Before we begin, I know what you're thinking. It's January, it's freezing, and I'm showing you flimsy summer dresses? What can I say? I live life on the edge. And there are two reasons for my unseasonal choice this week. Firstly, it's my belief that it's never too cold to work a beautiful dress into your wardrobe (more on that in a minute). Secondly, these dresses are gorgeous, and I wanted to show them to you now, while they're still available in all sizes up to 32. By May, when it'll be verging on warm enough to actually wear them as they're designed, they'll undoubtedly be sold out in everything except the odd 14 or 16. And I've missed too many nice dresses in the past by not acting fast enough!
All these dresses are from Joe Browns at Simply Be, a label which also sells similar styles in sizes 8 - 18 on its own website. The overall Joe Browns look can veer a bit too far into boho territory at times (I prefer my retro dresses patchwork-free) but this season they have nailed it with some great - and affordable - frocks. My favourites are the proper 50s-style sundresses, such as the Vintage Tea Dress shown above (£45), with full skirts and pretty details like tie necklines and halter straps. Some even have straps wide enough to cover your bra. Rejoice!
So how exactly do you wear these in such cold weather? It is tricky, I grant you. The moment you start layering, you run the risk of losing the prettiness of the dress itself. The halter dress below is probably best stashed away for warmer days as, Vivien of Holloway boleros-aside, I've never found a good way to wear a halter in Winter. But any dress with black or a dark colour in the print can easily be teamed with tights of the same shade. I rate the fleece-lined ones from Asda, which come up really big, meaning the L-XL size would fit most plus size ladies without a problem, regardless of what the size chart says. Shoes-wise, they're crying out to be teamed with Poetic Licence or Miss L Fire styles.
As for keeping the top half warm, don't underestimate the power of a good cardigan (Collectif's retro embroidered ones are perfect if you're size 22 or below, or try Yours Clothing for a wider size range). You could also check out the many magic sleeve options I've gone over before, or try layering your dress over the thing of wonder that is the Uniqlo Heattech long-sleeved top, which is incredibly lightweight but toasty warm. Evans also has a long-sleeved black top for £7 up to a 30/32.
On the bottom half, a slip underneath will give you an extra layer of warmth, and you could opt for a smoothing one from a shapewear range to hide the lines of your tights and bra. You could also put a bigger retro spin on the fuller skirted styles with a net petticoat (ebay is your best bet). This will also help the skirt to stay in place, especially if you fasten it to the underskirt with a handful of carefully hidden safety pins.
If all else fails, or you just can't bear to layer up like it's the 90s again, pack these dresses away as a summer treat, or reserve them for nights out when the combined body heat of all the people in the pub means you can just about get away with bare arms. A few goose pimples never hurt anyone, right?!