It was less than a decade ago that every kind of woman started reluctantly swapping her skinny jeans for floral midis and prairie maxis (which had once been seen as frumpy), and more often than not pairing them with trainers (previously a fashion faux pas).
It was around the same time Raf Simons was dipping into Dior’s iconic ‘New Look’ era and sending unabashedly feminine dresses down the runway; Alessandro Michele had just taken the helm at Gucci and immediately put pleated midi skirts on the map; and other womenswear designers were introducing trainers into the high-fashion sphere for the first time. Runway trends always find a way of trickling down, but this cocktail of ‘firsts’ went on to shape fashion for the best part of a decade.
Hemlines have grown ever since. So much so that the reintroduction of the mini in 2021 felt almost as revolutionary as it had back in the 1960s. But while John Lewis tried and failed to predict the demise of the floral midi dress a few seasons back, this piece stays put. We can’t erase the last decade of easy ‘throw it on and look pulled-together dressing’ that has liberated women in so many ways.
We also can’t ignore the myriad labels that have popped up as a result of this shift. The likes of Rixo (launched in 2015), DÔEN (2016), Batsheva (also 2016) and Kitri (2017) have seen unprecedented success focusing the majority of their collections on the one-and done outfit. So to hear it for this humble hero, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best dress brands that are worth celebrating in 2024 – keep scrolling to see ELLE UK’s edit of the names to know.
Sisters Margaret and Katherine Kleveland launched DÔEN in 2016 as a reaction to the minimalist mood in fashion. They wanted to celebrate effortless one-piece dressing and the romanticism of past decades at a time when blazers, cigarette pants and trainers reigned supreme. Their plan worked. The LA-based brand has shaped dress trends ever since, with their empire-waists, floral prints, effortless smocking, breezy cottons and puffed sleeves trickling through the industry. In another celebration of femininity, the brand also became a go-to for mothers, thanks to its roomy and stretchy dresses being appropriate pre-, during and post-pregnancy. Kylie Jenner, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez are all fans.
Reformation needs no introduction. The LA-based brand, which launched back in 2009 as a vintage boutique, was one of the first to make sustainability sexy, long before greenwashing and greenwishing was commonplace in the fashion industry. Reformation was also one of the first brands to champion the sultry daytime dress. Yep, those puffed-sleeve milkmaid and cupped styles you now see everywhere? They're OG Ref. Celebrities cannot get enough of these feminine one-pieces – everyone from Meghan Markle and JLo, to Rihanna, Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber, wear them on repeat. And with profits doubling in the past four years to reach $300 million, the label's popularity shows no sign of abating.
Copenhagen's favourite, Cecilie Bahnsen excels at creating the kind of dresses you save for the most special of occasions – but switch your sandals for a pair of biker boots, and these clouds of couture-level tulle transform into a stellar daytime proposition. That's exactly the magic of a Bahnsen piece: you'll invest once and wear it forever – day, night, or both.
It’s no secret that Rotate founders Thora Valdimars and Jeanette Friis Madsen know how to throw a party – and, of course, how to craft a show-stealing evening dress. From major eighties-inspired silhouettes to show-stopping sequins, via puff sleeves, see-through lace and magpie embellishment, this is a brand made for maximalists.
Mother-daughter design duo Bernadette and Charlotte de Geyter have built their cult dress brand from the ground up, and within just six years it has become a go-to for special-occasion pieces you won't see everyone else wearing.
Not just a very wise place to buy all those wedding-guest dresses, the brand is now also a destination for the bride herself, with its debut all-white collection delivering unique gowns and separates for nuptials with a dose of nostalgia. We're obsessing over the liquid-silk slip dress, complete with pastel rose embellishment.
Rixo was, without a doubt, one of the OG dress brands – and we daresay the British label helped shape the last eight years of one-piece trends. Founded in 2015 by best friends and LCF-alumni Orlagh and Henrietta, Rixo was inspired by their love for vintage shopping. Fast forward to 2024 and you'd be hard-pressed to find a style icon who hasn't worn one of the brand's cult dresses: the Princess of Wales, Hailey Bieber, and Sofia Richie are all fans. Customers return for the playful patterns (Orlagh still hand-paints all of the original prints) in their bread-and-butter collection, but the bridalwear (which takes on a simpler, more ethereal aesthetic) is also to die for.
Batsheva Hay, a former lawyer, launched her label in 2016 after receiving constant compliments for her own re-worked vintage dresses. She started small, taking fabric and downloaded 1970s dress patterns to the tailor and then selling them online. What originated as a Mummy-and-me business quickly evolved into a womenswear label stocked at Opening Ceremony and Matchesfashion. Batsheva doesn’t compromise when it comes to cut, never sacrificing the unabashed chintz of a floral-print corduroy, puffed sleeves or pie-crust collars in the name of contemporary fashion – which is no doubt why the brand has resonated with nostalgists. Oh, and Lena Dunham, Emma Roberts and Sarah-Jessica Parker.
South Korea-born Haeni Kim launched her London-based brand in 2017 with an aim to create directional, quality pieces at affordable prices. A former ballet dancer, she named her label after the vivacious protagonist Kitri in Don Quixote. Digitally focused from the beginning, with a direct-to-consumer model, Kitri thrived from the get-go (who can forget the Gabriella dress with an 800-strong waitlist back in 2018, and the Lenora which sold out in 24 hours).
The brand is beloved for its fresh shapes and playful prints – from feather trimmed Cheongsam minis to this season's snakeskin vinyl midi – but also makes timeless summer dresses in gingham cottons and shirred linens that you'll wear forever.
The charismatic duo depicted here is Clara Francis and Tania Hindmarch – best friends, and the face and brains of O Pioneers. The British brand is the definition of ‘slow’ fashion, in the best way possible. The team use heritage Liberty fabrics to create limited edition runs of statement Victoriana styles, which is why each dress is made to order and takes two weeks to arrive.
Everything is produced by local seamstresses in Britain to reduce mileage. In fact, inside each of the brand's signature tank tops (designed to be layered over the floral midis) is the name of the woman who knitted it. These one-off pieces are not just a pretty face either: 99% of the collection is machine washable and made from sturdy cotton that can withstand a bit of everyday wear and tear.
Long, long before the #coquette aesthetic was trending on TikTok, Sister Jane was a go-to for all things unabashedly girlish – think babydoll silhouettes, voluminous puffed sleeves, bow appliques, pearl embellishments and floral cloqué fabrics.
Sister Jane was born in 2011, first landing in stores as a concession in #OldTopshop's iconic Oxford Street flagship, then launching its ecommerce site two years later, and now you’ll find its one-of-a-kind pieces displayed in its three-story TownHouse in Notting Hill’s Golborne Road. The British brand has always marched to the beat of its own drum, beloved since day one for its dedicated retro aesthetic (no mean feat, given that bodycon minis and jeggings were reigning supreme at the time of its inception).
Ghost has been known for sultry, bias-cut dresses since its conception in 1984, just before the underwear-as-outerwear really kicked in during the ‘90s. The label’s signature viscose-satin fabric was a phenomenon back then, thanks to the fact it was just as fluid as silk, but much less high-maintenance. Now 40 years on (a big anniversary for the British brand in 2024), the label has branched out to easy, silky separates, relaxed tailoring and more casual printed pieces – but it’s still a go-to for impactful dresses for day-to-day wear, work, weddings and more.
Pink City Prints
Launched in 2018, Pink City Prints is a British brand that celebrates ancient craft. All of the block and screen printing, hand-looming and embroidery is done by a network of artisans in Northern India (each dress can take up to three days to create). The brand has just launched pyjamas and homewear, but it’s still the standout dresses that have customers coming back for more – think Prairie-inspired and Victoriana cuts, with peplums, high ruffs and peasant sleeves. No wonder sales have doubled since the pandemic.
If you’re looking for something that ticks the tricky ‘destination wedding’ box, resortwear brand Louisa Ballou is the name to know. Drawing on her upbringing on the coast of South Carolina, the designer is a master of vibrant colour, projecting sunset-hued prints onto second-skin dresses that offer both ease and impact. Each piece is hand-painted before being printed in Italy and finished in New York. With Bella Hadid and more than one Kardashian-Jenner sister already fans, we predict a swift rise.
Omnes is another British brand we look to for great dresses. The label’s offering has typically been more restrained, due to their dedication to smaller runs and deadstock fabric, but has grown – slowly and sustainably – since its launch in 2020. The Omnes signature was always a sultry bias-cut satin dress (which no doubt paved the way for last year’s eveningwear collaboration with actor Naomie Harris OBE), but it has recently graduated to flirty milkmaid styles, lace-trimmed slips, cut-out tea dresses and printed maxis.
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