The secret to finding the perfect everyday dress – and how to wear it

freida pinto
Freida Pinto wore a versatile button-down style to Wimbledon earlier this summer - Getty

Despite a fightback from separates, dresses remain ubiquitous, especially at this time of year. That has its pluses. On a summer holiday, when loose and flowy is just the ticket, what could be better?

For big occasions, dresses, when they fit properly, create a streamlined, thought-through effect – sleek yet interesting. But often you can end up with something that looks stunning on the day, but you never wear again.

Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh
Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh - Getty

That’s because so many dresses are occasion specific. Everyday life, with its scores of micro demands, throws up challenges that many dresses can’t always answer. Can you slip a jacket over it when the air con’s cranked up? Is it really working for the school drop-off and the presentation you have later? Is your only option for making it look less prissy really to team it with trainers?

perfect everyday dress
perfect everyday dress

Wool knitted tank, £135, Toast; Silk blend dress, £320, Cefinn

Many dresses are too frilly, too severe, too baggy, too bodycon, too formal or just too much of an imposition on your own style. Sometimes, it’s all too easy to lose yourself in their overpowering presence, when what you really want is to stamp your own mark on a dress.

Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman - Dior

Occasionally, though, a perfect paradigm of versatility crops up when you least expect it. The cotton denim one I’m wearing here from Lovebirds, an independent label that began as a vintage shop in Delhi, is just such one, as far 
as I’m concerned.

The contrast stitching makes it interesting. The shirt-waisted style is smart but, importantly, the skirt isn’t voluminous. It can be worn belted or unbelted, with flat sandals or jewelled heels and the zip front means you can adjust the neckline. However I wear it, it’s a magnet for compliments, not least, I assume, because dresses that hit this chic but easy-going note are few and far between.

lisa armstrong perfect everyday dress
'Occasionally, a perfect paradigm of versatility crops up when you least expect it,' says Armstrong - Sarah Brick

Denim dress, £305, Lovebirds (; Leather shoes, £205, Ivylee (; Brass plated earrings, £185, Joanna Laura Constantine (; Leather belt, £125, The Fold (; Hair and make-up by Elizabeth Hsieh

While it won’t be the answer for everyone – that’s the whole gist of this article – it does contain plenty of clues as to what makes a perfect dress.

perfect everyday dress
perfect everyday dress

Urban Renewal Burberry bomber jacket, £270, Urban Outfitters; Rib knit cotton blend dress, £205, Polo Ralph Lauren 

Pockets. Sleeves that will glide under a jacket. A silhouette that works with various jackets, including cropped denim, a short casual puffer, something more tailored or a longer indoor/outdoor trench coat. A fabric that won’t look incongruous blinged up with jewellery or dressed down with clompy boots (cottons and silky fabrics are good year-round with the right layers and adapt to all kinds of occasions)… You might not find The One immediately, but at least you’ll have an idea of what you’re looking for.

Here are four more winners, with styling ideas to help you wear them any time, anywhere.

perfect everyday dress
perfect everyday dress

Wool double faced trench coat, £365, Jigsaw; Knitted dress, £255, Jigsaw 

perfect everyday dress
perfect everyday dress

Linen blend jacket, £575, Veronica Beard; Cotton dress, £468, Veronica Beard 

perfect everyday dress
perfect everyday dress

Double faced wool trench coat, £225, Cos; Lace trim dress, £225, Rixo 

perfect everyday dress
perfect everyday dress

Recycled wool blend blazer, £325, ME+EM; Cotton poplin dress, £350, Oroton 

Get inspired...

Emily Blunt
Emily Blunt - Getty
Samantha Cameron
Samantha Cameron - Getty
Freida Pinto
Freida Pinto - Getty
Catherine, Princess of Wales
Catherine, Princess of Wales - Getty