By Susan Kerr

Cut, color and style are necessities when choosing a dress, but everything hinges on the right fabric. Fiber content, finish, hand, ease of care, and drape are factors contributing to whether a dress succeeds or fails in making the right fashion statement.

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Dresses can fit differently depending on the fabric they are made of.


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Think about your lifestyle when choosing a dress.

Selecting the right fabric for a dress depends on several factors. Before you go the fabric shop or fabric counter, you'll have to have a good idea of where you'll be wearing the dress, what your personal style is, and how devoted you are to careful or carefree laundry days.

Warm Weather

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Light-weight fabrics will be more comfortable in warm weather.

Light cotton and cotton-blend fabrics are traditional for more casual dresses and warm-weather clothing. Linens and linen blends run a close second because of their tendency to wrinkle easily. Choose a fabric with a smooth finish--such as cotton broadcloth, muslin, or knit--in light and bright colors or patterns. These color schemes reflect more light, which means there will be less heat build-up in the dress fabric. Cotton and linen also wick moisture away from the skin, keeping you drier and more comfortable. A touch of nylon or rayon can make these fabrics wrinkle-resistant as well.

The warm months often require dressing up for weddings, proms, reunions, and other special events. Choose a natural-fiber fabric as you would for a more casual dress, but go for a slightly more upscale effect. Silk and silk blends work very well for special-occasion or dinner dresses. A simple sheath or halter dress in a sumptuous silk fabric can be dressed up or down with accessories and jewelry.

Cold Weather

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Wool blends will keep you warm in winter.

Wool and wool blends are the winners for winter dresses, followed by other natural fibers like alpaca and cashmere. These fibers originated in cold climates and have been used for thousands of years because of their inherent warmth. Choose a smooth fabric like worsted wool for maximum durability or select a fabric with a softer hand (a fluffier, softer finish) for a more luxurious feeling. The fluffier fabrics will tend to shed and pill more than worsteds.

The cold months offer more opportunities for holiday parties and get-togethers. For special-occasion and formal dresses with a lot of sparkle and shine, synthetics rule. These dresses usually aren't meant to be worn more than a few times and a little discomfort is acceptable if you're going for a single knockout fashion statement. Polyester, rayon, and nylon are available in rich colors that don't fade easily.

Additionally, rich textures like velvet and brocade are heavier in weight and will keep you a bit warmer as well.

Clothing Care

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Silk dresses have higher maintenance but benefits such as comfort and durability.

If your laundry routine consists of two piles– light and dark–you may want to opt for easy-care fabrics that need minimal care. Sturdy synthetics, natural fibers, and blends of the two are your best friends. If you're not against frequent trips to the dry cleaner and don't mind hand washing, pure wool or its blends with silk and other fibers will do beautifully. Their higher maintenance requirements have benefits: More comfort, more durability, and a more sumptuous look and feel.

Specific Use

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Career dresses are often made with heavier fabrics.

Heavier and crisper fabrics that take a crease well are excellent choices for career dresses. Softer fabrics drape well and are excellent for more casual dresses or flowing evening attire. Crisp but luxurious fabrics like satin and heavier silk are the best choice for formal and bridal gowns.