Maxi dresses. Sigh. I just don’t know what to do with them.
It’s summer, which means most likely, no matter where you live, the long, billowy, self-consciously bohemian dresses are a fact of life right now. Whether stretch jersey, paisley-printed polyester, or semi-sheer eyelet lace, they start to overtake retail racks in early spring, and by the Fourth of July, they’re everywhere.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to look at them with anything but trepidation and a mild cringey feeling since I read writer Sarah Miller’s “Death to the Maxi Dress” manifesto on Jezebel last summer, which argues, very convincingly, that maxi dresses are irredeemably unflattering on literally everyone. The piece starts off with a scene—a woman in line at a bagel shop wearing “an alternately flowing and clinging tent.”
“For the rest of the time I was in New York, I saw more and more of these dresses. They were often worn by a certain type of woman, aged 25 to 35, generally busty, generally working out some kind of tense negotiation between prettiness and being angry about something their phone told them. I’ll put it this way: During that whole visit, whenever I saw a woman wearing a maxi dress, I made a mental note: ‘Never ever find yourself on a Saturday morning standing in between this woman and the entrance to her neighborhood Drybar.'”
I now see this woman—or some variation thereof—everywhere I go, especially in line for coffee. And while not all maxi dresses (#notallmaxidresses) are of the flowy stretch jersey variety—which are, indisputably, THE WORST, and seem to highlight every possible imperfection while giving the overall impression that the wearer intended to hide 3/4 of their body under a mass of fabric—I’m beginning to think that the entire field has been ruined for me.
I’ll look at street-style photos of glamorous Milanese ladies in printed, floor-length dresses, or the Instagram feeds of California chicks in ’70s-style boho looks by Mara Hoffman or Reformation and think, Damn, they actually look really cool—but then, inevitably, the word maxi dress worms its way into my brain, and suddenly I’m turned off again. Even latent fantasies of swanning around, Talitha Getty–style, in ’70s floor-length silk can’t curb my aversion.
I do, technically, own two maxi-length dresses, but they are—there’s really no other way to put this—two of the sluttiest dresses I own. Both are sheer—one entirely, the other censored with two strategic opaque panels. The salesgirl at Reformation counseled me to wear the latter with a black thong, but I’ve tried that, and there’s really no way to sit down or bend over without flashing everyone around me (although maybe that’s the point?). I feel like it might make a good bathing-suit cover-up, but I sure as hell am not going to wear it on the subway.
It could be that the silhouette is just all wrong for my body type (or, perhaps more to the point, body neuroses, since I’d much rather wear a baggy top and super-short skirt), or that it’s just a problem of nomenclature: Call it a caftan and I’m all for it! But really, I think it’s a case of one rotten apple spoiling the whole batch—or like when you spot a piece of hair in your food and, even if it just touched one measly lettuce leaf, the whole salad kinda makes you gag.
I’m sorry, maxi dresses! It’s not you, it’s me. (Except when it’s you.)