There isn’t much to the emblematic summer dress—flirty, timeless and feminine. And yet it’s still one of the hardest summer fashion staples to track down every year. To help narrow down your choice, we turned to the Joyce Gunhouse, one half of the designer duo that makes up Toronto-based label Comrags. The hottest look of the season? “It’s kind of that Mad Men feel, where the dresses are very feminine,” says Gunhouse, who along with long-time friend and co-designer Judy Cornish, has been producing earth-inspired in-house designs since they launched in 1983. Here, she shares fashion tips on how to find the perfect dress this summer.

How to find the perfect summer dress fashion tip #1: Guess what? It’s all up you!

Seriously: “What we like to do is try to find the perfect dress that flatters,” says Gunhouse. “So it’s not so much about the style—it’s not like we say ‘this year, you have to have a dirndl skirt’.” Stick with what you’re comfortable with and what perfectly accentuates your best assets. “We try to find a dress that most flatters a woman’s body and that she can live in— because then she’ll look good this year and five years from now in that same dress.”

How to find the perfect summer dress fashion tip #2: Let runway trends be your guide but feel free to stray.

When it comes to the perfect summer dress, surprisingly, timely trends are not of the essence. “I think it should be a timeless look but at the same time, one that’s a bit forward. So the silhouette might be timeless but it will be a new fabric that they’ve never seen before, or a colour that’s a bit more forward.” Put it this way: “Something that’s timeless and ahead of its time.”

Fashion tips for summer: Best dresses under $100 this season

For more fashion tips on selecting the perfect summer dress for a wedding or cocktails on the patio, read on…

Miller-bks-D-RS12-6985CANVAS.jpgHow to find the perfect summer dress fashion tip #3: Don’t be afraid of going sleeveless.

“Lots of women, myself included, don’t like to wear a sleeveless dress,” Gunhouse admits. But if you’re strategic in your search, you can find one that hugs all the right places and conceals ones that aren’t as fortunate. Bonus of a going sleeveless? You can easily slip on a cardigan or jacket overtop to instantly glam up the look while still feeling comfortable. “We have a dress called the Bill dress with an elastic in the front, and what’s nice about that is that it’s not a huge dress—it’s slim, but without pinching on your body anywhere.” Her comfort test? “If you last through the day without pulling on your dress or twisting it,” she says. “And if you get one compliment.” We’ll take it.

How to find the perfect summer dress fashion tip #4: Invest in a LBD.

Think about it, has Audrey Hepburn never steered us wrong? “A LBD goes from day to night so easily,” says Gunhouse. “We did a little dress, called the Joel dress, which is a tank— it’s a bit short, so you can wear it with it with running shoes and it has a fun look, and then you put it with high sandals and a necklace and it’s dressed up for the evening.” This is the critical part of the transition: “It’s the accessories.”

How to find the perfect summer dress fashion tip #5: Know when to belt.

The to-belt-or-not-to-belt is one debate is one that plagues us all. “Judy and I don’t heavily accessorize, but a nice leather belt is something that we always do. We really like it if the belt is too big and is sort of knotted, so it’s more like you’re wearing your dad’s belt with something.” Time to raid his closet.

The go-to: Gunhouse’s dress list for every summer event

Midday cocktails on a patio

“The Bill dress—a little floral blue and white slip,” she says. “The slip—a little bit of nothing—would work for that kind of afternoon party.”

Day wedding

“Often women don’t like to wear sleeveless for weddings, so what we do is we have the Brady dress in a natural fabric, and we have the Horizon jacket, which is a jacket that doesn’t do up so it’s sort of like a cardigan. So you have a suit to feel dressed up for the wedding but as the evening goes on, you just take off the jacket and have a really great summer dress.”

Everyday go-to

“The dress I’ve been wearing constantly is the Lucy dress, which has big patch pockets and a grosgrain ribbon belt, but you can also wear it with a leather belt. It’s not a tight-fitting dress at all.”

The summer staple: The white-on-white ensemble

For a classic, two-piece white outfit, go for the Bill top paired with the matching white Global skirt. “What we like about white is that it’s not an optic white, it’s actually quite warm, so it almost looks a little bit dirty— but it’s not see-through. When we choose white, we want it to look good with black or denim because we know that people don’t often go out in head-to-toe white. We try to pick one that looks good with the basics.”

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