Go long

Women of many shapes, sizes can pull off a breezy maxi dress

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 Where to get the look

Bracelets: Loft, two sets of nine, $24.50 reduced to $5.99; set of 11, $14.50 reduced to $5.99, loft.com

Dress: Donna Morgan, $138, Macy's, macys.com

Shoes: Zara Basic, $49.90 reduced to $19.99, zara.com

Sweater: August Silk, $34.98, Macy's, macys.com, augustsilk.com

(Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune)

One of the bright spots of summer dressing is the return of the maxi dress.

Look around, and you'll see a whole array of women looking comfortable and cool — double entendre intended.

Maxis have a lot going for them, especially as a good alternative for those who don't want to show their legs. And, I might add, they're certainly a better option than my particular fashion nemesis, those god-awful capri pants.

"Any woman of any age and any shape can wear a maxi dress," assures Gregg Andrews, Nordstrom fashion creative director.

"I've seen women in their 70s in Florida wearing long, beachy dresses, and they look great," says stylist Joyce Sobczyk.

"I love the ease of a maxi. … It's a great feminine look that you can dress up and dress down," says Susan Swimmer, More magazine's contributing fashion features editor.

That trio of testimonials should be all you need to give the maxi a try. They're in stores now in just about every size and shape.

But, like many good things, they come with some risks — including the prospect of looking like you're walking down the street in your nightgown.

To help you look terrific, I consulted with the experts and put together this how-to maxi dress guide.

Maxi dressing tips

From stylist Joyce Sobczyk, theclosetconsult.com

•Go for color! It's a statement piece.

•Self-conscious of your arms? Cover up with a jean jacket, sweater, shrug or cropped cardigan.

•A natural fiber tote or a straw or woven clutch or cross-body bag is the way to go. Stay away from a fussy purse.

From Gregg Andrews, Nordstrom fashion creative director

•Plus size? Avoid overly full or A-line; a clean rectangle with a little bit of shape is more flattering and will elongate the body.

•For petite women, knits that skim the body are a good choice.

•Keep it casual. Long doesn't mean formalwear; think of it as a long sundress.

•Wear it to an outdoor wedding; to a church wedding is an iffy choice.

From Susan Swimmer, More magazine, contributing fashion features editor

•Thin jersey fabrics cling to your bits and bumps so consider shape wear underneath.

•No rhinestones; ethnic or earthy jewelry work best.

•Wovens in belt, bag and hat go with the casual theme.

More tips

Be cautious about a sun hat: A floppy straw hat can look a bit '60s summer-of-love. Try a cloche or head wrap for a bad hair day.

Remember lipstick and mascara to avoid looking like you just crawled out of bed.

Don't show off your underwear; no visible bra straps, please!

Keep it casual! Avoid office-y blazers or structured jackets as cover-ups. A simple cardigan is better.

Patterns are more forgiving of figure flaws. Skimpy T-shirt fabric will cling to your bumps but heavier jersey like this dress works wonders.

Choose one jewelry focal point like an armload of bangles or a statement necklace. Think ethnic and beads, not rhinestones.

Length is crucial. Show your shoes. If the dress drags on the ground, hem it or use a skinny woven or straw belt to blouse (and shorten) it. Holding your skirt off the floor so you won't trip is a big N-O.

Heels and platforms are too dressy for an informal maxi. Gladiators, ballet flats or wedges are ideal. And don't forget your pedi and polish.

shopellen@tribune.com

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