Maggie Alderson photo: Adrian Peacock

‘Every year it’s the same. I’m going somewhere really hot and the only thing it’s comfortable to wear is sleeveless,’ acclaimed author Maggie Alderson says to me, ‘Loads and loads of women feel the same frustration. It doesn’t matter if you hate your upper arms, when it’s properly hot, you have to go sleeveless. Please can you do a post on WAFTY summer frocks to wear on holiday?’ Like Maggie, I’m less inclined to suffer Arm Paranoia when on holiday, and agree, we should wear the clothes we feel comfortable in. There then followed an email chat to discover the author’s summer holiday dress requirements:

The only acceptable fabrics are natural fabrics – silk, cotton, linen.

Sleeveless but not a slip dress.

It has to be bra-able.

Quite low at the nape of the neck.

Lovely summery print or something colourful NOT black.

Nothing out of the ordinary there, you’d think, but the British high street is the highly flammable home of summer dresses in synthetic fabrics. Viscose, polyester, various ‘blends’ and bizarrely, holiday frocks with manmade linings – none of which a FAB (Fifty And Beyond) woman wants to wear on holiday, or anywhere else for that matter. What we want is the Waft Factor. ‘Because I’m post menopausal, I’m looking for something loose and floaty,’ Maggie continues, ‘I don’t want any definition. I want to waft about, with a breeze up my armpits and down my neck.’

After a quick look online, I can empathise. It’s not easy finding a style with the Waft Factor in a natural fabric. I suggest a couple of dresses from Eileen Fisher and East but the Iris frock from Hush (£59, available HERE) goes straight to the top of the Waft List.  Of course, having worked as an author, columnist and editor of numerous magazines (including Elle), Maggie knows her fashion onions and has clocked this frock already. Admittedly it’s made of rayon – a manmade fabric made from natural cellulose fibres – but it ticks all the other boxes. And comes in three different colourways, including a lovely zebra print. I might give one a whirl on my summer holiday (still nothing booked).

Maggie’s latest book The Scent of You was out earlier this year. And here’s a selection of summer dresses with the Waft Factor:

29 thoughts on “Where to find a sleeveless summer dress with the Waft Factor

  1. That’s actually an easy one. Here’s the hard nut: no way no matter how hot I will not wear sleeveless. So a summer wafty dress but with a loose sleeve to the elbow…AND cotton. I usually do a skirt and blouse to fill this needed niche…but I’d love a loose waisted dress instead. Could you please take on the challenge. I’m a fit, fashionable 73. Oh yes, I’d like it to LOOK summery, ie, soft floral pattern or pretty color.

  2. I found some lovely wafty cotton dresses in Australia last year – they were really cheap too. I don’t understand why manufacturers put polyester linings in cotton or silk dresses….

  3. These are lovely but if you’re little like me and want waft without being overwhelmed, Lindy Bop do great 50s styles in dresses and skirts in cottons that tick every summer print you could ever want. And they come in at an average of £35…kid in a candy store.

  4. This sleeveless style has never suited me as I am narrow shouldered, so I have always worn a “cap” sleeve to balance me out – button through belted shirt dresses work well with that length ‘sleeve’ which take the edge off the horrible bit at the top of the arm, but are open underarm to be cool – I have seen a khaki brown one in H&M which I am going to try on, and last year I got a lovely khaki green one from Zara (although my daughter pointed out that you could see through it! – hey what do I care, I’m on holiday! – apparently you can’t have everything!)

  5. Another source for “wafty” dresses is to google “Korean linen tunics dresses” and you will find a zillion long, loose, billowing dresses that are quite flattering and in natural fabrics under $100. I’m getting all my friends to join what I call the “Caftan Cult”.

  6. I think it’s a good point which is why I stick to T-shirt dresses (midi or maxi) & shirt dresses. The only way I will wear a slip dress these days is with a top of some description underneath.

  7. I also cannot wear sleeveless dresses and what a shame as I work out six days a week.. weights cardio and eat healthy.. but when the elasticity goes in your skin, you can’t get it back 🙁

  8. Your suggestions are lovely but I’m only 5’2″ – my problem is most things are inches too long. Long’s good but I feel overwhelmed and out of proportion.

    Paxos is on the horizon (counting the days) so any more suggestions welcome!

  9. Very pleased to read this blog post as I ordered the first dress featured from HUSH a couple of days ago (with discount code : SUMMER 17).
    Can’t wait to receive it now!

  10. I’m not sure if this is a scientific fact but sleeveless dresses like the one featured at the top accentuate the older bits of my arms while dresses with shoestring straps don’t (I discovered this last summer). Try the swimsuit section in dept stores – I found a host of beach cover ups which doubled as summer dresses and were not close fitting or made of poly fabrics – though they do have some mix of man made in them. I also use the old Indian tunic top worn as a dress trick.

  11. I too have lamentable upper arms, but live in a hot climate. I try not to be too vain about my looks, but hate for those crepey batwings to be exposed! The best bet for sleeveless, IMO, is a cap sleeve. Just as cool as sleeveless, but covers up some of the worst flabby bits.

  12. I agree with Jill Ann. I’ve found that just a hint of a sleeve (i.e. a ruffle, cap) is better than nothing. There are a lot of ruffle sleeves right now in tee-shirts, woven shirts and dresses.

  13. Only if they come with a matching umbrella!!! In the UK the weather is so dire there is absolutely no need for summer clothes.

  14. Summer wafting, yes. Completely sleeveless, noooooooo! I’ve had the Jigsaw trapeze dress on my must-try list, but that sleeve is as short as I’ll go. And only because the dress is a good length and a not-too-plunging neckline.
    I’d love to see an edited selection of wafty half-sleeve, kaftany-type sleeve, below-the-knee dresses.

  15. I have several sleeveless linen and cotton mix dresses suitable for wearing in hot humid climate. Most of them are old like Nicole Fahri ones. More recently I’ve bought a few on sale from German brand Oska. Excellent colours and natural fabrics. I buy them to fit shoulders and bust and then either have darts put in back waist or wear belted. They last for years if you hand wash in Woolite and dry hanging up not in Machine. They can be dressed up and down with jewellery scarves etc. Another source of light cotton dresses is East for Indian cotton and Toast for same. I have unpicked and disguarded synthetic linings in dress to make more appropriate for hot weather when synthetic fabrics feel horrible and sweaty.
    I hope these suggestions are useful.

  16. Hi I always read but never comment, however thought I would suggest “Adrift”, an Australian label owned and developed by a friend of mine which ticks pretty much all boxes – natural fabrics, sleeves and sleeveless, wide size range, ethical production…

  17. I have for years worn Gudrun Sjöden, she is a Swedish designer, most of her clothes are cotton, very colourful and fabulous sleeveless summer dresses. Or very loose shortsleeved tunics. As far as I understand she has worked for years with family run businesses in China and India who print the fabric for her. What I also like is that most dresses have pockets, are wafty as she has generously sized patterns ( she does include larger sizes as well ) and her colours are the same each season, only the patterns change, so you can often mix pieces from different seasons which makes it environmentally friendly and is also nice if you have to be careful with purchases….She has a London store as far as I am aware and here is a link to the online shop.
    And no, I am not affiliated in any way, just like natural fibres and live in the Black Forest where you can only survive summers in sleeveless dresses…..

  18. Having lived in Africa and travelled in various sweaty climates, I have found that it is much cooler to cover up than to wear sleeveless. (Following those who actually live in these climates.) The trick is only 100% cotton or linen and LOOSE, especially armpits and sleeves. Your skin will thank you and you’ll feel great.

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