ALEXANDRA SHULMAN explains how to wow in a white Wimbledon dress- the magic carpet to the season of roses, sunshine, long evenings and holidays
- Alexandra Shulman says white dresses come in enormous range of styles
- Adds that they are everything from glamourous to more outdoorsy
- Says to keep the accessories with a white dress light such as a wicker clutch
There is little that speaks of summer as much as the white dress. They are a one-stop magic carpet to the season of roses, sunshine, long evenings and holidays — no wonder the shops are crammed with them.
More than most items of clothing, it is what they represent, rather than what they are, that is so appealing. White dresses are summer bottled.
As Wimbledon enters its climactic second week, it’s a big white-dress moment. Check out the white dresses in the Royal Box and around Centre Court. We might not be VIPs, but we can all grab a bit of that uniquely British lawn tennis vibe. Of which, the white dress is central.
And there’s an enormous selection of styles available which means there’s a fail-safe choice for everyone. White dresses range from the crisp shirt dress with an air of cool, smart, city chic to those macramé shifts that can be found in every holiday town, dangling on a rail along with sun hats and swimming trunks.
The white dress splits into two distinct categories. They can be totems of glamour shrieking that the wearer need not care about such trivial matters as the real likelihood of them getting stained on first wearing. These are red carpet whites, wedding whites, party whites in luxurious fabrics.
And they are also the more structured whites such as the shirt dresses the Duchess of Cambridge favours or the sculptural, rented Emilia Wickstead design that Carrie Johnson wore for Ascot.
Or — and these are my preferred white dresses — they come in at the opposite end of the dress spectrum. They are not precious. They are simple, carefree outdoorsy and frankly inexpensive enough for it not to be the end of the world if a strawberry falls on them or a child’s grubby hand messes them up.
We all have our ideal white dress, our vision of ourselves wafting through summer, whether that be as a Dolce & Gabbana-style white lace Italian sex bomb accessorised with a Portofino basket or something more Victoriana, hinting of petticoats and nighties such as Carole Bamford and Martha Ward’s collaboration for Bamford.
My most treasured white dress was bought years ago, from a Gap sale rail. It’s travelled with me to the palaces of Rajasthan and the restaurants of Ibiza by way of many an evening passeggiata to the bar for a Negroni.
It’s my most faithful holiday companion. A collarless white cotton shirt dress with three-quarter sleeves, it doesn’t sound glamorous. And it isn’t. But it packs like a dream and is still amazingly, gloriously white.
It’s a wonderful counterpoint to the print and colour of most of the rest of my holiday wardrobe.
Even so, there’s always room for more, such as this summer’s cut-out embroidered Zara dress, and the extremely appealing Nobody’s Child Hannah, with a square neckline and soft tiers.
If you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, check out Atterley.com’s offering of lesser-known independent brands.
In general, this summer the detailing has gone up a notch with intricate lace trims, flounced hems and gently ballooning sleeves. They are a little more sophisticated than a basic holiday white, often mixing prim with a surprise exposure. Back details and off-the-shoulder sleeves work to turn a simple white dress into much more.
Naturally nothing in life is that simple and underwear is the challenge for white, especially in the thin fabric that gives so many white dresses their summer lightness and slightly ethereal quality. Angels don’t do knicker lines and thick bra straps, which is unhelpful. Pale nude will be the least likely to show through no matter what your skin colour, but check that your underpinnings are not too tight — better to go a size up on this occasion.
Alternatively you can, and I favour this, make a virtue of your bra and choose a brilliant colour with pretty straps. This works best on a textured dress like crochet or lace. The other solution is the old standby, so often forgotten nowadays, of the slip. Not just a skirt, but a long camisole that will even out any of the bumps of underwear. In a fine cotton or silk, they also help to keep you cool, but avoid anything with even a hint of cling.
The whole point of white dresses is that they are not everyday items. They are a little escape from utility and practicality, no matter whether they are a Gucci crystal-embellished mini or a delicate broderie midi from M&S.
You just don’t want to weigh them down so keep the accessories light — Greek-style sandals, pretty wicker clutches, a chunky pair of sliders. And then, all you have to do is go off and enjoy.
Lucy dress, £129, ghost.co.uk; platforms, £299, lkbennett.com (left). Tie-strap midi, £27.99, and sandals, £27.99, both newlook.com (right)
Flippy mini with neck tie, £175, tedbaker. com; shoes, £25, asos.com (left). Pixie cotton maxi, £87.20, east.co.uk; sandals, £65, hush-uk.com (right)
Dolly Dobby stripe, £38.50, monsoon. co.uk; trainers, £57, hotter.com; bag, £12.99, tkmaxx.com (left). Mabel broderie midi, £139, whistles. com; shoes, £25, asos.com (right)
Belle dress, £155, aspiga. com; sandals, £27.99, new look.com