Need a Dress for That Summer Wedding? These 5 Are Under $500.

RECENTLY, a 39-year-old friend texted me a mirror selfie of a dress she’d bought to wear to an upcoming destination wedding in Florence, Italy. The frock—the only possible word for it—combined two different floral patterns: an orange one on the arms and a green one on the body. Its long, poofy sleeves fluttered at the wrist; tiers of ruffles cascaded to the floor. It looked like something a Pilgrim fond of LSD might fancy. I told her to return it immediately. She should never wear that dress. Not to the wedding. Not ever.

As a resourceful fashion editor, I vowed to help her find a solution—one that wouldn’t break the bank since she already had to shell out for flights and hotels. But as I started searching, I realized the challenge was more daunting than expected. I pored over webpages filled with dresses cheesy with cutouts, in ditsy florals or with cutesy smocking. I encountered no shortage of barely-there slip dresses. When I finally found elegant, age-appropriate styles, the prices shot up to four figures.

If I am struggling with this, I wondered, how’s the average woman supposed to find a dress these days? Sure, saccharine, smocked Nap Dresses, which made us feel romantic while working from our bedrooms, are a dime a dozen. But twinning with the flower girls is not a good look. And don’t get me started on cutouts. I don’t speak for all women over 30, but my friends and I want to wear a bra and slouch a little without anxiety. Let us eat cake!

INDISPUTABLE STYLES From left: Dress, $359,; Dress, $480,; Acne Dress, $490,; Dress, $290,; Rebecca Taylor Dress, $495,

I found some gems for my friend in the end. We landed on a Johanna Ortiz, one-shouldered number. It featured a single floral print throughout (as opposed to a bad, color-blocked Pilgrim trip) and a matching belt that modulated the flounce. But we also looked to Rebecca Taylor (a brand recently relaunched with a new designer) whose slew of pastel looks offered interesting design details and full coverage. And Fanm Mon, a brand of brightly colored party dresses that push cotton and linen beyond their usual beach or garden-party settings.

Our biggest takeaways? Above all else, search for shapes that suit you—then delve into colors, prints and patterns. A large-scale floral from Rixo or Cara Cara reads dressier than the bohemian and ditsy cottagecore prints you see everywhere right now. Inexpensive satin can be a bit flimsy, so look for shiny fabrics with jacquard weaves or embroidery. Seek out gathered details, like those on the Acne Studios dress here, which takes the simple LBD out of slipdress territory. And most important, beware a plunging neckline. If the dress is navel-grazing on the size-zero model on your screen, you’ll be adjusting all evening. Unless of course, you’re J. Lo. And then the rules don’t apply.

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