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10 beach dresses that will take you from sandy shores to sipping cocktails

Our roundup features light and airy dresses in comfortable cuts, and fabrics that go over swimwear with ease

‘Buy well and you’ll use your beach dress year after year’ ( The Independent/iStock )

Fashion choices that we stick to in our normal lives often don’t apply on holiday. Whether beach-side or pool-side, colours that seem overly bright in the city come alive in the sun, and conservative cuts or shapes that may be appropriate for the office seem too formal when surrounded by family and friends.

That said, a great beach dress must marry an unusual hybrid of features. It needs to be comfortable and lightweight enough to wear in extreme heat, and easy to put on and take off – because nobody has the patience to deal with complicated straps or buttons just for a walk to the loo or to cover up for lunch.

Then there are personal requirements, such as sleeves, for someone who has a tendency to burn easily, or a longer hem for the woman who lacks confidence in her legs.

Some will want a loose style that will hide a food baby, others will be seeking something with a higher glamour factor for a smooth transition from beach to bar in Mykonos or Ibiza. Buy well, and you’ll use it year after year, while a poor choice will just gather dust whether you choose to pack it or not.

We trawled the high street – as well as a few designer retailers – for the best beach dresses around, trying each one over a bikini or swimsuit. 

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

John Lewis & Partners linen handkerchief hem dress: £65, John Lewis & Partners

There is a woman for whom black is her go-to whether she’s in the city, at the gym or on the beach. This easy linen dress is pulled on over the head, and the structure of the linen means that it has a lovely natural shape. We love the scoop back, revealing a glimpse of swimsuit, and how the handkerchief hem grazes the ankles. It also comes in white and blue and white stripes, but the black is the most elegant.

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Topshop Boutique printed tiered maxi dress: £95, Topshop

Topshop’s Boutique range is a treasure trove for pieces that could pass as designer finds. This dress slips on easily and looks glamorous, while the drop waist and loose fit make it ideal for the body-conscious as well as the body-confident. The only drawback is for fairer-skinned people, as the colour looks best with a bit of a tan.

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Cloe Cassandro Gabriella silk-crepon kimono: £340, Net-a-Porter

Cloe Cassandro may be on the pricier side, but this handmade piece is hard to beat for beachside posing. The ultra-light silk crepon feels delightful to wear and has an intentionally creased texture, so it can be pulled out of a suitcase and worn immediately. The terracotta hue is flattering on fair skin and the shape is ideal for those who need shielding from the sun. We also love that the brand has impeccable ethical manufacturing credentials.

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Solid & Striped off-the-shoulder gingham seersucker mini dress: £180, MatchesFashion.com

Part of swimwear brand Solid & Striped’s first foray into clothing, this was designed with holidays in mind. The seersucker fabric feels really light and the shape is fitted without clinging to the body. We love the daisy chain detail under the bust, and the ruched shoulders look adorable with contrasting bikini straps, particularly our neon halterneck style. It’s a classic day-to-night piece that will garner lots of compliments.

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Zara floral shirt dress: £49.99, Zara

You really can’t beat a cotton shirt dress as a holiday cover-up. The fabric is breathable, so it feels comfortable to wear in very hot weather, yet there’s enough coverage for those with a tendency to burn. It’s also not so sheer that you can’t wear it for a browse around the shops in a conservative country. It’s a win, win, win.

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Rosie for Autograph floral print plunge swing beach dress: £26, Marks & Spencer

Rosie for Autograph has done it again. This printed maxi dress, which can be worn with a matching bikini, is loose and floaty with an adjustable drawstring waist and open back – and no, it doesn’t matter if the back of your swimsuit shows. The slit in the front of the dress is just enough to show a bit of leg without looking overexposed.

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Anthropologie Tatianna slip dress: £70, Anthropologie

The nineties-inspired slip dress is one of the biggest trends of the summer and makes for an ideal beach dress. This printed version is colourful without being too loud. It’s really easy to slip on or off, and folds down to almost nothing in the bottom of a beach bag or suitcase. This is a particularly versatile dress that transcends occasions and can be worn with all different kinds of swimwear.

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Melissa Odabash Meghan lace-up voile maxi dress: £145, The Outnet

Off-season sites like The Outnet are great for getting hold of designer pieces that you might not normally be able to afford. This Melissa Odabash shirt-dress, which pulls on over the head, is a perfect example. The lace-up front looks really sexy, as do the slits at the sides of the skirt, while the drawstring waist can be adjusted to fit.

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Arket halter dress: £69, Arket

We love the print of this cotton halterneck dress, which slips on over the head. The A-line shape is roomy and the midi length feels contemporary and chic. It looks great with all swimwear apart from the kind with traditional shoulder straps, so stick to halter or strapless styles for this one.

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Figleaves Hanna off-the-shoulder maxi dress: £24.50, Figleaves

We love a bardot neckline, and a nautical blue and white stripe always looks fresh in a beachside location. The cotton fabric feels lovely and light to wear, plus the drawstring at the waist is adjustable – and how cute are the bright pink tassels? It’s also machine-washable, so you can chuck it in with the rest of your clothes at the end of your trip.

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The verdict: Beach dresses

With a bottomless budget, we’d buy them all – along with the whole Cloe Cassandro collection – but alas that privilege is strictly for the one percent. For its sheer versatility and ability to suit almost every woman, our best buy is the John Lewis & Partners linen dress. It’s the kind of thing that will be worn holiday after holiday and still never date.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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