28 In Anatomy of an Outfit

Anatomy of an Outfit: Wearing a summer dress three ways

The Isabel dress by Spirithouse

Beaming to find a dress that fits me!


It’s nearly summer and if you’re like me, you’d love a dress…

*you can grab from your closet that’s easy to wear

*that doesn’t wrinkle

*is cool in the heat so instead of hugging you and making you sweat, it’s loose and encourages air circulation, and

*has sleeves in case you don’t feel like exposing arm flesh every day

Does one such dress exist? Ya, you betcha and I’m going to tell you about it!

My history: I don’t have a lot of luck finding summer dresses that fit me or come sleeveless. I’ll be people-watching and quickly I’m down in the dumps over the parade of dresses that I’d never be able to wear. My girls are queens of dresses. I try to be happy for them. Boo hoo me.


Is there a dress out there for Brenda?

As a brand ambassador for Artful Home I get to look through the catalog and pick something to wear and write about. When I got the catalog in the mail this spring I sat down and paged through it. I saw cute tops, pants, third pieces, and Capris. There were dresses too but I didn’t linger on those. I know me. I know my body. I’d stick to what works.

But then something happened. That spirited, defiant part of myself that resembles a fifteen-year-old sneaking out at night came forward and said, “Stop your whining and pining. You’re getting a dress.”

Well, that was that. She’d spoken. I started over with the catalog pages and looked at dresses. Shortly, I spotted the Isabel Dress by Spirithouse.

It should have been obvious the first time around. It’s plaid. Who loves plaid? Me! It’s a muted gray, black and white plaid. Who loves gray, black and white? I do, I do! The fabric is puckered. Who’s a major advocate for textured fabrics? The BK. It’s lightweight and made from viscose/cotton/elastane. Who’s been dreaming of a lightweight dress? Moi! It’s a summer dress with sleeves. Who wants sleeves? Me and a million other women.


Caslon shoes by Nordstrom

Styling the dress from the feet up


Would it fit?

I’ve tried summer dresses. There’s one I bought last year and I won’t tell you which one. I LOVED it and tried to ignore the waist not being in exactly the right place for me. Does this limit my wearing of it? Oh, yes! But this Isabel plaid dress was accepting of my waist being where it is. In fact, you could have a long torso or a short one and this dress gives you great fit results. You could have full thighs or skinny thighs, be full in the hips or narrow in the hips and this dress would deliver good fit. It’s fit for the masses!

Notice how it’s more fitted in the arms and upper torso but then it opens up and gets wider from the waist down? That shape is spelled h-a-p-p-i-n-e-s-s.

But before we get too carried away with this happiness feeling, we must know: Can it be styled three ways?


Wearing double necklaces

Wearing long necklaces to mimic the long length of the dress


I have this 3-way philosophy that I use with separates. But by gosh, I think a dress should meet that standard as well! Let’s see if it does.


Styling the dress for work, at least my kind of work

I could show up wearing this dress with all white accessories. I love the opportunity to wear my white slip on shoes with floral appliqués secured with pearls. This shoes are by Caslon. I got them last year at Nordstrom. I wanted to keep going with the white so I layered my new flea market Mickey Mouse watch pearl pendant and my heart necklace. When wearing something long like this dress, I want to repeat the long line in my necklaces.


Mickey Mouse watch necklace and heart necklace

These two necklaces are going steady


If you look at my forearm I’m wearing my button bracelet. Don’t tell the rest of my homemade button bracelets this, but I think this one’s my favorite. The buttons are mother-of-pearl so it ties in with the pearl necklace and the pearls on the shoes. I could easily spend a few hours in this dress working in a client’s closet putting outfits together for her or helping her purge items that no longer suit her.


Isabel Dress from Artful Home

Enjoying the ease of the Isabel Dress


Styling the dress in a more dressy way

I wanted to see what would happen if I put on my black suede Gabor black ankle wrap sandals. I got a dressier vibe right away. So I added a strand of pearls and my shiny Kate Spade faceted black beads. My arty ring came on and so did my iron Moonlight Cuff (also from Artful Home) with little diamonds. I slung a python print black and white small cross body bag over my shoulder. I’m ready for a date or an event. Invite me to a baby shower, I’m ready. Meeting out-of-town friends for dinner? I’ll wear this! Although I will remember to take my Fitbit off! I like this version. I notice I walk in a more ladylike way when I’m wearing the Isabel dress styled like this.


Adding black accessories to the dress

Dressing up the dress


With the side pockets, I can keep a lipstick and a handkerchief handy. Maybe even one of those little dental floss picks. Things love to hide between my teeth when I eat. Does that happen to you? I could put my whole emergency grooming kit in my pockets! Or just my hands. A dress with pockets! I didn’t even dare put that on my list of wishes.


Pockets in the Isabel Dress by Spirithouse

A dress with pockets. Oh my!


Gabor ankle wrap sandals

Suede ankle wrap sandals by Gabor


Styling the dress in a fun, funky go-to-the-Farmer’s-Market way

In this version I’m wearing my black Wellfeet slip ons. Notice how each outfit has started with the shoes? That’s how I styled this dress, from the bottom up. These Wellfeet sneakers live on into their fourth year now. I can wear them for long periods of time, no problem.


Casual accessories with Isabel Dress

Ready to go to the Farmer’s Market!


I could imagine myself wearing this to the Petaluma Antique Faire and wanting to have a wrap if the wind kicked up. We get lots of ocean and bay breezes here in Sonoma. A girl’s gotta be prepared. So I added my well worn (but doesn’t look it) black linen Eileen Fisher jean-styled jacket. It’s probably three years old.

Do you adore as much as I do the love affair happening between the textures here? My puckered fabric dress is crushing madly with my raffia black vintage framed summer bag. Can you hear the sizzling energy between them?

I love pulling out my Calleen Cordero black leather cuff with the silver metal pattern. I like the width of the cuff as it relates to the width of the plaid print of  the dress. The cuff is chunky but the design makes it a little more delicate. It’s a great accent to the dress and pairs well with my arty ring. My leather corded heart pendant is a super summertime accessory. It’s so lightweight. It hardly feels like I’m wearing anything!


Vintage handbag with Isabel Dress

Love the attraction of the puckers in the dress and the black raffia in purse


Would I wear this on a Saturday to run around and do all sorts of things? Yup! “Come on, Honey, let’s go to Boonfly for brunch and stand outside for forty minutes waiting for our table. Maybe you can take photos of my outfit while we wait.” He just loves that. (Don’t ask him for verification on that last part. But he does love Boonfly!)


Accessorizing the Isabel dress

Putting a big heart on this combo


I realize many of you out there look fabulous in summer dresses. And really, I am happy for you. Especially now! For me who has a tough time getting one to fit right? Well, I’m really happy! Want to go to lunch? I’ve got a dress! Want to go get an ice cream and sit in the park? I’m there! Want to go to a museum and dinner afterward? I’m ready in my puckered plaid dress!

My daughter Erin took all these pics. (Thank you, Hon.) She went for a creative shot and I’m leaving you with that. I love being framed by my favorite flowers, peonies. That’s me, smiling at you, and thinking about our weeks ahead.


Isabel Dress at Artful Home

Ready to hang out in my easy dress


I have to know. Are you a dress person? Are they easy for you? Hard? I’m ready to celebrate and commiserate, whichever. Do share!!


This post was sponsored by Artful Home, a great fashion and accessory resource for women who love style and ease. They care!

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  • Reply
    Ramona Puckett
    May 17, 2018 at 4:17 am

    You have a winner! I love the three ways you styled it. Now, you’ve got me looking for a summer dress! Thank you, Brenda!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2018 at 5:22 am

    I love this dress! Just what I have been looking for too! Ordered it immediately! Btw, where did you did get that fabulous button bracelet?

  • Reply
    Jill Garrett
    May 17, 2018 at 5:27 am

    Pockets?! I can’t believe you didn’t lead with those! Anyway, great article. Love the dress and what you’ve done with it. You are very inspirational. Will have to look up Artful Home.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2018 at 5:31 am

    I really love this dress! Wish it came in petite/petite plus sizes. Thank you for all the great information you share, such as the style it 3 ways tip!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2018 at 5:56 am

    I love this dress and the ways you have styled it. But over $300 for a casual summer dress is a bit much.

    • Reply
      May 17, 2018 at 7:25 am

      If a price is higher than you usually spend, that’s all the more reason to be sure you can style it three ways. After I pressed publish on this post I thought of three more! That makes this dress a smart investment for me…especially when it’s so hard to find ones that fit!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2018 at 7:07 am

    I am inspired by the concept of styling a major clothing piece three ways – thank you for showing us how with this darling dress! Can you tell me more about your black shoes – the Wellfeet slip ons? Thank you!

  • Reply
    Ann Werries
    May 17, 2018 at 8:59 am

    I became a dress person about 8-10 years ago….when I was having trouble finding cool clothing to wear in Arizona heat, and didn’t like capris (still don’t) and I wasn’t finding shorts either. “many are tried — few are chosen” is my motto about dresses in general…. I like this dress on you, but it’s a little long for my taste (that’s what hemming is for!) I look all year round. everywhere, for dresses. My fave is an Eileen Fisher denim linen from several years back that’s still going strong. Midsummer after I was wearing the heck out of it–I got a second one on sale. Good thing–wear points coming in the first one. It looks great for many occasions. Wish I could find more “like” it, but have not as of yet…..I, too, like finding a dress to be able to wear 3 ways, at least–the EF dress fits that bill, but not all my dresses do. Some, I buy because I like the pattern, and know it will skim over my lumps and make me look completely dressed without many accessories–just a cute handbag, nice sandals and earrings. In the Arizona heat of July that’s all I can stand sometimes!!

    • Reply
      May 18, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      I sure do love your formula for getting dressed in a chic way for Arizona heat! I can see it exactly as you’ve described it. And I adore your motto: Many are tried, few are chosen.
      Taking the time to try is the best bet with anything! When I’m with my clients in a dressing room I am fearless about trying the same item in four sizes to get the right look. I can easily see how some people would just give up and go home. Thanks so much for addressing the dress!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2018 at 9:34 am

    I love this post and that dress!! I clicked on the link to Artful Home and sadly the dress is only available in XL. But you look great and I love the three ways to style a dress that you did so well. I am on a search for a summer dress now also!!

  • Reply
    Cathy D.
    May 17, 2018 at 11:08 am

    Brenda, this dress is perfect for you, and it’s got me thinking. I don’t own a single dress or skirt, and why is that? My legs are one of my better features. The problem is that dresses never fit. I have a short torso, and also have almost no waist to speak of. For years I’ve written off dress as impossible, but maybe I’ll take a look around.

    It’s interesting that you started with the shoes. I always do this because i almost always wear sneakers. If something doesn’t go with sneakers, it doesn’t belong in my closet. Perhaps this dress would go with my new gray and white sneakers. Something to think about.

    Thanks for another wonderful and useful post!

    • Reply
      May 18, 2018 at 2:31 pm

      Cathy, what you have a problem with is exactly what I have a problem with. My legs are longer in proportion to my torso. I can get more flattering looks by highlighting my legs. That said, finding a dress that fits this well made me feel so free! I love the feeling of easy movement. Five more of these type of dresses would be a great addition to my closet. I’m waiting for a delivery today of shoes that may work well for me. I do have a challenge with feet. And if they do, I’ll be able to wear this dress in more ways as well. In the summer particularly, I am hyper-focused on my feet and how I can make an outfit look cute given all those darling sandals out there are never going to work with me. It’s a huge bonus to me that this dress looks so great with sneakers. There’s hope in the dress department for us, Cathy!

      • Reply
        Cathy D.
        May 18, 2018 at 8:15 pm

        Thanks for the encouragement, and I really hope the new shoes work for you!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    Brenda you’ve absolutely nailed the styling with these 3 looks, loving it! I also have problems finding a dress as I don’t have a waist and have a short torso. Some dresses end up looking like maternity wear. I will take inspiration from your article.

    • Reply
      May 18, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      We’re talking the same fit language here! Most dresses ride up on me. My waist is lower than the designated waistline of the dress. So I’m trying to pull it down all the time. Mostly what happens is the waistline rides up and then it brings attention to my rounder body part, my belly. And yes, I could get that pregnant person look. I’m glad you’re inspired. The Isabel Dress is our Super Hero!

  • Reply
    LT Holmes
    May 17, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Love that dress and how you styled it from the bottom up! Ordered it this morning and hoping it will work for an upcoming wedding in Golden Gate Park. Just discovered your website a few weeks ago and am enjoying your creative thought process…thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      May 18, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Laura, I hope it works for you too! Remember that there can be gale winds running through the Golden Gate Park so be sure to bring a wrap just in case. And I’m so glad you discovered us over here! This is an awesome community. Stick around! Happy dress wearing!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    You look great in this Brenda! But I have to say that while I love the dress over all…I am tiring of the uneven hem length look shown on almost everything lately….from tunics to tops to dresses and jackets. Otherwise its a great looking neckline, and fabric pattern. And girl…you’re rockin’ it! <3

    • Reply
      May 18, 2018 at 2:19 pm

      Karena, you are right about the great neckline! So right! And I can understand what you’re saying about the uneven hemline. I’m not tired of it yet but there could come a day! I find the uneven hem to be interesting to a piece and also offers that sense of movement. Straight lines can seem stiffer looking even if the fabric is not stiff. I’ll be curious fashion-wise to see how this design element holds or doesn’t hold over the next three years. I’m so glad you brought up this point! You’ll have me thinking about it the rest of the day! Happy weekend to you.

  • Reply
    May 18, 2018 at 1:42 am

    Brenda, I am so happy that you got a dress that you love. I am a dress and skirt lover for most of my life. Dresses are just so much cooler in hot humid summers, and I love the feel of them. I hardly ever wear shorts, ( knee length of course), and find that dresses just up the fashion look without any extra effort. When we travel my suitcase is mostly dresses and skirts and I love it. You got a great extra with the pockets. Why can’t more of them have that. Hope you get lots of wear out of that dress, and find that you love them as much as I do. Also I really like the colour story.

    • Reply
      May 18, 2018 at 2:14 pm

      Diane, I’m nodding my head up and down as I read your comment. It’s SO true that dresses and skirts are the coolest ever. It’s hard to have style in high heat. And even with shorts, I find that shorts with a waistband or even a Capri with a waistband is so darn hot and uncomfortable. I want to walk in your dress-and-skirt footsteps! I have a hard time fitting my torso when it comes to dresses. I’m hoping that the Isabel Dress is the first of several to be hanging in my closet! This one is just such a treat to have found. Thanks so much for your share, Diane!

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    May 18, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    I don’t wear dresses very often, but once in awhile the mood hits especially at this time of year when we’ve finally said good-bye to our long cold winter. Yours looks comfy and I love that it has pockets!

  • Reply
    May 22, 2018 at 9:03 am

    LONG DRESSES Never short ones……………………THIS LOOKS GREAT ON YOU!
    TRA LA!

  • Reply
    Cindy L
    May 23, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Wow, Brenda — cute, cute cute! I love everything you’ve shown with this dress, and love the variety of options you’ve given us. I notice you’re wearing your Gabor sandals in one of the photos. I have YOU to thank for introducing me to this line of comfy but beautiful shoes! I have purchased a few pairs over the past few months, and cannot tell you how pleased I am. I had never heard of Gabor, but they are perfect for my problem feet because they cover all the bad parts yet are still strappy and cute for summer, never clunky looking. Thank you again.

  • Reply
    La semaine d'une gourmette
    May 24, 2018 at 1:48 am

    What a lovely dress! I’m a dress woman (my problem piece is trousers!), and I have an endless collection of dresses – summer dresses, winter dresses, fall/spring dresses, black, red, blue, green… In summer I love just putting a dress and nice shoes on, a bit of jewelry, and go! So I’m very happy you’ve found a dress you love 🙂

  • Reply
    stephanie ashworth
    June 20, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    I ordered the dress but it didn’t work for me. No problem but I do think your readers should be aware that Artful Home charges for deliveries and returns. I haven’t been charged for either in so long it didn’t occur to me to check.

    • Reply
      June 21, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks for sharing that, Stephanie!

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