Straightforward summer dresses with sleeves

— by Alyson Walsh

Photos: Claire Pepper

Things I’ve never worn before no.25: the gingham summer dress. Where I went to school the summer season meant jumpers off, socks scrunched down and trying your best to avoid ‘water bombs’ when crossing the playground. Anyhow. The dress in the photograph is from womenswear designer Alice Early, and as someone who is very particular about armpit-bothering sleeves, I have to commend its beautiful fit. One of the best faff-free items for summer has to be the straightforward dress with sleeves, one with staying power that will last the day without wilting.

When we meet for coffee in a café near her south London studio, Alice Early explains her extensive research into sustainable options for her eponymous label, launched at the end of 2018. From the recycled fusing used in the cuffs of her shirts to technological improvements in the fabric dyeing process, every aspect of production is scrutinised. The designer is evangelical about sustainability. ‘It’s the only option for the fashion industry, and the world, right now. It would be irresponsible to start a new label and not care about the process and the environment.’

One detail I find especially fascinating is Early’s use of corozo buttons derived from the nut of the tagua palm, found (among other places) in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Often referred to as “vegetable ivory”, its environmental importance and appeal is emphasised by the young designer. ‘A lot of buttons are polyester or plastic, but there are other options. Corozo buttons have a lovely grain and come in all shapes and sizes. The nuts drop from the palm and are harvested from the ground, so there’s no deforestation involved.’

Descended from a dynasty of weavers – Early Warm Blankets began manufacturing in Oxfordshire in 1669 and continued father-to-son for nine generations – 30-year-old Early is putting a modern spin on family tradition. As a small independent designer, Early says she is determined to put in the groundwork to ensure her business model is transparent. ‘There’s so much greenwashing – and so much stuff on the market,’ she says. ‘But I keep asking the questions ‘Why not?’ and ‘What if?’ to ensure I’m going down the right route.’

Splendid sleeve action

Style notes: the Alice Early dress was loaned for the shoot and returned. Shoes are my old Grenson’s brogues but I would also wear this with sneakers.

This is based on a feature for the Financial Times How To Spend It, for a similar/How Not To Spend It dress, try Whistles gingham shirt dress (available HERE). And there are more straightforward summer dresses with sleeves below (can’t vouch that the brands go to the same lengths to ensure sustainability as Alice Early does but they are carefully selected):


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Things I’ve never worn before no.25: the gingham summer dress.