How to style a nap dress - The Wardrobe Consultant

What’s a Nap Dress?

This summer has been HOT, HOT, HOT. And rainy, but let’s not talk about the rain. As a woman, especially a woman of a certain age, I’m solidly in my 50’s now, there is an extra getting dressed struggle in the summer. We ladies tend to run warm at this stage of life. And what works best to counteract heat? Ventilation! A nap dress is essentially the ultimate ventilated dress.

Thankfully, trend gods are looking out for us (although this trend is not just for the 50+ crowd). Fashion girls/women of all ages and stages are embracing this style of dress. And it’s the answer to our collective overheating issues.

What’s old is new again…

The nap dress is not a new concept. It’s a breezy dress with an ethereal, Jane Austenesque feel. Think of a nightgown you’d feel ok going out in; that’s a nap dress. Fans of the 1970’s sitcom Three’s Company might call it a Mrs. Roper dress, a mumu (or muumuu), or even a caftan (or Kaftan). They are similar as they are all dresses that are roomy and provide built-in air conditioning. And, equally important, are all dresses considered to be stylish in 2021. Yet, there are subtle style differences to each. 

Here’s my quick rundown of each style:

Muumuu: “a loose often long dress having bright colors and patterns and adapted from the dresses originally distributed by missionaries to the native women of Hawaii” Merriam-Webster

Caftan or Kaftan: “a usually cotton or silk ankle-length garment with long sleeves that is common throughout the Middle East” Merriam-Webster

Nap dress: a nightgown style dress that feels possibly appropriate for guests, or a dress that feels remotely appropriate for bed. (this term is new, so it is not in the dictionary yet)

What makes a dress, a nap dress?

The “founders” of the nap dress, a brand called Hillhouse Home, trademarked the term. They have been making the nap dress style since 2018. According to Nell Diamond, CEO of the brand, The name is a bit of a misnomer. The Nap Dress™ is our signature garment; soft, comfortable, and pretty enough to wear all day and night.

“I wanted to design something that allowed me to feel like myself during a 3:00 am feeding, when I’m so bone-tired and have four thousand emails and I’m thinking about taxes and my laundry and my to-do list and the Nap Dress™ came to be as a solution to a problem inherent in my own life.”

Cottage Core

The Nap dress is part of a greater trend called cottage core. The cottage core trend has been going strong since 2020. Some even say it’s been gearing up since 2010. According to Urban Dictionary (again, it’s a newer term, not part of the Merriam-Webster definition yet), it is an “aesthetic” depicting/revolving around a romanticized life in nature. Very serene and calming vibes. Includes: flowers, frogs, flowy dresses, cottages, and fairies. You can find elements of cottage core in home decor (think tea towels), food (think sourdough), and even recreational activities (think gardening). Architectural Digest wrote all about cottage core in October of 2020.

How to pull off the Nap Dress look?

These flowy, lightweight, and ventilated nap dresses are practical and very in fashion. But, how to actually wear one can be a challenge. We might love the way Mrs. Roper looked in Three’s Company or Gweneth Paltrow in Jane Austen’s Emma. However, when getting dressed, you don’t want to look like you’re stepping out of a period piece. Additionally, the billowy nature of the dresses can be overwhelming, especially on a petite frame.

I’ve got a few tips to help make wearing these dresses a breeze (pun TOTALLY intended!)

  1. Pick one girly feature

    Many nap dresses are floral and have ruffles and smocking. In fact, the ruffles and smocking are two of the key nap dress features. But too much can be just that, too much. Pick one or two of the girly features to make the look feel more adult.

  2. Don’t pair it with accessories from the era of the dress

     If it’s a 70’s inspired muumuu, DO NOT wear it with platform shoes. It will look like a costume. Same with a Victorian-style nap dress. Forego the curly, ribboned updo or wicker bonnet. Instead, wear these dresses with a slide sandal, sneaker, or even a bootie. This will play up the juxtaposition and make it feel modern.

  3. Belt it

    While the intention of a nap dress or muumuu is to be billowy, it is just too much volume for some. Adding a belt can help show more body shape, as well as add a more structured element to balance the flowiness.

  4. Go short

    To counteract the feeling of too much fabric, find a dress that hits above the knee. It doesn’t need to be a mini dress, but seeing the shape of your legs gives the look of visual proportion.

  5. Layer it

    As the weather starts to transition, get more wear out of your flowy dresses by layering them. One option is to throw a jean or leather jacket or a cardigan over the nap dress. Another option is to put a blouse or tissue turtleneck under to add interest and warmth.

Some of my FAVORITE Nap Dresses – at all price points

To sum it up, a nap dress is a lightweight dress that you’d feel comfortable wearing out and about, yet also wearing to bed. It is a flowy, ventilated dress that won’t make you overheat in the warmer months. I am very excited that this style is currently on-trend, are you?

And if you’re on the fence about a nap dress per se, maybe try a summer day dress, same flow and finish, but less nap vibe. 

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Photo: Becky Cormell


Cleveland-based personal stylist and fashion blogger.

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