other similar looking materials.
  • Rayon – Another cheaper alternative to silk, this material is often used on bright sheer garments.
  • Satin – Sheer fabric with a glossy finish. It can often look somewhat cheap and tacky, so be careful when buying satin dresses online.
  • Silk – Very expensive as it is made from the cocoons of silkworms resulting in a long and hard production process. Silk is largely produced in China. This material is very soft and has a luxurious appearance.
  • Suede – A variety of leather with a soft finish. It is not a common choice of material for dresses as it tends to be more structured. This material can be expensive, unless you get faux suede that is not made from the underside of cattle.

I want to buy a dress online, but how do I know what size I will be?

Sizing is an important factor to consider when buying a dress online, as retailers can have slight differences in how they measure their sizes.

It is always best to check the size guides on the retailers’ websites for specific details. However, if you are coming to the UK from another country (or vice versa) then these conversion size guides should be useful.

United Kingdom

United States Europe Australia
4 2 32 6
6 4 34 8
8 6 36 10
10 8 38 12
12 10 40 14
14 12 42 16
16 14 44 18
18 16 46 20

I need some help deciding what dress colours will suit me when looking at dresses online?

Before you can know what colours will usually suit you, the first thing to work out is whether your skin has a pink/red or yellow/golden undertone.

  • Pink/red undertones – You will best be suited to cooler shades with a blue undertone.
  • Yellow/ golden undertones – This colouring will be best suited to warmer colours. These colours will have a core hint of red.

When choosing colours for dresses, another key factor can be hair colour:

  • Brunettes and red heads – Earthy colours such as browns, dark greens, oranges and reds will look great on you.
  • Blondes and light browns – Flowery colours will work well for you, such as peaches, pinks, purples and blues.

How do I care for my new online dress that I have bought?

It is always best to read the care labels on your clothing, or you may even be able to find care instructions online before you buy your dress. Be aware that some dresses will require dry cleaning. Make sure you also know whether you can iron your dress, what temperature to wash it at and finally if it is a strong colour whether there will be transference.

For more details about different materials and any specific care instructions, please refer to the “What different materials are there?” section.

If I buy a dress online, how long will it take to arrive?

Delivery time will depend upon the website you buy your dress from. Be aware that if you buy a dress from outside the UK then the wait will be considerably increased as the shipping process will be longer.

You also want to make sure you are aware of any additional costs that can be incurred from delivery. Most retailers will offer free delivery to the UK when you spend over a certain amount. Make sure you check the delivery policy before you confirm your payment.

When I buy dresses online, what do I do if it isn’t right when it arrives?

When buying a dress online there will be some occasions when it’s just not right, whether it’s the wrong size or the wrong colour. No matter the reason, by purchasing online you are given a seven day cooling off period in which you can return an item.

You have these rights because you are protected by the Distance Selling Regulations. In addition to your DSR rights always check the retailer’s website as some will give you an extended returns period. For more information on DSR and your rights when buying online, visit the UK Government website. 

What do I do next?

Now you’ve got a better idea of the kind of dresses you’re looking for, why not check out price comparison tables where you will find the best deals and offers on all kinds of women’s dresses, from the cheapest dresses to the best fast fashion dresses. Whatever you are looking for you are sure to find the best selection of dresses here at Cafe La Moda.