When the weather is sizzling and a permanent layer of sweat has settled onto my flesh, the only thing I want to wear is a billowy sack dress. First, let’s take a moment to discuss the magical freedom of a roomy, summer house dress.
In east Asia, where I grew up – and anywhere that is perennially hot, probably – this type of garment is a common sighting. There aren’t clear rules that define such a dress, except the looser and simpler, the better. It’s typically made of a lightweight fabric like rayon, silk, or linen, perhaps with an eyesore print. Other associative words that come to mind are: baggy, shapeless, homely, muumuu, maternity-friendly, homely, and grandma’s kitchen. It’s not a cute sundress with a cinched waist, nor a sleek bias cut number that clings to your curves. It has no darts, no zips, no buttons, and should be as rectangular as possible, with functional elements like a tie and pockets at most. When they need to step out, a wearer of the house dress might pair it with equally unstylish footwear, in the likes of Birkenstocks, Crocs, and bootleg Adidas slippers with two stripes instead of three. The goal is to not be hot – and sometimes that means not prioritizing looking hot.
Grey Tank Dress
Purchased from: Value Village (orig. Everlane), 2018
Material: 100% silk
Wears counted: 16
That said, this is by no means an ugly, frumpy dress – it’s a chic, well-made garment that happens to fit the bill. I purchased this silk tank dress, originally from Everlane, from a secondhand store in pristine, practically new condition. It was an exciting find because Everlane was one of those brands that was always featured heavily in sustainable fashion content. I had been interested in trying some of their pieces out, but felt iffy about ordering clothes online. Had I taken the plunge, this lovely summer dress was exactly the kind of thing I would’ve picked out.
The dress has a trapeze shape that both drapes nicely on the body and is optimal for maintaining airflow around your skin. The material is a matte silk crepe that creases easily, as shown in the photos, which adds authenticity to the house dress vibe, I guess. There are pockets on the sides, but they aren’t strong enough to hold anything weightier than keys or a chapstick. Despite the delicate material, the piece is easy to care for and I don’t feel too precious about it, which makes it highly wearable.
I must admit that prior to this summer, I hadn’t worn this dress very much and had briefly considered getting rid of it. I brought it on a trip to China a few years ago and it was a great travel piece that I got ample use out of, from hiking mountains in insane humidity to having tea with family at home. However, a nagging issue was that the neckline was too low for my preference, which led me to be hyper self-conscious while wearing it. That was, until I came to the simple realization that I could just wear it backwards. And suddenly, I enjoyed the dress a whole lot more. I think it looks a bit more put-together when worn backwards with the high neckline. If I steamed it, put on heels, and threw my hair up, I could even make it fancy, with hardly any effort.
Lately, I’ve been enjoying wearing it (backwards) whenever I go out, whether it’s to the grocery store and having a takeout picnic in the park. It takes two seconds to slip on and is the most comfortable, cooling outfit in my wardrobe apart from a sports bra and bikini bottoms. As the months gradually becomes less-sweltering, I’m curious about styling it in other creative, unconventional ways, such as layered over a turtleneck and tucked into pants or with a sweater over top.
And true to the “house dress” title I’ve bestowed this piece with, I’ve been wearing it a ton at home (in the more comfortable proper way).