The sundress. A word and item of clothing that has infiltrated our lexicon and wardrobe, but do we even know what exactly it is and where it came from? Like, do you have to wear a dress in the sun for it to be considered a sundress? I wasn’t sure and I’m still not sure, but I did a deep dive on sundresses and I want to share my findings with you. (Below are some photos that come up when I Google “sundress” and “plus size sundress”.)

Why am I talking about sundresses?

Why not?

Just kidding. I saw a meme that included a member of the male species thirsting over women wearing sundresses. Many questions came to mind, but I knew I wanted to research sundresses after that.

Sundresses are also a part of my mom’s vocabulary, so it became part of mine as I grew up. She never explicitly told me what they were, but over time I figured out what my definition of them was.

What is a sundress?

When I think of sundresses, I think of short, flowy, light-weight dresses that are sleeveless with summery prints and light colors. I grew up thinking that sundresses were effortless garments to wear when it was really hot. (Pictured below are some results when I search “sundress” on Pinterest.)

If you are in the market for a sundress, you’ve got a lot of options, so shop away. Here’s just a few of the ways sundresses are defined:

  • a dress with an abbreviated bodice usually exposing the shoulders, arms, and back (Merriam-Webster)
  • a really, really comfortable dress you can wear almost anywhere (Urban Dictionary)
  • a one piece dress with a to-the-knee or lower hemline, usually worn by clingy, slutty, chunky-looking women during the summer, often accented by clogs, flips-flops, and the absence of panties (Urban Dictionary)
  • a lightweight summer dress that normally exposes the arms and shoulders (Kaplan International)
  • a sundress, or summer dress is an informal or casual dress intended to be worn in warm weather, typically in a lightweight fabric, most commonly cotton, and usually loose-fitting. It is commonly a bodice style, sleeveless dress, typically with a wide neckline and thin shoulder straps, and may be backless. A sundress is typically worn without a layering top and is not usually worn over a blouse, sweater or t-shirt, or with leggings. (Wikipedia)

There are some common themes throughout the definitions I found and they are as predicted. Sundresses are uncontestedly light-weight, casual and sleeveless.

I also saw in a few places the inclusion of an abbreviated bodice, which I had to look up. This detail refers to the bust and upper ribcage section of a dress; it seems to be cinched and ruched.

There was no mention made of wearing a sundress in the sun, but maybe I am taking this too literally. The other details mentioned in the above definitions, like light-weight and sleeveless, insinuate that they are best worn in warm weather.

The History of Sundresses

Sundresses were apparently around in the 1940s and 1950s, but became popular in the 1960s by Lilly Pulitzer, who had opened a juice stand of all things in Palm Beach, Florida and requested from her dressmaker a dress that would hide juice stains. With the help of her friend, Jackie Kennedy, bright colored, sleeveless dresses became in vogue.

I want to note that this is the only mention of the color of sundresses that I could find. I’d assume that since sundresses are a part of summer wardrobes, lighter colors are preferred and suggested, but obviously not required.

(Pictured below are two sundresses from Lilly Pulitzer that are available right now.)

I couldn’t find anything about the name of the garment, so I will continue to assume it has something to do with the warmer weather.

The Scandalous Nature of the Sundress & The TikTok Challenge

As I wrote above, sundresses can have a reputation for being scandalous as they are a garment known to be worn without underwear. I had never heard that before, but it makes sense that the youth of the world have taken this idea and made a challenge out of it. It needs to be said, this is why we can’t have nice things.

According to The Tab, in the spring of 2021, TikTokers were doing the following in participation of the sundress challenge: “A person wears a sundress, goes out on a day date with their partner or person they’re seeing and sees how many times they can have sex in public places such as a park.”

This challenge has since been banned off of online platforms for obvious reasons and I can’t help but wonder if young women were pressured into having sex in public to appease their partners.

Why do men like sundresses so much?

Circling back to what initially sparked my interest, why the heck do men like sundresses so much? I saw memes like the one below and, well, here we are. Most of the memes that are out there are not ones that I want to re-share.

Glamour did an article back in 2013 about the topic and asked a bunch of guys this question. Their answers ranged from it being a classy outfit, an outfit that reminds them of summer and a garment that is flattering to the female form.

I, of course, also asked the male in my life what he thought. My husband, being the gentlemen that he is, said that sundresses accentuate a woman’s figure, any woman’s figure. We can thank the abbreviated bodice and a-line skirt for that one. We both scoffed at the idea of gross boys ogling women wearing sundresses.

Styling Sundresses

What I like about sundresses is that they are very classic, timeless items of clothing that come back into style every summer, which means you can buy a sundress one summer and wear it forever. That’s sustainable and we like sustainability around here.

Sundresses are currently characterized as “[providing] a feminine look that is more comfortable than a skirt and blouse or another sort of dress. Sundresses can be of any neckline and hemline, ranging from mini to full length. It is typically sleeveless and collarless with a wide neckline and thin shoulder straps. Sundresses can use a variety of closure types, including back zippers, side zippers, front buttons, back buttons, back ties, pullover or other closure styles. They may also be without any closures or fasteners and put on over the head or slipped on by pulling up from below.” (Wikipedia)

This definition opens up a lot of opportunities for folks of different body types and shapes and different styles to wear and enjoy a sundress. Sundresses are also perfectly versatile when it comes to accessorizing and layering. Options for shoes, jackets, kimonos and cardigans are vast.

I don’t have any sundresses in my closet at the moment, surprisingly, and that probably can be attributed to the fact that I don’t feel like sundresses are appropriate in an office setting and I prefer to wear short sleeves in the summer.

I had the sundress below on the left a couple of summers ago, which I loved, but ended up recycling because it was turning an odd shade of gray. And I bought one a couple of months ago, but it was so low quality that it didn’t last very long in my closet. *Sigh* I did snap a cute photo in it though, as evidenced below on the right.

Final Thoughts on the Sundress

I have come to understand that sundresses are a pretty inclusive garment that was taken into a perverted territory for a short period of time, but remains classic. News flash, you can wear whatever the f#$k you want under or over your sundress and you don’t even have to wear one at all if you don’t want to.

Fashion and trends ebb and flow along with society and even the simplest of things, like a dress, have meaning and historical context.

Let me know if you like this deep dive and if you want me to do more. And be sure to let me know how you feel about sundresses in the comments!