How to wear…the prairie dress: surprising ways this modest dress can be versatile

Every so often, trend forecasters and fashion magazines declare the ‘death’ of sex, as miniskirts, mesh or cleavage fall out of vogue. Those outside the industry may roll their eyes, but this time, ‘modest’ style has really taken hold of the fashion consciousness.

There’s still no shortage of micro-minis or plunging necklines on the catwalks, but those who prefer a more demure look can find a viable alternative in the form of the prairie dress. Until recently, these kinds of dresses often ran the risk of looking dowdy or juvenile, like a little girl’s party frock. But the last year has seen a boom in subversive takes on these wholesome gowns.

Designers such as Erdem, Coach and Calvin Klein offered up modern interpretations in their autumn collections, featuring moody colour palettes, dainty florals and sheer fabrics. Zimmerman, as seen on Margot Robbie (right), presented flirty and feminine dresses, while Isabel Marant’s prints had a retro sensibility, paired with cowboy boots and studded belts.

Interestingly, however, it’s not the household-name brands that have been leading the charge on this trend, but two cult labels that quickly garnered a loyal following among A-listers and street-style stars. The first is Batsheva, the eponymous brand from Batsheva Hay, a former lawyer who champions a more earnest look, proudly describing her designs as “very frumpy and a little bit weird”.

The autumn collection contains dresses in subdued tones for daytime and metallic lamé pieces, perfect for party dressing. Try her green pie-crust style with puffy sleeves, and keep things sleek with winter-white cowboy boots or understated mules, topped off with uneven pearl earrings or a charm bracelet.

The other name to know is The Vampire’s Wife, started by Susie Cave and named after her husband Nick’s abandoned book project. Her list of starry customers is expansive, including Kylie Minogue, Ruth Negga, Amy Huberman and Rachel Weisz (left).

The iridescent chiffon gowns are our pick, and would make a great festive-season buy if you’re in a position to splurge – Weisz’s full-length dress is fabulously dramatic, or go for the above-the-knee version for more of a cocktail party feel. Metallic hues are a smart way of bringing the prairie dress up to date, and Cave’s designs have a rock ‘n’ roll edge that’s far from frumpish.

On a smaller budget, there’s plenty to be found on the high street. H&M is your go-to for sweeping floral gowns – lean in to the Victoriana vibe with some lace-up 18th-century style calf boots, or toughen things up with a military jacket. Elevate the ensemble with a belt to define your waist and some sculptural jewels for a modern finish.

For a contemporary approach to the prairie dress, look to & Other Stories, whose lemon yellow maxi is structured around the bodice with voluminous sleeves for a romantic, grown-up twist. It’s gorgeously simple and shows a hint of skin, too, for those who don’t want to be completely covered up.

You don’t need to go full-length, either. Ganni’s checked minidress, which comes in blue and a more subtle black gingham, is an easier route into the trend – wear with tights and this season’s clunky hiker boots for a fresh spin on the prairie look.

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