Whether you're going to an outdoor engagement party, tea with the queen or just a summer barbecue, a garden party dress is just the thing to keep you cool as well as elegant. Pair it with cute sandals and a big hat and you are set for the afternoon.
Shopping for Garden Party Dresses
Since many garden parties coincide with weddings or engagement parties, it should come as no surprise that a good source for buying a formal garden party dress is at a well-stocked bridal shop. All women's wear shops will have appropriate dresses in stock around prom season as well.
Another great option is to go the more classic route and shop for vintage or vintage reproduction dresses. Many fabulous dresses from the 1950s and early 1960s are still in mint condition and can be found either in vintage shops or on eBay.
- Revamp Vintage: You can shop by decade here or go straight for the dresses. You'll find flattering, form-fitting bodices and a selection of skirt styles, including A-line, here. To find the perfect dress, you'll probably have the best luck perusing the Day section.
- Stop Staring: This site has dresses that might make you want to tell people to, "Stop staring!" when you wear them. They're fitted and mean to show off your best assets. You'll find everything from white fabric with floral prints to modest 50s-inspired eggplant-colored dresses.
- The Red Dress Shoppe: If florals and sundresses are your style, you won't want to miss the selection here. Many of these feminine styles are designed with decades past in mind, and they're ready for outdoor get-togethers of all kinds.
- David's Bridal: Some of the special occasion dresses you can find here are perfect for garden parties, and in some cases, the prices are unbeatable. There are strapless, short-sleeved, sleeveless, and more, and you'll be able to choose from some of the hottest colors of the season.
- Scarlett's Closet: The party dresses you can find here come in several shades and are designed to flatter several different body types. Many of them cinch in at the waist and display the shoulders and décolletage.
- Ann Taylor: This store has some lovely dresses that would be ideal for a garden party. Some have the classic 1950s silhouette with the fitted bodice and A-line skirt, while others have a more modern look, with draped necklines or point collars and pleats.
- Nordstrom: The collection of day dresses has some contenders for garden party attire. Not all of these dresses will work because some of them are too casual for a garden party setting, but others will fit the bill beautifully without veering too far into cocktail party attire. There are plenty of floral sheath dresses as well as more unexpected designs.
Classic Spring Party Dresses
Because a garden party, by its nature, traditionally takes place in late spring or any time in summer, garden party dresses have tended to be white and made of the lightest weight fabric that suits the cut of the dress. A dress worn to a spring party might have had some floral design, depending on the period, but simplicity usually distinguished the dress.
Garden parties were popular in the Victorian era and were a regular feature of the summer social season through the 1930s. Because that sort of frivolity could really only be indulged by the middle and upper classes, the dresses were made of elegant, expensive fabrics. Most vintage summer dresses will be beautifully cut and made of silk or chiffon with exquisite, but simple, details.
1920s - 1950s
Starting especially in the 1920s, when fashion changed radically in favor of looser, more comfortable dresses, a garden party dress would be sleeveless and loose-fitting, but might feature strips of chiffon attached to the shoulders or a chiffon overlay on the skirt, often cut in a handkerchief style. When a breeze came up, these would flutter in a very attractive manner. The bias-cut dresses of the 1930s tended towards more floral patterns and loose details over the sleeves and hips. By the 1950s, florals were definitely the rage - a garden party simply wasn't a garden party without full-skirted floral dresses dotting the lawn.
In modern times, fashion is less a factor than comfort and practicality, and any color or pattern is acceptable. Many women prefer a simple sheath dress made of 100% linen or cotton, which can be dressed up or down with jewelry or a short-sleeved jacket or cardigan. The dress is loose, pretty and practical and easily washed if it gets a grass or food stain. For garden parties where mothers are tending to their kids at the same time, this is exactly what's needed.
For something more formal, you may have to search a high-end shop. In countries like Britain, where formal afternoon teas or events at racecourses are still held and demand a traditional garden party dress, the dresses can be found at good boutiques. You can never go wrong with florals, and the classic cut of a sheath or a halter dress with a fitted bodice and flowing skirt will fit the bill. Many halter dresses come with matching boleros, perfect for when a cool breeze kicks up.
The Beauty of Garden Party Attire
When you're shopping for your garden party dress, don't shop only with that particular party in mind. Instead, think of how you can wear each dress during other areas of your life so you can get more wear out of it. This is especially important when you're paying quite a bit for a dress; you want to be able to wear it more than once. Because these dresses can toe the line between everyday dresses and something more glamorous, you can dress them up or down. Try to choose a dress that will easily make its home in your closet, as well as see some more use, among the cardigans, jackets, boots, pumps, and a variety of handbags.