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White Heat

Beyond the pale: This summer, banish all dark thoughts to the back of your closet and slip into something crisp, clean, and downright bleachy.

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Remember the simplicity of festive winter dressing -- and the dear black dress that carried you through an endless lineup of holiday cocktail parties? This season, let a versatile white dress bring you cool salvation: These five contenders can take you from white-hot party girl (just strap on those stiletto sandals) to peach of the beach -- and all at prices that won't make you pale.

H&M's denim strapless version is simple and body-friendly -- and, at just $25, the only cheaper option is turning your bed linens into a white toga. We love Margriet Nannings's cotton dress ($125 at Smaak, 219 Mulberry St.) -- the fabric is cloud-soft and gently clings to (or even creates) curves. At Lord & Taylor, the lineup of pretty white Ralph (by Ralph Lauren) frocks might bring back shades of commencement at Miss Porter's, but try on a flawless linen slip dress ($79.50) with an un-prissy ruffle at the neckline, and you'll feel every bit the sophisticate. The cotton sleeveless shift dress at Benetton ($68 at United Colors of Benetton stores) makes for a clean, more casual look -- a great throw-on to take you from beach to lunch. For a preppy splurge, try Cynthia Steffe's charming, feminine eyelet slip ($208 at Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue) or Nanette Lepore's classic shift ($207 at Nanette Lepore).

PLUS: This Week's Sale Picks


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