Why the little white dress is the best buy you will make this summer

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Austrian model Nadine Leopold at the 8th Annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic

As hard-to-grapple-with trends go, white is up there with the best of them. Not only for its ability to increase the number of times you ask yourself: “Does this make my bum look as big as Kim Kardashian’s?” but also because white - especially in lace and broderie anglaise - is inextricably linked with the various landmarks of womanhood (the christening robe, weddings and death). And sometimes that's the problem.  

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Yet the LWD is having a moment. Possibly because few other materials hold quite as much erotic tension or are as unique in their ability to cover up yet also reveal. At Cannes, the Golden Globes, Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the polo, the LWD was leading the charge but the prettiest have been spied on Jennifer Lawrence, Diane Kruger and on the Duchess of Cambridge, and her sister, at Princess Charlotte's christening. At couture week it was prevalent on and off the catwalk - and it is even around for autumn having been given a 'good girl gone bad twist', with white lace worn with punky hardware.

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However, no one understands the power (and killer charm) of the LWD better than fashion editor Martha Ward who admits to owning hundreds and rarely leaves the house in anything else. It’s a look that owes much to a childhood fixated on the Edwardian era and white night dresses. “Who knows why, but I adored films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, A Room with a View and The Painted Veil where Edwardian lace blouses or night dresses, which are ethereal and pretty were very much part of the look," she says. "Often the vintage dresses I go out in are actually under-dresses.”

While some women worry about turning up to an event in the same outfit as someone else, Ward recently turned up to the NSPCC Masterpiece party wearing an identical dress to an Edwardian lady in a portrait (pictured below). Much of her spare time, especially while holidaying in France is devoted to trawling through brocante markets to add to her collection. “The French ones are especially gorgeous because they are often made in heavy cotton with monogramming and the lace detail on them is really rather exquisite."


In England she heads to Kempton, Ardingly, Shepton Mallet or Portobello market to source dresses with differing arm lengths and necks. Her priciest to date has cost her £250. “I know that everyone has copied the vintage ones but I love the original ones. I’m fascinated too by their history and intrigued as to who wore this before, what’s the story here? They are also so versatile, even though a lot of men don’t find them that sexy. I think my favourite story was when I attended a Tatler party and the dress code was ‘Wear your nightwear’. I felt so much more understated than everyone else who turned up in really sexy lingerie and at the end of the evening I could jump straight into bed.”

Here are some of Martha's favourites from a lifetime wearing the LWD:

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How to wear a LWD by Martha Ward

  1. white dress is such a great alternative to a LBD because you can really see the details. Remember to look for intricate fabric and embellishment as this is what will really “lift” the dress.
  2. Hair needs to look modern: a pleat or a chignon can look too anachronistic.
  3. Think carefully about your footwear: closed toes can look too heavy so go for sandals or kitten heels perhaps with rope detail or with a silvery hue.
  4. Don’t be afraid to go heavy on the eyes and lips - a strong red or a coral lipstick works well.
  5. When it comes to length - the longer the better. I think midi or down to the ground are the most stylish lengths to wear.
  6. Don’t be afraid to reveal flesh if most of the dress is quite sheer.
  7. Keep your accessories soft and very simple. Ideally you would wear the bare minimum.
  8. A bit of belting (black velvet, ribbon or a piece of rope) can really transform a tent-like white dress creating structure which also looks more modern.
  9. Always look for white lace which is crisper, not yellow, which can look grubby. It’s also a good idea to keep away from too much lace otherwise you can end up looking a bit bridal.
  10. For little white dresses look at Vikshenko, Richard Nicoll, Jigsaw, Max & Co and Whistles.

By Carolyn Asome