A babydoll dress by any other name might be more inviting. Their puffy sleeves and flouncy skirts are whimsical and a little flirtatious at their best; pure wedding guest material. In the hands of viral sensation Selkie, they’re wearable, bucolic escapism. Then there’s that name—and the incorrect suspicion that these dresses are just for kids.
With the runway as your guide and a few choice styling tweaks, babydoll dresses can look—dare we say it?—undeniably cool. When I ask Jaclyn Alexandra Cohen, fashion and accessories editor here at BAZAAR, for some styling advice, she recommends a lesson in opposites. Share your babydoll dress with a chunky combat or Chelsea boot. “The key is a heavy weight sole to balance the flounce and femininity to the look,” she says. “The designers that do this well have made it somewhat of a signature in their collections, like McQueen, Valentino, Simone Rocha, and Alaïa.”
“When it comes to styling playful and girly silhouettes like the babydoll dress, you will really want to hone in on your shoe selection,” stylist Candace Read agrees. She’s also a proponent of layering with jackets, whether slung under your shoulders or pulled on all the way. “Be sure to cuff and scrunch those sleeves regardless if you are wearing it on figure or draped across the shoulders—the details communicate that elevated and grown-up look,” she says.
Cohen has another hot styling take: Wear your babydoll dress with your most athletic sneakers. “There’s something so charming about an aerodynamic sporty stretch sneaker with these voluminous and at times couture-like dresses,” she tells me, nodding to Cecilie Bahnsen and Sandy Liang’s spring 2022 collections as the most exemplary. “Maybe it feels like we’re fully leaning into how we wore these as actual babies, but something about it feels so right.”
With those notes in hand, shop the 17 best—and most grown-up—babydoll dresses ahead.
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From the Runway
Hugo Floral Eyelet Puff Sleeve Cotton Babydoll Dress
From Sandy Liang’s spring 2022 collection to your closet. Eyelet lace is always a spring mood—but as Cohen and Read agree, it takes on an edgier persona with lug-sole footwear or chunky sneakers.
Tilde Cutout Bow-detailed Gathered Matelassé Mini Dress
Everything inch of this dress deserves a little commotion: The puff sleeve! The slight high-low hem! The tonal floral fabric! It’s the sort of piece that makes you want a party on your calendar if you don’t have one to attend already.
Shirred Organic Cotton-poplin Mini Dress
Tiers of ruched cotton poplin give this little black babydoll some intriguing texture. The GOTS-certified cotton behind this dress’s crisp look will also keep you cool on the hottest July days.
The Serena Dress is a Tanya Taylor signature, from the square neckline to the seasonal, but always punchy, floral print. It comes with a matching belt cinched shape, and you can shop it in sizes XS–3X.
Pebble Gingham Mini Dress
Playful, patterned, and nearly always under $200, the dresses from this British label are some of our favorites for getting reacquainted with babydoll shapes. This gingham mini has all the volume you could want, plus a delightful bow detail on the back.
Mini Gozo Dress
Lagos, Nigeria-based Míe made its relaxed babydoll dress from a breathable natural linen, begging for a spotlight moment in your summer wardrobe. The simple front gives way to an open back accentuated with sleek, stringy ties. But our favorite detail is the inclusive sizing: This dress is currently available in sizes XS–3X.
Floral-print Tiered Chiffon Mini Dress
Self-Portrait dresses prioritize elegance above all, even through the filter of a micro babydoll mini. Still, you can toughen it up with a chunky combat boot. (Our favorite is Prada’s Monolith boot, by the way.)
Ruched Flared Mini Dress
Devoted Molly Goddard followers know her dresses are walking confections: They’re for taking up space, with as many ruffled layers and frills as possible. If you’re just getting acquainted, this maximalist babydoll dress with splashes of eyelet lace is one of her best.
Painted Puff-Sleeve Cotton Mini Dress
The empire waist and puff sleeves here are pure babydoll; the illustration turns it into a fashion insider’s keepsake. A still life of Oscar de la Renta co-creator Laura Kim’s kitchen table decorates the dress’s bodice and skirt. With the fabric’s gentle folds, it has the appearance of a resort floral print—but it’s far more personal.
Casabianca Puff-sleeve Cotton Mini Dress
I have six weddings in various warm locales this spring and summer; I may wear Aje’s babydoll dress to all of them. The skirt moves beautifully, but doesn’t flare out too far away from my body as to be overwhelming or showy. Then there’s that statement puff sleeve: I’m in love with the volume and the little ruched detail along the shoulder. If you like the silhouette but would prefer another shade, its white, pink, and ice blue dresses are just as well-proportioned.
A print and puff sleeves that are a little Marie Antoinette (Sophia Coppola’s version) and an ultra-mini hem that’s very Y2K. Together, a babydoll dress that’s just sweet enough.
Merlette specializes in dresses with lightweight, billowing forms—but you’ll never catch the Australian label washing its pieces in a pastoral motif. Instead, it tempers a babydoll’s girlishness with graphic prints like this, or in-season solids like white and peach.
Blue Cloud Love Mini Dress
This dress has all the flounces and ruffles you could want from a babydoll dress for spring, plus a semi-sheer crepe that will look so good layered with a longer top in the fall. Chunky boots offset the sweetness whenever you decide to wear it.
On a babydoll silhouette, strategic cutouts can balance a saccharine print and exaggerated proportions with something a little seductive. Zimmermann’s peekaboo moment on the front gives way to a fully open back with a bow accent: the best of both looks.
Jemima Patchwork Floral-print Cotton Mini Dress
O Pioneers makes dresses as nostalgic as its Willa Cather-referential name implies, and it’s newly available to shop on Net-a-Porter. With working moms Clara Francis and Tania Hindmarch at the helm, babydoll dresses like this one are also made to be lived in. Every piece is machine washable with roomy side pockets. And those quilt-like floral patterns? They’re cut from Liberty fabrics.
Zula Linen Dress
This babydoll dress has been my favorite way to dip into spring’s tangerine color trend. The color is even more vibrant in person and gives the ultra-feminine look of the dress an extra kick. As for the fit, smocking along the back of the bodice adds a little stretch I look for in all-day dresses. (If I can’t breathe in it, I don’t want to wear it.) I’d also buy the white version for a bridal shower or outdoor rehearsal dinner—if my wedding wasn’t already a year behind me.
Broken-in Jersey Smocked Babydoll Dress
Beach cover-up? Lounge dress? Nightgown? All of the above? This babydoll dress from J.Crew features a smocked bodice and relaxed skirt for easygoing activities. Right now, it’s 29 percent off in three colors (black, sky blue, and canary yellow), in sizes XXS–3X.
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