04.03.2016

Dress The Part

The quintessentially feminine silhouette sure can wear the pants.

Words: Melly Neil | Photography: Rudi Geyser

Girls wear dresses and boys wear pants. It’s what separates the sexes. At least, that's what the stick figures on the doors of public bathrooms would have you believe, but a quick glance at the world around us shows that lines have blurred. Jaden Smith is wearing a dress – a demure athleisure number – to his prom, women can be the face of menswear collections, and your boyfriend jeans never actually belonged to your boyfriend.

What a time to be alive! And when you can wear whatever you want, why would you relegate dresses to the back of your closet? From conventionally feminine to edgier options, the humble sheath of fabric continues to take on new forms. But a dress is never just a dress. At work we want a piece that strikes the right authoritative notes, while a day trip calls for the flowing looseness of a more romantic silhouette. Party? Seductress! Occasion? Understated. Everyday? Comfort...  

From church-appropriate dresses that you smooth over your knees while sitting in a pew to short cocktail shifts that'll have you selecting your prettiest underwear ahead of a night out, there’s a dress for every occasion.

The clincher? Because there’s no need to mix and match separates all you have to do is decide whether it’s a strappy sundress or a slouchy shirtdress that you want to slip into, and then take it from there.

Throw on a jacket that’s the business and your office dress is suit like and sexy. Wear a white T-shirt and sneakers under a shiny slip and suddenly it’s a layered look that only a few can pull off. Jewelry and accessories will take a simple dress to numerous places so make your clothes talk. Because what we wear speaks volumes about us before we can.

Two women who know this are Niquita Bento and Kelly Fung, which is why we collaborated with the media mavens asking them to interpret ten of our dresses.

Niquita Bento is a creative assistant at Elle who got her break after winning the Elle Style Reporter, a role she took over from Trevor Stuurman. With a passion for visual storytelling, Niquita’s personal project Neck Of The Woods is her visual journal for all things lifestyle and style.

Kelly Fung is a fashion and beauty editor at Marie Claire who has been obsessed with style ever since she forced her mom to buy her a pair of gold ballet pumps and a crushed-velvet cape. Today she shows tens of thousands of Marie Claire readers how to dress and groom every single month.  

Two girls, five dresses each, so many possibilities...

OCCASION

Whether it’s a wedding, a school dance, a birthday party or you just want to make an occasion out of looking super cute, you need a dress that helps you to stand out from the crowd. This style is all about embracing the feminine side of your look, with statement jewellery and the tallest heels you can balance in.

Kelly: I selected a very cutesy tea-dress that goes in at the waist and has a really cute collar. If I wanted to make it less prissy I could’ve paired it with either a pair of sneakers or a brogue and a frilly sock. Because I don’t think that for an occasion you have to wear heels. Who made up that rule? You go to an outdoor wedding and end up stuck in the lawn?! I like to create juxtaposition wherever you can.

Niquita: My style is simple and I always pick classic pieces that I know I’ll wear again and again. So I mix and match where everything kind of changes with my mood. I love this strappy dark floral dress. I could pair it with an off the shoulder underneath, just to make it more exciting. I think that would make it more chic, too. I would also maybe do some drop earrings for more drama.

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OFFICE

If you want to look professional and put together at work then you should look to create something of a uniform where you don’t have to think about what you are going to wear every single day. You shouldn’t wear anything that will distract you from the job at hand, so keep it simple with neutral designs and avoid flashy or noisy jewelry that will attract too much attention. By keeping a few evening accessories close at hand you can then easily transform the office dress from workday to night play.

Kelly: Working at a fashion magazine you never want to look like you’re trying too hard, ever, so I picked something that’s quite effortless. I love big shapes and voluminous stuff. I’ve never been about bodycon anything. I actually really like the way menswear sits on men, how it almost skims the body as opposed to womenswear, which is usually about showing the waist and hips and whatever. I just love the proportions of oversized. Love the androgyny. And I do think that it’s a lot more flattering on all shapes and sizes. I would up style the office dress for evening by slipping on the heels that I always keep in the car, put on lipstick, fix my hair, refresh my face and that’s it, because I think nowadays we don’t have to be so formal. We live busy lifestyles and people realize how impractical all these rules are.

Niquita: We’re very chilled at work and most days I’m in sneakers. Some mornings I wish I had a uniform – it would save so much time. Something like the Steve Jobs polo neck and jeans combo would be really cute. Or this work dress. Denim is really great. Especially in this wash, because the darker denim is probably more office appropriate than a lighter wash. It just comes across as more corporate, being a navy. I paired it with the black ankle boots to give it a 70s feel, which I think is quite cool.

PARTY

Pick a dress with luxe materials and embellishments that will make you stand out from the crowd like shouting, “Party time! Excellent!” and playing air guitar. You want to dress to impress in a style that gets you past the velvet rope every time. A variation of the little black dress is the obvious choice here, and it doesn’t have to be expensive to look like a million bucks – its elegance often lies in its simplicity. Black slims the body, frames the face and channels Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but whether you choose to accesorise with sunglasses and a martini is up to you.

Kelly: The LBD is very versatile and something that I feel that every girl needs in her wardrobe. That said, my little black dress won’t be the next girl’s. The one I chose here has got hints of midnight blue and I’ve paired it with a sneaker because when you wear it you’re dancing or running away from people. Who wants to be drunk on a pavement with heels on? It’s a practical thing. You want to flaunt it. Stand out and look cool. As a girl it’s very important to have a feminine viewpoint on your dressing, but dresses don’t have to be super girly and pretty and flouncy. I love showing ankle. That’s cool. Something about the proportion and when it just sits right it kind of elongates you.

Niquita: I wore a heel with my LBD even though I’m a lot more comfortable in sneakers. I’m so clumsy! These have a block heel so they’re more stable and a lot less scary than a pair of stilettos. I don’t think I’d usually wear sequins but I love black – it’s my go-to colour – and so I’m down for this. I also especially love slipping on a slip dress. Thin dainty straps are so loose and comfortable and just really nice to party in. It’s quite a versatile dress and I could’ve played it down by wearing a T-shirt underneath for daytime wear, but instead I paired it with a bomber that’s black and sleek and brings that athleisure vibe to it. So it works. 

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DAY ADVENTURE

Even if you’re not a typical girly girl you’ll agree that there’s nothing better than the easy coolness of a summer dress. There’s nothing to mix and match and no rules as to how long or short it can be. Look for fabrics that drape and breathe. Colour? Pattern? Anything goes, as long as it’s relaxed loose and pretty. This is the ultimate in downtime dressing and made to be worn with minimal fuss.

Kelly: I chose a paisley and maroon summer dress that’s easy, cool and casual. It’s a very loose A-line dress that’s quite flattering. One of those dresses that every girl who goes to a festival will pick up and put on. I like the shapeless form of it, and the high neck. I also like the long sleeves. They’re super impractical, but my elbows are breezy, and the slits give it another dimension. You got to show some skin! The print is a statement in itself so I wouldn’t over-accessorise and would just wear it with some brown ankle boots.

Niquita: The maxi dress is just so easy to wear. So free. So comfortable. It’s also really pretty. You wouldn’t normally wear sneakers with a maxi dress, and I’m sure that some people will think it’s quite odd, but I love sneakers and think it works quite well. A juxtaposition of street and girly. I actually think I’m channeling some heavy Spanish vibes here. Pass me the maracas. I feel like an emoji.

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EVERY DAY

A dress that’s designed for everyday use is something that you turn to again and again. There’s no agonising over styling options or what to wear it with, it’s like meeting up with an old friend where you just pick it up from where you last left things. Casual. Comfortable. Cool.

Kelly: This is something you can throw on and immediately look good in. It’s not restrictive at all and I can easily do my thing in this dress. I love the clean lines, simple silhouette and it’s so slick and cool. This is the easiest dress – just remember your body type, and act accordingly.

Niquita: Working in magazines influences my style hugely. We’re driven by trends and working with new product all the time, so we always see the stuff before the stores get it. Sometimes that makes it all a bit overwhelming, and you want something easy that you can just throw on. Like this dress. I would definitely wear it with sneakers and the dipped Tubular are the perfect accompaniment to this dress.