Ways to Change up a Maxi Dress

The maxi dress is a practical fashionista's dream, having gained popularity in 1965 after being featured in the film "Doctor Zhivago." Just days later, French designer Jacques Syma photographed an early version of the maxi dress for his spring collection. And thus, a legacy was born.

Today, a maxi dress can help create the perfect ensemble for any time of year, especially in summer, when the temps are high but you want to stay breezy and comfortable. While it’s a great go-style to keep on-hand, sometimes you just want to mix it up a little bit. 

If you’re tired of the typical dress and heels combo, you can learn how to style a maxi dress below.

The Best Maxi Dresses for Plus Sized Women

Maxi dresses, which are flowy and beautiful, seem to be a staple in most women’s closets. And it’s not hard to see why. They can be dressed up or down for any occasion, from your sister-in-law’s outdoor barbecue to a work-related formal cocktail hour.

But maxi dresses aren’t all the same. There are many different styles of dresses, and you may be confused about which is right for your body.

The most common types of maxi dress styles include:

  • The Long-Sleeved Maxi Dress
  • The Off-Shoulder Maxi Dress
  • The Halter-Neck Maxi Dress
  • The Patterned Maxi Dress
  • The One-Shoulder Maxi Dress
  • The Empire Maxi Dress

If you’re a plus-sized lady looking for the right style, opt for a halter-neck or patterned maxi dress, both of which look great on any body type. With a halter neck, the flattering cut tapers the shoulders while accentuating the bust. A patterned dress, on the other hand, uses busy designs to hide any parts of the body you’re self-conscious about. For bigger ladies, the larger the pattern, the more flattering the style.

Another great option is a long-sleeved maxi dress, which is ideal for those who want to cover their arms to hide any bingo wings. Or you can never go wrong with an empire-line maxi, one of the most flattering dress styles for plus-sized women. The dress comes in at the narrowest point of your waist, with the draping fabric hiding tummy fat and other lumps.

Avoid more revealing styles like the off-shoulder maxi dress. While cute, it requires going without a bra, something bustier women may need for support. You should also be cautious of the t-shirt maxi, which may have a neckline that is cut too low. If you're a plus-sized lady craving the comfort of a t-shirt maxi dress, search for a neckline that flatters your chest. You should also look for something with slightly loose fitting sleeves.

What to Know Before You Buy

You shouldn’t go out and purchase the first gorgeous maxi dress you see. Instead, keep a few tips in mind to find a dress that will work for you.

1. Determine Your Body Type

If you want to find a dress that accentuates the best of your body — like your voluptuous curves or ample bosom — you should determine your body type, also called body shape. Here are some common body shapes:


  • Apple: You're wide on the top but smaller on the bottom, with most of your weight accumulating around your hips.
  • Inverted triangle: You have broad shoulders but a narrow, well-defined waist — an athletic look.
  • Pear: You have a smaller, slimmer waist accompanied by a rounder bottom and thighs.
  • Hourglass: You have fuller hips and a proportional-sized bust with a small, narrower waist.

Once you know your shape, do some research on what will look best. For women with a larger bust, consider an elegant black maxi with capped sleeves. Or for ladies with curves, try a spaghetti-strap maxi with a slight A-line skirt.

2. Think About Skin Tone

Just as body shape and style can affect how you wear a maxi dress, so can the color. But finding the right color to wear can be hard. To make it more simple, skin tones can be broken down into three categories — warm, cool and neutral.

You're warm if your skin has an olive or golden undertone and your hair ranges from dark blonde to dark brown. If this is you, look for colors like orange, red and yellow. You can also get away with natural greens, magenta and turquoise. Plus, neutrals like chocolates and creamy whites will always work. 

On the other hand, you're cool if your skin has a bluish undertone and you have very light blonde hair or very dark hair, such as black or brown. If this is you, look for colors like royal blue, deep purples and emerald green. Try to avoid bright colors like orange and yellow.

Some people may find their skin tone includes a combination of these colors, making it hard to determine if you’re a warm or a cool. In this case, you’re considered neutral. Look for colors that fall in the middle of the color spectrum, like soft peach, dusty rose and jade green. You can also opt for neutral colors like greys, tans and off-whites such as cream.

3. Consider the Occasion

It may seem like a no-brainer, but every occasion will have its own dress code. You may not wear the same outfit to your son’s chorus concert as you would to your Friday date night, for example. If you don’t already have a dress in your closet, search for one that best matches the occasion you’re shopping for.

For a formal event, go for dark, simple colors, like black, navy or moss green. You can also complete the ensemble with stiletto heels and an elegant shawl. Stay away from anything too revealing, such as an off-the-shoulder look or deep neckline. For more casual events you should think light, with colors like sky blue, white, orange and more. You can pair the dress with flip-flops for a trip to the beach or wedges for a lunch date.

When shopping, remember all the accessories you have at home that you can use to take your look to the next level. This includes items like scarves, jewelry, hair clips, belts, shoes and much more.

4. Find the Right Length

How long is a maxi dress? Long. But there is no guideline or rule saying how long. Some maxis end at your ankles while others skim the floor. You’ll want to avoid something too long, as your feet can get caught in the fabric, causing you to fall.

You want a dress that hits at least your ankles. Anything shorter is prone to looking awkward. The ideal length will be touching the top of your toes, showing just a hint of your shoes. Before you buy a maxi dress, walk around the dressing room area to ensure you can move around easily and comfortably.

How to Style a Maxi Dress

Once you buy one maxi dress, you’ll find the habit is addictive. These dresses are so versatile and comfortable, you’ll want to wear one every day. And while the styles are great on their own, sometimes you want to mix it up and add a bit of flair to your ensemble.

Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to take a simple maxi and turn it into something entirely new.

1. Add a Cage Bra

What's great about a caged bra is it looks fantastic on any shape or bust size, with straps and underwire providing ample cup support. Caged bras are chameleons in that they can blend into any occasion, from mysterious and sexy to sleek and sophisticated. There are also plenty of types of caged bras, including lacy, crisscrossed and strappy. When paired with a maxi dress, the straps peek out, showing off your preferred style.

2. Wear a Comfy Tee

Throw one of your favorite t-shirts over a maxi dress and tie up the hem near your navel to create the perfect rocker outfit. You can even throw in a trendy denim vest and a pair of dark aviators. If you plan to layer other clothes on top of a maxi, like a t-shirt, remember to match the colors and patterns accordingly. If you want to wear a busy t-shirt design, keep your dress simple, such as with a solid color in a dark shade. If you are going to wear a plain white t-shirt, jazz it up with a floral print maxi or another bold pattern.

3. Layer With Sleeves

Before slipping on your favorite maxi for the day, pull on a long-sleeve shirt to create the perfect layered look. This is a style that can be pulled off in any season, from keeping warm in the cooler temps of fall to preventing sunburn during the hot, shadeless days of summer. Show off your style with bold patterns like stripes and polka dots. Or add a pop of color with bright tones like orange, yellow and red. If you want to stay cool, choose a long-sleeve shirt in white, which won’t absorb the heat. Then, pair it with a dress which showcases your style.

4. Add a Jacket

Adding a light jacket to your maxi can be a great way to stay stylish and practical. A jacket is excellent protection from chilly temps, the beating sun and even a little rain. Try to pick a jacket in a neutral color, like navy blue, black or white. Or you can never go wrong with denim, which pairs with almost any color. To complete the look, add a baseball cap and some stylish kicks. You will look fresh and young, and your outfit will accentuate your legs, making them look longer.

5. Use Iron-on Tape

We all have a few dresses in our closet which don’t quite fit. But when it comes to a dress that’s too long, there are a few tricks you can use to shorten the hem. With iron-on tape, you can wrap and iron the hemline to take a few inches off the length — however much you need. This method is a lot easier than sitting down at the sewing machine and can even be undone later if you decide you want the extra length. Before using tape, check the label on your maxi dress to ensure ironing won’t damage the fabric. Delicate fabrics like silk, satin and velvet can easily be ruined.

6. Wrap a Shawl

With a shawl, you can play up your dress in several different ways. Use a rubber band to tie the shawl around your shoulders wrap-style. Adjust the rubber band so it sits near the middle of your back, out of sight. For a more simple wrap style, throw a shawl around your shoulders. Then take one end, twist it and throw it over your opposite shoulder. Pull the other end up and down through the neckline to create a trendy knot. If you want to show a little shoulder, consider a look where you fold the shawl diagonally, wrap it around the sides of your shoulders and tie a bow off-center in the front.

7. Belt It Up

For those who have a larger bust, a maxi dress can hang awkwardly around the tummy. But with a belt, you can stylishly show off the narrowest point in your waist, creating a slimmer, sexier shape and showcasing some of your body’s best assets — your curves. A belt can also be a practical way to shorten the length of your dress. Start by placing the belt around your waist and cinching it tight enough that the fabric begins to ruffle. Tuck fabric slightly underneath until the hem falls at a place you’re comfortable with.

8. Tie a Button-Up

Another way to layer a maxi dress just right is with a collared button-up blouse. Use a black, sleeveless button-up paired with a light-colored dress to play with contrast. Or use a sheer white shirt with long, loose-fitting sleeves for a beachy summer look. For a look that says laid-back, you can tie up the tail ends the shirt at your navel. Or, give off more casual vibes by keeping the shirt unbuttoned and untied. Then pair it with some statement hoop earrings and a dark pair of shades.

9. Knot the Hem

If you're looking for quick tips for tying a plus-size maxi dress that's too long, one easy and stylish way is to tie a bottom knot. A bottom knot is just what it sounds like — a simple knot tied at the bottom hem of your maxi dress. If you’re a knot-tying pro, the possibilities for showcasing your style are endless. Be sure to tie the knot loose enough to keep the dress flowy and flirty. If you tie too tight, the knot will bunch up the fabric and look awkward, as well as be more difficult to untie later, which you’ll want to do before washing. 

10. Add a Headscarf

A headscarf is a noteworthy accessory which can show off your confidence and trendy style. There are several ways you can add a scarf to a maxi dress to take your style to the next level. What you choose will depend on the look you wish to achieve. Put your hair in a topknot and wrap it with a headscarf for an elegant appearance. Fold the headscarf in thirds and wear it across your forehead, with the knot in the back. This bohemian look will easily pair with a flowy maxi dress.

11. Cinch the Waist

Another option for shortening a too-long maxi dress is the waist knot. This is very similar to tying a knot at the hem of your dress, except in this case the knot is tied at the waist. To get started, gather some fabric at your hips until the dress is the ideal length. Then, use the extra fabric to tie a knot. This can be wherever is most comfortable or looks best, such as on the side, middle or back. Like the bottom knot, you’ll want to tie it tight enough to hold the shape but not too tight where the fabric becomes restricted.

12. Cut a Slit

If you’re feeling a little daring and don’t mind making a permanent change to your maxi-dress, considering cutting a slit to show off the perfect amount of leg. Before you cut, use a washable fabric marker to trace where you want the slit to be. This will help prevent cutting too high and ruining the dress. Then, lay the dress on a flat surface and use sharp scissors to cut up the line. Once finished, you'll want to fold the edges of the slit inside about half-a-centimeter and sew a hem, preventing unsightly fray.

13. Pair With Heels

Heels are a great way to look taller, as most maxi dresses mask which type of shoes you’re wearing. For plus-sized women, consider the best shoes for your body shape, such as boots or wedges, which offer plenty of support  perfect for an afternoon in the park or walking around downtown. If you want something sexier or more stylish, opt for a kitten heel, which is sleek but not too tall. Wearing heels is also a great solution to a too-long dress, as they can add inches to your height and keep the dress from sweeping the floor.

14. Find Classic Sneakers

If you’re going for a more casual, athletic-leisure look, try pairing your favorite maxi dress with fashionable sneaks. Basic white sneakers can help enhance any maxi dress silhouette, especially gauzy and flowy figures. Or if you’re going for a sleeker, more mysterious look, try a pair in a dark color, like navy blue or black. Plus you can never go wrong with the classic white and black stripe design. If you want to throw in a pop of color, consider how you can play up the laces with bright hues like baby blue and emerald green.

15. Add Some Accessories

No ensemble is complete without adding an accessory or two. Consider which items and accessories you have around your home that could amplify the style you wish to achieve. If you want a boho look, add some chunky bracelets, rings and an over-the-shoulder handbag. To look more put-together and elegant, cinch a metallic jewelry belt around your waist and paint your nails a matching shade. Even a simple pair of earrings can complete your outfit and speak to your overall style. 

Shop for Maxi Dresses With Perfectly Priscilla

If you've learned any tips for wearing a maxi dress in this guide, you’ll know they are incredibly versatile dresses, able to be styled and accessorized for almost any occasion. From a picnic in the park to a black-tie dinner, there are several tricks you can use to make the look work for you.

If you don’t already have a dozen maxis in your closet, consider how to find the right style before you buy. To do this, determine your body shape and which styles will complement it best. You should also figure out if your skin tone is considered warm, cool or neutral, and which colors will look best. And don’t forget, if you’re buying a dress for a certain occasion, find a dress that will suit the event.

Above all, the goal is to feel confident, sexy and stylish in your outfit. You want to wow bystanders with your sense of fashion while also accentuating your body’s best assets. If you want to showcase your style with a maxi dress, shop for your next design at Perfectly Priscilla. We offer a wide selection of maxi dress styles, from casual t-shirt maxis to elegant floral-print wraps.

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