I’ve always loved clothes too much to subscribe to concepts like “uniform dressing” and “capsule wardrobes.” My closet looks like a scatterbrained trunk of an eccentric stage-play costume department. But among the button-front silk dresses, the vintage calf-length La Perla slips, the cult-leader-like linen tunics, the lamé pleated midi skirts, and the headbands so bulky they look like kokoshnik are six almost identical dresses by Cos. I have been buying them yearly (sometimes twice a year) since first discovering the style in 2016 and, in spite of my maximalist tendencies, I reach for them more than anything else in my closet.
The dress is a deceptively simple — almost boring — sleeveless midi with a darted bodice with a few subtle pleats giving way to a flared skirt. On a hanger, it appears to be a shapeless sack, just something to cover your body. Yet, when I tried my first one on, I felt transformed. The bodice accentuated my bust-to-waist ratio, and the voluminous skirt hit elegantly at my calf. It was simultaneously sophisticated and laid-back, both work- and weekend-appropriate. And it twirled.
All of that is to say, I now own this dress in camo green (purchased in 2016), coral (2017), black (2017), rosewood (2018), off-white (2019), and navy (2020). Each year comes with a slight variation on the design: The 2016 version has two deep front pleats and a very stretchy poplin; the 2017 version also has pleats — but asymmetrical ones — and less stretch in the fabric. In 2018, the dress became shorter in the front and longer in the back, with diagonal darts in the bodice. Minor differences aside, sales associates and a press representative I reached out to all confirmed that this is indeed the same pattern that gets fine-tuned year after year.
No one needs a half-dozen of the same dress, but the versatility helps me justify my annual purchase. I wear it from mid-March through late November. I’ve worn it under slouchy, menswear-inspired cardigans and prim form-fitted ones; I’ve thrown a box-cut, cropped T-shirt on top of it, and, when the temperatures drop, cinched mid-calf wrap coats around it. In the warmer months, I wear it with sandals and Sambas; if I need to look nice, I reach for clogs. When the weather turns cool, I slip on combat boots, biker boots, or cowboy boots (yes, I own cowboy boots). I’ve even continued to wear the dress through the pandemic. The slight percentage of stretch makes it as comfortable as loungewear (and also means it’s basically wrinkle-resistant). There are only a few months of the year that I can’t wear it; I learned the hard way that this particular blend of cotton clings stubbornly to heavy stockings.
Cos didn’t invent the fit-and-flare dress — the silhouette, reminiscent of the dirndl, goes back to the 1950s — and they’re far from the only contemporary brand selling it right now. Reformation makes a slinky version in stretch-knit fabric; Staud’s popular Wells dress is a pricier poplin take; even Everlane has its own riff. But Cos’s is affordable (I’ve never spent more than $130 and usually spend far less), and it’s consistent — and, really, what more can you ask for?
A few more fit-and-flare favorites
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