Fashion: Pick the right maxi for your height and shape

Suits larger busts and petites - 
Vera Mont Lace Evening With V-Neck Front And Back, was �345, now �241.50. at House of Fraser.
Suits larger busts and petites - Vera Mont Lace Evening With V-Neck Front And Back, was �345, now �241.50. at House of Fraser.
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The maxi dress is a summer staple for special occasions and holidays. Stephanie Smith has tips on how to avoid maxi disasters.

Other people’s maxi dresses can be a source of a great deal of envy over the summer.

Michelle Collins in a flattering striped maxi at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in Surrey.  Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Michelle Collins in a flattering striped maxi at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in Surrey. Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

There are some women who know exactly how to waft about properly in a maxi. They make it look all floaty and ethereal, so effortlessly super-dressy, glamorous without even trying. Yet it’s all too easy to get the maxi wrong, and look as if you are stomping about in a teepee tent left over from Glastonbury, rather than the personification of grace and elegance you were perhaps hoping for.

Like many women, I have my own photographic evidence of maxi disasters, because the long dress tends to be something we look to for special occasions, especially in the summer, for weddings, anniversaries, garden parties and so on. Which means lots of pictures to groan over later. There is an art to the maxi dress, with guidelines, rather than rules, to follow. It’s not a tried and tested science, and experimentation, which means trying on lots of different styles and patterns, is key.

Having said that, there are certain styles that work better for certain heights and body shapes, so it’s worth considering them as a starting point.

TALL: If you are tall and slender, most maxi dresses will look good on you, but take care with pattern. If you are very tall, and on the statuesque side to boot, we’re talking about a lot of fabric. A six foot column of large bold flower head print might look a little alarming. Consider one beautiful block colour, perhaps a jewel tone, to make the most of your height in a sophisticated manner. But do experiment with pattern and print as there are some that will look striking in all the right ways. Check out Roberto Cavalli for inspiration.

Suits short petites and pear shaped tall: Sophie maxi dress, �120. From Phase Eight.

Suits short petites and pear shaped tall: Sophie maxi dress, �120. From Phase Eight.

SHORT: Head straight for the petites sections to find designs scaled to your height and proportions. In general, keep the look streamlined, certainly to the waist. A high-necked, fitted bodice with a fuller skirt is perfect, but if you prefer something more forgiving, try a slightly high-waisted maxi, but not one with a full gathered skirt flowing down from bust to floor – you’ll look swamped. A slip style can be surprisingly flattering.

CURVY: Shirt dresses are very flattering on curvy shapes, skimming and simplifying lines and drawing attention to the central vertical buttoning. The narrowest part of the body is usually five to 10 centimetres under the bust, so dresses that cinch in here can work well, but avoid lots of patterned ruched flowing fabric. Wrap styles can also look good, especially if you’d like to celebrate your bust.

PEAR: Keep it simple and streamlined, rather than thinking it’s a good idea to disguise your derriere in swathes of fabric – it will only look bigger. Again, shirt dresses are perfect. Balance your proportions by choosing embellished tops or strapless and peep-shoulder styles. Experimentation really is key here. Column styles can work.

BOYISH: Most styles will suit you, but especially slip styles with spaghetti straps, column styles and long vest dresses. Be careful with wrap styles as they can make you look angular.

Suits tall types and athletic types: 
Double layered maxi dress, �59. From Very.co.uk.

Suits tall types and athletic types: Double layered maxi dress, �59. From Very.co.uk.

BUSTY: It’s hard for those with big busts to find a maxi that doesn’t make you look like a walking fridge, just a block of fabric flowing down from the bust. Wrap dresses are a great option as they skim and define the shape, although you might find you need a slip under to combat gaping. Empire line dresses are a mistake, no matter how curvy the rest of you is. A simple scoop neck or strappy top half with pleated skirt can work well in balancing proportions.

Cool and easy, it’s no wonder we love the maxi in the summer. With a little practice, those maxi disaster holiday and wedding snaps will never happen again.

Suits small busts and all heights - Freesia maxi dress, �129. From Monsoon.

Suits small busts and all heights - Freesia maxi dress, �129. From Monsoon.

Suits pear shapes, small busts and petites: Butterfly By Matthew Williamson Occasionwear dress, coming to Debenhams.

Suits pear shapes, small busts and petites: Butterfly By Matthew Williamson Occasionwear dress, coming to Debenhams.

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