The Best Dresses of 2020
The Toad&Co Cue Wrap Cafe model offers classic wrap styling in a super soft fabric with functional pockets and four sleeve length options. We love it and reached for it more often than any other n the test. The fabric is heavy enough to drape and swing without clinging, but light enough that it breathes well. This option comes in the tank version we tested as well as short sleeve, three-quarter sleeve, and long sleeve versions. Between the sleeve length options and a variety of beautiful colors and prints offered, it's easy to find a Cue Wrap that works well for you. From long road trips to walks in the woods to botanic garden wanderings and dinner dates, we feel comfortable and stylishly coiffed for almost any occasion. Since we wear it so often, we love that you can just throw it in the wash (cold) and drier. The organic cotton and Tencel lyocell (a type of rayon made with nontoxic solvents) fabric, and Toad&Co's pledged interest in fair labor, help us feel good about our purchase.
The style worked perfectly for our longer waisted testers, but one tester with a shorter waist didn't like the look as much. And the Cue Wrap is a smidge lower cut than most of our closet. While the majority of testers felt comfortable wearing it to work, some did not. Layering a tank underneath or a shirt on top is a quick fix. Toad&Co has a strong environmental and sustainability ethic and provides a lot of information about how they pursue that. They provide less information about how workers are treated in the supply chain. However, they are members of the Higg Index and self-assess social and labor impacts along with environmental impacts. If you want an incredibly easy, stylish, and eco-friendly outfit that will last for years to come, this is a great bet.
We really appreciate the classic style and timeless color choices Fair Indigo gives you in their Organic Boat Neck piece. Pull it on, and you're ready for work, a casual weekend, or a dinner date. The 100% organic Pima cotton feels great and is thick enough to have a bit of shape. It's also eco-friendly, and the company uses safe dying practices. Plus, we found it to be flattering. A subtle cut nips in a bit at the waist and gives your hips and bum a bit of space. Three-quarter sleeves keep the sun off in the summer and help it transition, with leggings and a jacket, in the spring and fall. We'd even wear it in the winter for a mostly inside day. It's enough of a blank slate that the shift is easy to dress up or down depending on your shoes, jewelry, and attitude. We appreciate this versatility. We also love how sturdy it seems and that we can toss it into the washer and dryer with everything else.
While we like the classic colors, they are limited, and we don't all love the mandala prints. If you do, awesome. There is also a seam down the back where the patterns don't align. This is common in women's clothing, but annoying. The straight-line style can emphasize your belly, depending on your shape and the size you pick. Still, all our testers like the fit. While it doesn't seem to be fair trade certified, the company claims that it is ethically made in Peru, a statement we couldn't independently verify. This option aligns with our professional styling goals — low maintenance, classic, sustainable style that fits into a simple capsule wardrobe.
The Amoretu looked cute on the internet. It looks even better IRL. The style is trendier than a few of our testers typically seek, and we ended up appreciating that it upped our style game. At the same time, it doesn't feel so of-the-moment that it qualifies as throw-away fashion. The colors are classic, and polka dots never seem to go away. We like them. We assumed the puff-sleeves would feel a little too much like a costume, but we actually love them once we pulled this option on. They fall well within the whimsically wearable end of the camp continuum. This model checks all of our favorite boxes, so comfortable that you could be wearing a nightgown with enough of fashion's confident wink to make you feel ready to enjoy nearly any occasion. We'd wear this to work, a nice dinner, a wedding, and to remind everyone that every day should be fun. It comes in a variety of pretty colors and short sleeve and sleeveless versions.
The Amoretu's 100% dacron fabric is light, seems durable, and has a smooth but not slick hand feel. Unfortunately, Dacron is a type of polyester, and petroleum-based fabrics contribute to the microplastics now found in our food chain. We prefer to stick with natural fibers. There are washbags you can use to catch synthetic fibers that are released from your clothes when you wash them. We also don't know anything about this company's labor ethics, as this information is not provided. But the garment itself is lovely.
Comfy enough to be loungewear while looking buttoned-up enough for work, the Allegra K Belted Shirt Dress makes it easy to look pulled together. There are many prints and color options for this frock. We like that the belt is included, so you don't have to go shopping to pull your look together. The belt is cute and seems reasonably durable. So does the dress, though the functional buttons could be a point of failure. Luckily they sent a spare along with our purchase. We love that you can machine wash it, and we don't mind line drying it; it's more sustainable anyway. The soft fabric doesn't wrinkle, so this option is always ready to go.
The downside of the fabric is that it is either rayon or polyester, depending on the print you choose. The daisy print we tested is rayon. This means it was made using toxic chemicals or it leaves a trail of microplastics. Not ideal. We also have no information about the supply chain and how workers are treated and compensated. This model can also feel a bit short from time to time. It's not really, but the swingy fabric can give that impression. In formal offices, we might feel more comfortable wearing tights or leggings with this option to feel unrestricted, comfortable, put together, and ready to take on the day.
Prana's Foundation Dress has been around for a few years now. Its fabric is soft, drapes stylishly, and is light, thin, and opaque, which we love! It is also reasonably sustainable. Lenzing modal is made out of cellulose from beech trees and solvents that Lenzing reclaims to create nontoxic by-products like cleaners. Prana is also a Fair Trade Certified company. And, importantly, this garment is really cute. When worn with the seam at your waist, the scrunching on the bottom half makes for a shape-hugging shirt with enough fabric and visual breaks in the line to feel flattered but not flaunted. The t-shirt top drapes casually. If you want a smoother look, you can pull the skirt down to your knees to smooth out the look. It's also flattering and very form-fitting.
While this garment is never restrictive, it can shift around on your body. The skirt sometimes decides to lengthen or shorten on its own, depending on your activity and if you size up or down. If you're trying to stick to one style, you will have to move it around. The version that one tester has owned for a few years has stretched out a little, making it more prone to lengthening throughout the day, but it looks good either way, so we don't really mind. Pulling on this frock makes you feel ready to skip through life. Then you just wash, tumble dry, and wear again.
A simple and sporty option with more technical features than any other we tested, the Columbia Freezer III is built to keep you cool and shaded in the summer months. Columbia's claims that built-in Omni-freeze technology reacts with sweat to release heat and feel cool to the touch and its Omni-wick is fast drying. It certainly seemed to work for us on warm days. We even wore this dress for a few workouts, and believe it would make a smashing tennis outfit. We also appreciate that it has built-in sun protection of UPF 50.
We don't love the color and pattern options, but classic black worked in a wide array of circumstances. Still, because the cooling technology is quite effective, we had a hard time getting this option to transition to fall when the weather started to cool off. Again, polyester fabrics, like this model, release plastic fibers in the wash, ending up in our rivers and oceans and bodies. If you're looking for a shift for running after kids in the hot sun, or just running, this is an excellent option.
This style has held up for 70 years, so you can count on it being around for a while longer. We love this kind of long-lasting style. And while this Rockabilly Prom frock certainly qualifies as formal wear, we found that it translated to everyday use more seamlessly than we expected. Put on a pair of sandals in the summer and lose the belt/bow, and you're ready for a picnic. Add a tulle skirt beneath and a jaunty scarf tied around your neck, and you're ready for Halloween. With tights and a sweater, this option could easily get you through any occasion for three seasons, maybe four. Add a mix of color options ranging from classic navy to bright jewel tones to Minnie Mouse polka dots, and you've got yourself a dress ready for a party.
While the 95% cotton and 5% spandex blend is pleasant, the structured cut can feel restrictive. We bought our usual size small and probably should have sized up. It worked well enough while standing but felt restrictive while sitting. The fabric also wrinkles readily. We dislike ironing and shaking it out after washing worked pretty well. But if you want to look super sharp, you may have to break out your ironing board. And while cotton is a natural fabric, there are environmental and social ills that can be associated with its production. We just don't know. We also don't know about labor practices, which the manufacturer does not disclose. We ran it through our machine's hand-wash cycle, and it worked great. Now it's ready and waiting for the next time we want to have a good time.
The Korsis Casual Summer T-Shirt is just that. We found ourselves wearing it day after day and tossing it in every post-adventure bag to serve as a changing room to pull off sweaty gear. We hesitated to get excited about a t-shirt dress. Such unstructured fabric can feel clingy, which is great if that's what you're going for, but it can be annoying when you're just trying to enjoy your day. Its fabric has a nice weight that drapes nicely, skimming our curves rather than hugging them. It's flattering in an effortless way and comes in a pleasant basic color palette — think black, navy, and army green. It's hard to overstate what a sleeper hit this simple little frock was amongst the testing team. And it has pockets.
Unfortunately, the pockets aren't great for carrying much. Keys, a phone, or a wallet will weight the fabric, pulling it down uncomfortably. And the object bounces around when you walk. We still love that you can tuck your hands into them, though. We don't love the pattern colors available. The fabric is 95% rayon and 5% spandex. Rayon is made from plant cellulose, but chemical processing and unsustainable plant harvests can be a problem. And since we can't find out much about the company online, we don't know if they are working towards sustainability or how they treat their workers. This option is undeniably cute, comfortable, and durable, though, and we suspect it will stay in steady rotation for years.
The Milumia Button Up Maxi is an easy-breezy option that feels classy, playful, and above all, effortless. The functioning buttons let you choose how to style it, and oodles of fabric options allow you to set your outfit's tone, from preppy classic to tropical print. We do worry that the buttons may fail over time, but they held tough during testing. The flowing cut and elastic waist never feel restrictive, and we could imagine this model doubling as maternity wear. We tended to pull it on in the hottest days of summer to go on walks and work in the garden since the light fabric feels cool and freeing. We like the tropical print we tested and think that its style and nature could change dramatically depending on what color/print you choose.
The most amusing aspect of this contender is that all the men in the testers' lives had a strong reaction to it. They found it trending toward old fashioned and country, basically what you would wear gardening. They aren't wrong; we did garden in it, but also find it pretty and flattering. There are two tassels that dangle from the waist that we would cut off immediately since they just get into everything and are get filthy in no time. We also don't love the rayon fabric, which is made from plant cellulose using harsh chemicals. If a manufacturer doesn't have a stated plan to deal with those chemicals safely, we worry about the environmental impact. We also don't know anything about how well the workers who made this frock are treated. But the cut, feel, and print choices we like. We pulled it on when we wanted to give an ordinary day a little whimsy.
We thought this option might out fashion us, leaving us feeling a little overwhelmed when we wear it. Not so. The bell sleeves charmed us, and the wrap belt looks as cute on us as it does on the internet. It feels like a hug. It's soft, has a nice weight, and flatters all the body types of our testers. We like almost all of the color options offered and appreciate that the style works for various occasions. It's ideal for a date, a weekend walk, or even for work.
Our regular size is a little snug, and we would size up if we ordered it again. The label claims this garment is 60% Cotton/Polyester/Spandex. So we don't really know what it's made of, or who made it, or how they were treated. The directions say hand wash and hang dry. Our machine's setting worked great, and it dried up nicely, ready to wear. We love this option for the shoulder seasons, and even for milder winter weather, especially over yoga pants.
Why You Should Trust Us
Lead tester Clark Tate has loved dresses since she got that magic skirt in elementary school will built-in bloomers so she could still hang upside down on the monkey bars. As a grown-up, moving through the day from one activity to the next, she loves that they are their own changing rooms and make it easy to pull on your chamois for a mountain bike right or pull off your wetsuit roadside. She's always on the lookout for options that can go from the office to your daily adventure without skipping a beat. She's passionate about reducing her environmental and social footprint and keeps striving to build her perfect, minimalist, capsule wardrobe.
To test these frocks, she wore them every day for weeks. She wore them sitting at her desk, going on mid-day walks, working in the garden, feeding the horses, and road-tripping. Yes, horses are dirty, so we washed each of these options several times to make sure they washed up well. We also researched the companies that make them, how they treat their workers, and the sustainability of the fibers used to get some sense of the ethical and environmental impact of each. Throughout testing, Clark had three other women of various body types try out each and give her feedback, so we have more than one perspective on fit and style.
Analysis and Test Results
Dresses are fantastic, and these options are no exception. All our testers found them comfortable, flattering, wearable, and fun, keeping you ready for anything your day might bring. Here we breakdown the aspects of these frocks that you might be most interested in, from how cozy they feel, to how easy they are to wash.
One of the best things about dresses is that they are not pants and, as such, can not give you a wedgie. We really feel like we nailed the selection of products here, and almost all of these options are soft to the touch and kindly cut. But when we think of comfort, we think of feeling completely unrestricted. The Amoretu Loose Casual Swing Shift, KORSIS Casual Summer T-Shirt, and Milumia Floral Print Button Up Maxi do the best job of delivering that feeling. All are loosely cut, draping and floating around your body in a way that never feels shapeless, but that also never reveals every inch of your shape. We like the combination.
The Toad&Co Cue Wrap Cafe and Prana Standard Foundation are next in line. Both are constructed with heavenly fabric, but both hug your curves a little more, and the Cue Wrap is a bit low cut. The R. Vivimos Autumn Long Sleeve Knit Bodycon is similar. It's comfortable, as long as you feel ready to be conscious of your body.
The Allegra K Daisy Print model falls into the top-tier comfort category if you remove the belt. It's tricky to have it tight enough to stay at your waist while loose enough to feel comfortable sitting down when you wear it. A separate elastic belt may be your solution. The Rockabilly Prom option is similar, though it feels more structured and restrictive even when you remove the belt.
Style and Versatility
Wrap dresses keep coming back around for a reason; they are flattering and stylish. The Toad&Co Cue Wrap Cafe is no exception. We love its look and feel and appreciate that it comes in so many wonderful colors and patterns. Toad&Co makes four versions, sleeveless, cap sleeve, three-quarter sleeve, and long-sleeve so that you can choose the right one for your seasonal preferences. The one pang in its versatility is that it is a bit low cut. You can easily layer a tank underneath if that's not your style, but we felt comfortable rocking it.
The Amoretu Loose Casual Swing Shift is another style standout. We are a little concerned that this look won't stand the test of time as well as the wrap dress should, shirt dress, and rockabilly look we tested, but we can't deny that we feel great in it. The fabric has a slight sheen, and the polka dots add a lovely dimension to the color without being distracting. And every color option and polka-dot version we saw looked lovely. This shift is also available in short-sleeved or sleeveless options.
Prana's Foundation model is also stylish. It has a seductive side you can play up or down with your shoes and attitude. We never fail to feel sassy when we pull on this hug of a dress. It's flirty, and it's fun. The Allegra model is the buttoned-up version of this sentiment. It's more formal but still on the short side and swingy, and has us feeling like a carefree kid in no time.
The Fair Indigo Organic Boat Neck is an option with more versatility than raw style. It's so simple and classic that it doesn't scream anything. But this blank slate makes it an ideal canvas to highlight your favorite scarf, a great pair of boots, or a jacket. On the flip side, the Vivimos model has so much style that your shoe and scarf choices will fall by the wayside.
Ease of Washing and Durability
Only the Fair Indigo option is cool with you washing it in warm water. You can also toss it in the drier to tumble dry low. This makes it the easiest frock to wash in the test. It also seems like it will stand the test of time beautifully as the seams are solid after weeks of testing and washing, and the organic cotton fabric is nice and thick.
The Toad&Co, Prana, Columbia Freezer III, and Milumia Floral all require a cold machine wash and a low tumble dry. But at least you can just throw them in. The Toad&Co and Columbia options seem bomber for the long term. The Prana Foundation model that we've had for years has stretched out a bit, but still fits great, and all the seams are solid. The Milumia Floral, however, has loose threads all over the place, which doesn't help us believe this model has much longevity. And with all those buttons, you can expect to make some repairs along the way.
You can wash the Amoretu Shift, Korsis Casual, Allegra in the washing machine on cold. But you'll need to hang dry them, which is fine with us because it's an eco-friendly method. While we didn't see any issues with these garments falling apart during testing, we do assume the buttons on the Allegra will fail at some point. The company does provide an extra with the purchase.
The Vivimos and Dressystar Rockability Prom require to be hand washed and hung. Our washer's handwash setting worked fine, and both models seem like they'll last for years to come.
Environmental and Social Ethics
Greenwashing is a real thing, and it's always hard to tell how sustainably and ethically made any product is. Here's what we know about these dresses based on company claims and fabric research.
The Fair Indigo is made from 100% organic Pima cotton. Cotton is good because the fibers are natural and decompose, but growing it can be hard on people and the planet. Organic is the best way to go, so we appreciate that. Fair Indigo also says that its products are ethically made.
Prana and Toad&Co have both built their businesses around sustainability and, to some extent, social good. The Lenzing modal composing the Foundation, and Tencel lyocell and organic cotton blend in the Cue Wrap, do have impressive environmental reputations. Prana is also a Fair Trade Certified company, and Toad&Co pledges fair practices and measures its ethics using the Higgs Index.
Columbia pledges responsible supply chain practices and is part of the Fair Labor Association. We don't love that the Freezer III shift is made out of polyester, though. Petroleum-based polyester is plastic. Clothes shed fibers all the time (thus, old clothes becoming threadbare), but the process is exacerbated in the wash. That means that when you wash a plastic-based fiber like polyester, little plastic fibers head out the drain and past any treatment plants, which aren't built to deal with them. Washing it infrequently or looking for filtration options can reduce the impact.
The Dressystar is made of 95% cotton, which we appreciate since it doesn't produce microplastic fibers, but we don't know how sustainably or ethically the cotton was produced. Unless a company is transparent, like those above, it's hard to find out who made your clothes, and if they were treated and paid well to do so. While companies are getting better about transparent and ethical sourcing practices, we've all got a long way to go. The same is true for the rest of the dresses.
We do know what fabric they are made of, though, aside from the R. Vivimos Autumn Bodycon. We don't really know what to make of its 60% cotton/polyester/spandex label. The Amoretu Swing Shift is made of 100% dacron, a type of polyester. So we know that it does potentially contribute to the microplastics issue.
The rayon options, including the Korsis Casual Summer T-Shirt and Milumia Button Up Maxi, are only semi-synthetic. They are made from plant cellulose using chemicals known to be toxic. The Allegra Belted garment comes in rayon or polyester, depending on the print you choose. We decided on rayon to lessen the microplastic release into the environment that can happen when washing polyester products.
We hope this review helped you find the perfect adventure-ready addition to your wardrobe. Go forth, go fashionable, and go big. Or stay home and cozy up on the couch. You'll feel comfortable, besuited, and free either way.
— Clark Tate