It's all about the dress

OK, ladies: When was the last time you wore a dress?

Can't remember? No matter. You can refresh your memory in the coming months.

Dresses are the must-have item for summer, and they come in shapes that are decidedly retro: tents, trapeze, empire waist, wrap, smocks, bubbles, shirtdresses, jumpers, sundresses, minidresses.

You might have hated them the first time around. But before you recoil in terror, know that this time the dresses are constructed so you don't look like you just jumped out of an airplane and opened your parachute.

The secret is better materials and construction.

"Anyone can wear these dresses because they are so versatile," says David Hacker, vice president of trends and color for Wisconsin-based Kohl's Department Stores. "The wrap, shirtdress and sundress will be huge."

Amy Christensen, clothing manager at Terra Verde, a boutique in downtown Colorado Springs, Colo., is also enthusiastic about the dress. "They are easy to wear - fun and free-flowing and comfortable."

What helps makes dresses attractive this time around are soft, flowing fabrics, Christensen says. Jerseys with gathering around the waist are particularly flattering.

If you're not a dress person, consider that dresses are the epitome of versatility, ease and comfort. You can throw one on to run errands, go to work or step out for a night out on the town without spending half an hour searching the closet for tops and bottoms that match, Christensen says.

Fashion experts say there's a dress style for every body. Smocks and voluminous dresses usually look better on younger women. Styles that flatter many baby boomers are the looser sheaths and shirtdresses. It's just a matter of spending some time in the dressing room to find which works for you.

Be advised: If you're thinking of ignoring summer dresses and waiting out the trend, think again. Dresses are designers' choice for fall and winter, too. They will be layered with long-sleeved shirts, cardigans and jackets, worn with slender pants and tights, and accented with boots.



- Dress lengths are all over the place, from miniskirt to ankle length. Just make sure it's in proportion to the rest of the dress.

- You can find some solid colors, but prints are the big news - especially geometric patterns, polka dots and bold florals.

- Black and white together is the top color choice. Also hot for summer are greens, browns and reds.

- Sandals, ballet flats, heels and even flip-flops are the footwear to pair with dresses. Pantyhose need not apply.