The 17 Definitive Maxi Dress Styles You Need to Know

Woman wearing a maxi dress

Maxi dresses are so named because they’re long dresses. Think of them as maximum-length dresses. Maxi dresses are about ankle-length, they have full skirts and within these basic style parameters, they’re made in a huge variety of different designs and looks. Maxi dresses are so versatile and so easy to style, you can wear them to do anything. It’s a great choice for a casual look, a formal look or any sort of look in-between.

A Brief Background on Maxi Dresses

Maxi dresses are absolutely everywhere right now and they are ruling the modern fashion scene. They feel like a very fresh and now look. What you may not know is that the history of maxi dresses goes back for decades.

The design was originally created in the 1940s, inspired by long, full skirts that were such a strong part of Native American and Southwestern fashion at the time. They were known as patio dresses. Unfortunately, the fad was fleeting. Patio dresses fell out of style.

This left the fashion door open for maxi dresses. An updated and fresh take on the patio dresses from the 1940s, the first maxi dresses appeared in the 1960s. The long, loose, flowing dresses became extremely popular during this decade of daring, boho fashion. But by the time the ’70s and disco music entered the scene, maxi dresses were once again out of style.

Maxi dresses have now become popular again and designers have put their own twist on this classic silhouette.

Different Maxi Dress Styles

How many different types of maxi dresses can you name? Within the basic style framework of the maxi dress, there are all sorts of different design possibilities.

Drop Waist / Low Waist

Drop waist maxi dresses, also known as low waist dresses, are made with a waistline that falls below the natural waist. It can be as low as the hips or even lower. This style creates a lengthening effect, something that women with shorter torsos like.

Empire Waist

Meenew Women Sexy Plunge Neck Long Slit Dress Empire Waist Floor Length Dress M Army Green

The empire waist design is very high cut, with the waistline just under the bust. From here, the full skirt of the maxi dress begins. This waistline is flattering on all body types and it’s particularly practical for women who are pregnant.

Free Flowing / No Waist

LILBETTER Women's Low V-Neck and Low V-Back Maxi Dress(Navy Blue,X-Large)

The free flowing or no waist design has no waist. This creates a long, flowing design that has little definition, creating an A-line-style silhouette.

Halter

Floerns Women's Sleeveless Halter Neck Vintage Floral Print Maxi Dress A Navy Flower M

Halter maxi dress designs have no sleeves but they have a halter-type bodice that extends up from the bodice in a V design, with two wide swaths of fabric that come up to cover the chest and then come together at the back of the neck. The halter style leaves the upper back and shoulders bare.

High Low

Kranda Women's Sleeveless Round Neck High Low Racerback Tank Maxi Dress Black S

High-low maxi dresses have a varying hem length that is somewhat shorter in the front than it is in the back. This is a great hem for showing off some truly spectacular shoes.

High Waist / High Rise

PRIMODA Women's Spaghetti Strap Backless Thigh-high Slit Bodycon Maxi Long Dress Club Party Dress(Red M)

High waist maxi dress styles, or high rise designs, have a waistline that sits somewhat above the natural waist. However, it doesn’t rise much higher than bout three inches above the belly button.

Long Sleeve

Kormei Women Long Sleeve V Neck Floral High Low Flowy Party Long Maxi Dress L D10-Blue

Long sleeve maxi dress styles can have many different necklines but they all have sleeves that cover the arm from shoulder or upper arm to the wrists.

Off-the-Shoulder

MERMAID'S CLOSET Womens Casual Off Shoulder Maxi Dress White Lace Sleeve Beach Dresses

Off-the-shoulder maxi dresses have sleeves that cover the arms, either in part or in whole, but no shoulders. The dress is low-cut across the chest and arms so that the entire neck and shoulders are exposed.

Plunge

Floerns Women's Plunging Neck Spaghetti Strap Maxi Cocktail Party Dress Black M

The plunge or plunging maxi dress has a deep V or U neckline. The neckline plunges low enough and wide enough to reveal some cleavage (or something you have on under the dress if you’d rather not show cleavage). This neckline can be incredibly daring, plunging all the way to the belly button in some designs.

Shirtdress / Button Up

Love Stitch Women's Feminine Floral Shirtdress Maxi Dress (S, Light Peach)

Shirtdress styles are made to look like a collared button-up shirt but long enough to be a maxi dress. This style may also be known as a button up maxi dress.

Short Sleeve

PRETTYGARDEN Women's Wrap Maxi Dress Boho Floral V Neck Short Sleeve Ruffle Hem Split Beach Long Dresses (Blue, Large)

Short sleeve maxi dress styles have sleeves that are shorter than elbow-length. Many other types of sleeves, including puffed sleeves, can also be short sleeves.

Spaghetti Strap

HUSKARY Women's Summer Casual Sleeveless V Neck Strappy Split Loose Dress Beach Cover Up Long Cami Maxi Dresses with Pocket Black

Spaghetti strap necklines can appear in any type of maxi dress, from the most casual to the fanciest designs. Spaghetti straps are very thin and stringlike.

Strapless

Zattcas Summer Dresses for Women Off Shoulder Long Maxi Dress Ruffle Sundress Navy Large

Strapless maxi dresses have no sleeves and no straps. The bodice fits snugly around the torso and waist before it opens up to the full, flowing skirts that make the maxi dress so distinct.

Tank

Womens Sleeveless Round Neck Striped Tank Maxi Dress with Pockets (Black, Large)

Tank-style maxi dresses are made with a bodice that resembles a tank top. This is a sleeveless design that has thin straps that are thicker than spaghetti straps and thinner than halter top designs.

Tiered

Women's V Neck Puff Sleeve Smocked Solid Pleated Midi Pleated Dress Teal XL

Tiered maxi dress designs are very close to the patio dresses that were the original maxi dress style. In this design, the skirt of the maxi dress is tiered.

V-Neck

GRECERELLE Women's Summer Casual Cross V Neck Dress Bohemian Flowy Long Maxi Dresses Black-Medium

The V-neck maxi dress design has a pointed, plunging neckline that resembles a V shape. The dress still covers the shoulder and can have sleeves as long as it has that V neck.

Wrap

ECOWISH Women's Dresses Bohemian Wrap V Neck Short Sleeve Ethnic Style High Split Beach Maxi Dress 953 Blue X-Large

Wrap maxi dress designs are made with a wrap dress bodice that’s very flattering to the bustline.

FAQs

And you thought a maxi dress was just one style of dress! Within the basic style, there are so many different designs and different choices you could make. So if you still have a lot of questions, that’s okay. We’ve got the answer to all the most commonly asked questions about maxi dresses.

What is a maxi dress?

To be a maxi dress, a dress must end either just above the ankle or lower, all the way to floor-length. The skirts are full and somewhat loose and flowing. It’s a long dress that’s often made in a soft, airy design.

Can you wear sneakers with a maxi dress?

Want to wear sneakers with your maxi dress? Do it! A pair of sneakers can add a bit of a hip, edgy look to a soft maxi dress style. This is a fun, casual look. However, it’s definitely only for casual wear. You can’t get away with sneakers in a professional setting or a semi-formal or formal event. [Source: WhoWhatWear]

To create a look that’s a bit less casual but still comfortable, swap out the sneakers for casual sandals, like espadrilles or gladiator sandals. Heeled sandals can be used for a more dressy look. In winter and fall, ankle boots look great with maxi dress styles.

Who invented the maxi dress?

Oscar de la Renta, a famous name in fashion is credited with creating the modern maxi dress style in 1968. Other designers, including Dior and YSL, quickly followed his example and designed their own maxi length dresses. [Source: Fashional Historia]

Where can you wear a maxi dress?

The great thing about maxi dresses is that they can truly be worn anywhere and they look good with all sorts of shoe styles. The versatile maxi dress is comfortable to wear and easy to style. Slip into some strappy sandals or flip flops to wear summer maxi dresses to the beach, or dress it up a little with some pretty jewelry to have a night out. Wear a casual maxi dress with flats to run errands or have a day date. Add high heels, a classy clutch and a fancy updo when you want to create a formal maxi dress look. There’s really no limit to your style when you’ve got a maxi dress. Heck, you can even wear one with combat boots.

What jacket should you wear with a maxi dress?

Many different types of jackets look great with a maxi dress. Cropped jackets, a blazer, leather jacket designs, denim jacket styles and many other styles pair well with the flowing lines of a maxi dress. Whatever you’re wearing, it’s always about wearing it confidently. Walk tall and know that you look amazing and you will. [Source: WhoWhatWear]

What are the best undergarments for a maxi dress?

Because many types of maxi dresses offer good coverage of the torso, you can usually wear any type of lingerie or shapewear under your maxi gown when you want. Some styles, however, may require special underwear. There are many different bra styles that will accommodate any type of dress neckline. Strapless and backless designs, for example, will force you to get a little more creative. You should also wear a slip under any maxi dress that isn’t lined.

Sources:

  • Byrdie – 30 Stylish Maxi Dresses You’ll Want to Wear Everywhere
  • How Stuff Works – What is a maxi dress, and how do I wear it?
  • WikiHow – How to Wear a Maxi Dress
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