December 4, 2023

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Ask a fashion person what makes her excited for autumn, and fall dresses outrank foliage tours and pumpkin spice everything every time. Spring dresses may get more attention for their botanical prints and UV-beckoning cutouts, but fall dresses are more withholding and, therefore, more interesting. Maxi sweater dresses in cream yarn; minidresses in patchwork prints; denim midis in moody florals: These are dresses that invite you to play with layers and accessories to elegant results. (Your most-worn leather boots would agree.)

Even with fall’s start more than a fashion month away, the season’s best dresses are already sliding onto hangers. Naturally, we’re asking which ones are worth shopping now. The first gems on our list come direct from the fall/winter 2022 runways, including Chloé’s updated sweater dresses and Ulla Johnson’s eternally covetable florals. Then there are dominant fall 2022 trends getting reinterpreted in dress form. Sarah Tam, chief merchant officer at Rent the Runway, tells variations on leather (and faux leather) dresses are about to be everywhere. And lest you thought fall would be full of gothic lace and wine-toned velvet, this season has some potential for color play. “Electric hues are stepping in in place of fall’s traditionally moody color palette,” Tam says. Highlighter shades from Self-Portrait to Valentino back her up.

It’s never too early to indulge in a fall dress—and some demand your attention now. Shop 20 fall dresses so good, you’ll want to wear them before the season officially starts.

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Best Fall Floral Dress

Heleen Silk Midi Dress

Ulla Johnson is always our top choice for a floral dress, including moodier renditions for fall. This style plucked from the designer’s latest runway collection is made in a luxurious silk with curve-accentuating ruching. With a tall leather boot, it’s a match made in fall fashion heaven.

Best Jersey Dress

Gathered Maxi Dress

The fall perfection of this Totême dress is so much more than its October-appropriate shade. It’s made from a breathable, organic cotton that hangs beautifully when you pull it on, with the gentle feel of a well-loved sweater. A gathered waist nicely breaks up the silhouette.

Best Plaid Dress

Seersucker Mini Dress

A collegiate pattern and a high neckline assure minidresses can translate from summer to fall. This GANNI piece happens to have them both, plus the coolest button details along the back. Go full prep with penny loafers and socks or try lug-sole boots for some punk contrast.

Best Embellished Dress

Studded Mini Dress

All year, your tissue turtlenecks, cable-knit sweaters, and tall boots have been waiting for a minidress to layer with. This is that dress. The V-neck sheath cut is as simple as they come, but the studded accents transform it into a covert statement piece.

Tilda Draped Jersey Maxi Dress

The drape of this minimal maxi dress takes it up an elegant notch. We’ll wear it will easy slides on cooler summer nights now, and add brown knee-high boots and a suede bag come fall.

Best Poplin Dress

Poplin Wrap Dress

Any fall weekday that you wake up unsure of what to wear, this popular Tory Burch dress will always have your back. It has all sorts of figure-enhancing details (the wrapped waist, the curved hem at the hips), but a sleeve and skirt length that are totally work appropriate.

Best Patchwork Dress

Indy Mini Dress

Get your taste of Western influences without going full prairie girl. Part-disco, part-cowgirl, this metallic-flecked bandana dress is a match for neon heels or laid-back leather boots.

Best T-shirt Dress

A-Line Contrast Skirt Dress

For anyone spending fall in a seasonless state, or itching for a minimalist piece they can technically wear year-round, try an elevated twist on the casual T-shirt dress. This COS style keeps all the comfort you’ll find in a true tee, but has the elegance and structure of more formal pieces thanks to its pleated skirt. (Read: It’s for more than the weekend.)

Best Ruched Dress

Gant Floral-Print Ruched Minidress

In the 20 years since Rachel Comey started her eponymous label, she’s never strayed from designs that look gorgeous on the rack and adapt to the life of the woman who wears it. This fall, she checks style and function boxes with an asymmetric ruched dress begging for the spotlight in a “Get Ready with Me”-esque TikTok. The precise folds of the fabric and the retro print will look good on everyone, trust.

Best Denim Dress

Sol Dress

Sorry, ’90s straight-leg jeans, we have a new favorite denim piece. This minidress has a relaxed skater skirt and a tapered long sleeve, a fit that can handle late-summer commutes and peak apple-picking season with the right boots at the ready.

Best Sweater Dress

Knit Maxi Dress

Sweater dresses are our fall heroes: universally flattering shapes, blanket-like textures, endless layering potential. Branch out from solid neutrals into a seasonal but not-too-obvious pattern like this runway knit by Chloé. With a flat, a sneaker, or a tall leather boot, the body-hugging shape and sunset weave are too good to pass up.

Best ’80s Dress

Tiger Print Mini Dress

Here’s a dress with throwback appeal endorsed by runway trends. “Designers are reemphasizing the feminine form with hard statement shoulders and corsetry details,” Tam explains. “This Bardot piece cuts a striking figure with its ’80s-inspired shoulder, elegant high neck, and bold zebra print.”

Scroll through the reviews, and you’ll find more than one person saying this dress brought all the compliments. “I was impressed by the quality of the fabric, the fit, and just everything,” one shopper says.

Best Turtleneck Dress

Printed Turtleneck Midi Dress

We’ve had our share of Fair Isle prints and chunky, cable-knit sweater dresses. When we go for a turtleneck dress this year, we’re choosing one with a psychedelic marbled print and a relaxed drop shoulder. It has the feel of an everyday dress, but a pattern that’s party material.

Best Silk Dress

Naia Dress

Whether for presentation day at work or a fall wedding with a tough-to-define dress code, this silk charmeuse dress is a must. The slightly asymmetric hem gives the clean cut a hint of something unexpected, and the nutmeg silk is pure autumn. Cinch the belt or leave it loose depending on the formality of the venue where it’ll debut (to heaps of compliments, we assume).

Best Leather Dress

Faux Leather Larisa Dress

If you’re intrigued by the runway’s ’70s-meets-Western leather dresses, lean in with an all-over-leather midi or maxi. “We love seeing this trend in fresh new silhouettes that can easily go from desk to drinks, like this button-down dress from Nicholas,” Tam says.

Reviewers who’ve worn it add that the fit and material are better than expected. “This dress is a dream! Lighter leather than I thought. It’s a perfect fit and flare silhouette. Love the drama of the shoulders and the sleeves,” one writes.

Best Dress Under $100

Buttoned Midi Dress

We belong to the camp that considers animal prints a fall neutral, so this eco-friendly viscose dress will be the canvas for weeks of autumn outfits. And if leopard spots aren’t your thing? The same long-sleeved midi is available in several other solids and patterns.

Best Cutout Dress

Green Cutout Midi Dress

Fall party dresses aren’t all muted notes and conservative cuts. To show a little skin when temperatures dip, Tam recommends this lemon-lime Self-Portrait dress. It touches on the runway’s ongoing infatuation with highlighter shades and has a teeny-tiny cutout to define your waist.

Women who’ve worn it haven’t looked back. “The dress is so flattering and the color is fantastic,” one reviewer says.” Another agrees, “So comfy and cut just tight. Was flattering and the color is *chef’s kiss*.”

Best Shirtdress

Calo Dress

Swap cotton poplin for faux leather and slide sandals for ankle boots, and you have an effortless shirtdress outfit for fall. In a mini length, you can also style this dress as a shacket over jeans and a turtleneck.

Best Dress Under $200

Tilda Wrap Dress

Moody fall florals meet bohemian ease in this mixed-pattern, budget-friendly wrap dress. The contrasting fabrics sewn along the skirt’s pleats add a little something extra when they’re in motion; you have our permission to twirl. And that plunge neckline? It’s even more elegant with your hair pulled back and a sculptural pendant earring.

Best Lounge Dress

Everyday Kate Sweater Dress

When your only fall plans are curling up with a new book and a redwood candle, this plush Jenni Kayne dress should be your first pick. It’s knitted with a yarn so soft, reviewers call it “possibly life changing”—and it’s opaque, so you can also wear it out of the house with a heeled boot and longline jacket.

“Could a dress make a person feel slightly famous? Yup,” one fan writes. “I love it.”

Best Wrap Dress

The Alexandra in Red Star

This little red wrap dress is September date material with strappy heel sandals. It’s 100 percent silk crepe and includes a discreet tie closure to cinch however you like. When true fall arrives, a leather jacket, over-the-knee boots, and the best tights set it up for chillier nights.

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