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The prairie dress is an oft-misunderstood piece of clothing. The past several decades have left the retro Western-meets-Victorian frock written off, deemed overly costumey and suited only for country girls, grannies and Halloween costumes.
But this season’s runways have redefined the quintessential flea-market find. Designers such as Calvin Klein, Zimmermann, Coach and Etro have reimagined the trend, making the prairie dress acceptable not only for country girls—but city dwellers and It-girls, too.
At its core, this retro trend is about ruffle accents, floral prints, puffed sleeves, high necklines and breezy silhouettes. In its current iteration, these feminine details have been rendered in fall-ready colorways, fresh prints, unexpected fabrics (silk over gauzy cotton blends) and nostalgic details that feel both sentimental and current.
When styled properly, the modern-day prairie dress exudes equal parts Western romance and ’70s bohemia—a fascinating juxtaposition that makes for seriously statement-making style.
That said, unless you’re unapologetically loyal to the vintage aesthetic, wearing a prairie dress—even an updated one—can be slightly daunting. Thankfully, with a little styling finesse, the enduring staple can be rendered surprisingly wearable.
Need inspo? We’ve got you. Browse our definitive guide to shopping and styling the prairie dress, below.
Toughen up an ultra-feminine midi dress with chunky combat boots for an unexpected combination: girlish charm with rock ‘n’ roll accents.
Horor Vacui Defensia floral print dress, $810 at Matches Fashion
Combat boots have a made a major comeback in fashion this fall, and there’s no better way to style them than with that aforementioned unexpected vintage-inspired prairie dress.
Sol Sana Harlan combat boots, $230 at Shopbop
The prairie dresses of the ’60s and ’70s were most commonly designed with a floor-length hemline. To keep things modern, stick to a midi length skirt with a flattering fit and flare silhouette—and pair it with (preferably neutral-toned) pointed-toe heels.
Vero Moda Mix and Match printed midi dress, $64 at ASOS
Benefit 1: The pointed toe lends these textured pumps a flattering design sure to complement your prairie dress. Benefit 2: The tones are punctuated with one of autumn’s favorite trends—snakeskin.
Mango snake effect pumps, $80 at ASOS
If you’re concerned that a long-line design—combined with a maximalist print and ruffled details—will swallow your frame, a mini dress in a solid color is an easier way into the trend. This pastel number features a high neckline, puffed sleeves and a short hem for a well-rounded mix of the classic babydoll template with prairie-inspired accents.
Batsheva mini prairie dress, $395 at Opening Ceremony
A mini prairie dress gives you room to experiment with your footwear pairings. If you’re into the babydoll vibes, style it with some demure Mary Jane kitten heels—or pointed flats in a metallic finish. If you’re looking for something a little more balanced, you can tone down the dress’ inherent femininity by pairing it with boyish lace-up oxfords.
Frye Terri oxford shoe, $149 at Frye
Solids and Snakes
While prairie dresses often come covered in dainty florals, more subtle options include solid-colored takes on the trend.
Loveshack Fancy Rebecca dress, $365 at Shopbop
Another bonus of opting for a solid-colored prairie dress? You’re afforded tons of room for fun accessories. The black midi above would pair perfectly with a pair of mid-calf statement boots. Pop of snakeskin? Don’t mind if we do.
Snake-effect boots, $129 at Mango
It may feel slightly unnatural to wear a pastel floral during autumn. But style it with winter-ready statement boots in a rich brown or mahogany colorway, and you’ll create an unexpected combo that’ll make spring florals cold weather-appropriate.
TiMo bohemian printed dress, $359 at Free People
Mid-calf boots are majorly back this season—especially mid-calf boots that can be worn both straight and slouchy. Pairing them with a midi dress creates a delightful combination: The boots add structure to the dress’s billowy silhouette, resulting in an edgy (and totally balanced) ensemble.
Tennison tall boots, $288 at Free People
Even if you’re into the tomboy look, you can still rock the prairie-girl trend with a few street-inspired accessories. The sneaker-dress combo is nothing new, but classic black sneakers give a floral maxi a cool-girl feel while downplaying the inherent girlishness of a floral print.
Ganni Tilden floral-print mesh shirtdress, $208 at Matches Fashion
Vans Old Skool sneakers, $54.95 at Nordstrom
There’s a reason this classic (and ultra-affordable) Vans sneaker is an enduring best-seller—and a street style go-to for off-duty models and style bloggers alike. (Spoiler alert: It’s because it’s equal parts versatile and cool.)
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