How to wear: skirt plus shirt

When I’m having one of those moments when I can’t seem to find the perfect dress, it usually turns out the perfect dress has been eluding me because it wasn’t a dress at all. In 2016, I searched for my perfect dress all year, only to discover in mid-November that what I actually needed was a jumpsuit. And now, halfway through the summer of 2018, I realise my summery-but-not-floaty dress has been impossible to find because I should have been looking for a shirt and a skirt.

There’s probably a morality tale to be spun from here about what we think we want and what we need, but we don’t have time for that because, as I mentioned, it’s halfway through summer.

This summer is not short on great dresses. Far from it. It is, I would go so far as to say, a vintage year for the grownup summer dress. There is a certain type of dress – floral, but interestingly so, with good coverage, but a lightness that makes it feel dramatic rather than simply demure – that I am so charmed by that I bought about six and happily wore them on rotation for the first half of this year. But one day I began to fear the world had reached peak floral maxi. I looked around and had the uneasy revelation that what I had presumptuously thought to be my very own fashion GPS coordinates, somewhere between Boden and The Vampire’s Wife, was fashion’s new base camp. Pastures new were therefore required anon.

A skirt with a shirt doesn’t sound groundbreaking. When your go-to skirt was a knee-length pencil skirt, you probably wore it with, say, a silk blouse all the time. But the midi skirt length we have to wear now (it’s a bit more complex than that but, as I said, we don’t have long) has generally been presented with a polo neck, or a sweatshirt, or a slouchy T-shirt. None of which lend themselves naturally to summer workwear.

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So – and this is a look you can shop from your existing wardrobe – for the perfect summer dress, try pairing skirts with shirts that you wouldn’t normally think of. It’s a fashion-buyer-at-September-NYFW look, which is no bad reference for what to wear to work when it’s hot. A crisp, white cotton shirt worn loose with a gathered, flouncy, dancing-girl-emoji skirt. A soft chambray shirt tucked into a slinky, slit-to-the-thigh leopard print midi. A formal lace blouse with disco-shiny pleats. The perfect dress is in your wardrobe, but it needs you to put it together.

Jess wears lace shirt, £200, by Ganni, from Skirt, £139, Heels, £69,

Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair and makeup: Samantha Cooper at Carol Hayes Management

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