No matter the occasion, shopping for dresses can get a bit overwhelming. If you want a new comfy dress you will ultimately live in, need to find that perfect wedding guest dress, or are looking for workwear dresses that are office appropriate yet still feel like you (and can moonlight as going out dresses for drinks with friends during the week), knowing where to start in your shopping search is key.
As far as the best places to buy dresses is concerned, Naz Meknat, a celebrity stylist who works with Sterling K. Brown, says that “it all depends on what kind of dress you are looking for, the occasion, your budget, and your style.” She recommends starting at a department store — such as our best overall pick, Nordstrom — for more variety and “access to different designers, a variety of colors, sizes, and prices all in one place.”
Whether you prefer the variety of a department store or are looking for a more curated dress collection to shop from, we researched dozens of retailers, carefully considering styles, size offerings, shipping and return policies, and more to find the ones with the best dresses. As a result, we put together a list of our top picks for all of your dress-shopping needs.
Ahead, PEOPLE’s best places to buy dresses.
Shoppers looking for a wide variety of labels, price points, size ranges, as well as free shipping and a lenient return policy.
Per Meknat’s advice, our best overall pick is a department store, as it’s the best place for tons of variety in designers, styles, prices, and sizes. Nordstrom is home to everything from runway designers to smaller brands and everything in between, offering a collection of dress styles that work for all occasions, including casual everyday looks, formal attire, workwear dresses, and even bridal style. Since Nordstrom offers a variety of brand selections, it also has a more inclusive size range, with plus and petite sizes offered (depending on the designer), as well as maternity cuts. It also has one of the best return policies around, allowing customers to return most items without the constraints of a return period.
Size Range: XXS-4XL, plus petite and maternity | Shipping Policy: Free shipping, no minimum | Return Policy: Generous but case-by-case
If you’re looking for budget-friendly dresses that boast a ton of style, Old Navy is an excellent place to start. The brand not only specializes in more affordable price points but also offers a variety of styles — including some trendy designs — that work within many personal style preferences. On top of that, Old Navy is only of the most size-inclusive brands with an excellent size range, as well as tall, plus, and petite sizes offered in a majority of styles. In addition to its budget-friendly price points, Old Navy also loves a good deal and typically offers coupons and rewards so you can find a dress you love for even less than the original price tag.
Size Range: XXS-4XL (tall, plus, and petite sizes) | Shipping Policy: $7 (free after $50 for Core and Enthusiast Rewards Members) | Return Policy: Free returns within 30 days of shipment date
Best for Wedding Guests:
Show Me Your Mumu
Finding that perfect wedding guest dress can be a bit of a headache and have you running from store to store. For a one-stop shop, Show Me Your Mumu is our go-to place to buy wedding guest dresses — evenThe Bachelorette stars Hannah Brown and Kaitlyn Bristowe would agree as superfans of the label. We personally love it because it has an excellent range of dress styles, most of which are either trendy or feel a little more modern than some classic and modest silhouettes. And, although Show Me Your Mumu isn’t the most budget-friendly dress shop there is, you can get high-quality pieces that you love enough to wear several times, making any Show Me Your Mumu dress worth the investment. Another great thing about Show Me Your Mumu is they make shopping for a wedding guest dress super easy with a curated collection of wedding-appropriate attire, so you can browse through all that’s available without having to weed out more casual looks.
Size Range: XXS-3XL | Shipping Policy: $6.99 for standard shipping | Return Policy: Free returns within 30 days of delivery date
Lulus is one of those places where you can find anything you need for your closet, and that is especially true for formalwear. The brand has a vast selection of dress styles that are all categorized based on style and occasion, making it easier to sift through more formal options. We love it for formal dresses because the designs feel less stuffy compared to more traditional silhouettes, plus there’s a ton of style variety so you can easily find something that fits your personality and preference.
Size Range: XXS-3XL | Shipping Policy: Free shipping over $50 | Return Policy: Free returns within 30 days of delivery date
Zara might not be the first place you think of when you think of cocktail dresses, but the brand actually has a ton of great selections every season. Albeit on the more fashion-forward side of the spectrum, you can turn to Zara for a collection of stylish dresses that can easily be dressed up as a cocktail dress (or even a going-out dress) and then dressed down for more of a day-off type of look. We love Zara because many pieces feel runway worthy without the designer price tag to match, making it a more affordable place to shop for dresses, too. And, if you live near a brick-and-mortar location, you can opt for in-store pick-up when ordering online and always get free shipping (if not, you’ll need to spend $50).
Size Range: XXS-XXL | Shipping Policy: Free shipping over $50 | Return Policy: Free returns within 30 days of the shipment date
Best for Going Out:
Going-out dresses are all about showing off personal style, and Showpo is the epitome of style. With tons of amazing dress styles to choose from, you can find virtually anything for a night out on the town. From classic silhouettes and trendy designs to birthday party and bachelorette dresses, the retailer is home to over 33 pages of stylish dresses to wear out. On top of that, it has a pretty decent size range (compared to other retailers) with some silhouettes offered in plus and curve sizes.
Size Range: XXS-4XL | Shipping Policy: Varies, depending on where you live | Return Policy: Return within 30 days of placing your order for 110 percent store credit or a refund
Our top pick for the best designer dresses is Reformation. While they aren’t your typical runway designer, Reformation makes some of the most high-quality dresses with even higher standards. The brand plans to be climate positive by 2025 and has a variety of necessary practices in place to do so — including cleaner and more efficient practices. Apart from its sustainable lens, Reformation has some truly special designs that feel timeless and classy, even when they boast a more trendy style. From formalwear to wedding guest dresses to going-out dresses, you can find a variety of options that fit your occasion and style that can be worn again and again.
Size Range: XS-3XL | Shipping Policy: Free shipping on everything | Return Policy: Return within 30 days of delivery date
If you’re looking for the best dresses for the office, Banana Republic is the place to look. The company has a variety of office-appropriate silhouettes in more traditional, preppy styles that work well for both dressy and casual office environments (and can easily transition into an after-work drinks look). From satin shirt dresses to blazer dresses to sweater dresses, the company is a great resource for chic and sensible office attire. The one downside is that while they do offer petite and tall sizes, the largest size the brand offers is XXL, so this isn’t the place for anyone needing plus or extended sizing, unfortunately.
Size Range: XXS-XXL (regular, tall, and petite) | Shipping Policy: Free shipping over $50 | Return Policy: Return within 30 days of shipment date
Best Size Range:
Much like a department store, Target is an excellent place to find dresses with the best size ranges. The big box store offers a variety of dress styles within its juniors, women’s, plus, and maternity departments and even has some incredible designer collaborations — such as Kika Vargas and La Ligne — with trendy dresses at incredible price points. In addition to sizing, Target is also known for more budget-friendly prices, too, which make finding a stylish dress that fits well and is within your price range all the easier. However, this isn’t the place for those who need cocktail or formalwear — while some options may exist, there aren’t as much variety in that department as other options on the list.
Size Range: XXS-6X | Shipping Policy: Free two-day shipping over $35 | Return Policy: Return within 90 days of purchase
For expecting mothers, Hatch is a fantastic place to find stylish pieces that fit your growing baby bump. The brand offers more casual, everyday looks that are perfect for staying comfortable throughout your trimesters (although they don’t offer formalwear dresses). We love it because the collection is super easy to shop, as you can find styles based on your trimester as well as size. Plus, the brand also has a collection of postpartum essentials, including styles such as nursing dresses, nightgowns, and other comfortable styles. The dresses aren’t cheap, however, so this might not be the place if you’re not wanting to spend a ton of money on maternity clothes.
Size Range: XS-XL | Shipping Policy: $6 ground shipping | Return Policy: Return within 30 days of purchase for a $10 fee
Casual yet still ultra-stylish, Madewell is the best place to find dresses for everyday wear. From classic t-shirt dresses to smocked silhouettes, you can find a variety of casual dress looks from the brand itself as well as from smaller brands through Madewell’s Labels We Love marketplace. On top of that, the brand takes a sustainable approach to preloved items, allowing customers to resell pieces through a partnership with ThredUp for a fraction of the original price tag. And, they have a corner of their website dedicated to vintage finds (including vintage dresses). Since the brand has such a great collection of dresses from its own designs and small brands, it also has a more inclusive size range with plus sizes available on select styles, too. While there are some affordable options, this isn’t a low-budget fast fashion brand — if you have a smaller budget we recommend Old Navy, Amazon, and Target, which offer some great budget-friendly casual dresses.
Size Range: XS-5XL | Shipping Policy: $3 economy shipping (free for members) | Return Policy: Return within 30 days of purchase
Best for Petites:
Made exclusively for petite sizes, Petite Studio is the best place to find great-fitting dresses for smaller sizes. We love this shop because, in addition to its petite-sized focus, it has only a small collection of dresses, making it less overwhelming to shop. Most dresses are versatile enough to dress up, wear to the office, or dress down for day-off activities, too. And, although it doesn’t have the greatest return policy, the store does offer free exchanges, so you can easily swap out sizes for a better fit.
Size Range: XXS-L | Shipping Policy: Free shipping over $98 | Return Policy: Return within 20 days of purchasing for an $8 fee
Best Plus Size:
Eloquii is one of our favorite places to shop for trendy and stylish plus-sized garments — and their dress selection is no exception. The company specializes in dresses sizes 14 through 32 and offers a variety of styles, including more casual, everyday looks, as well as formalwear, wedding guest dresses, and even bridal. From trendy sweater dresses to sleek shirt dresses, you can find all sorts of stunning dress styles. On top of that Eloquii is no stranger to a good deal and is known to occasionally offer up to 60 percent off select styles, making it even easier to find something within budget.
Size Range: 14-32 | Shipping Policy: Varies, depending on where you live | Return Policy: Return within 30 days of receipt; $5 return shipping fee
Whether you’re shopping for a rehearsal dinner dress or a wedding gown BHLDN is home to some of the most unique and stylish options. From classic silhouettes to funky shapes, you can find a variety of incredible dress silhouettes for all of your wedding occasions (including bridesmaid dresses) when you shop the Anthropologie-owned brand. On top of having excellent taste, BHLDN also has a fantastic size range, with plus size options available, too.
Size Range: XXS-3XL, 1X-4X | Shipping Policy: Free shipping over $50 | Return Policy: Return within 30 days of purchase; $5.95 online returns, or free returns in store
Nothing says variety quite like Amazon, which is home to thousands of dresses from hundreds of brands. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll most likely find it on Amazon, making the retail giant the best place for variety. From designer to budget-friendly, Amazon has dresses for any and all occasions. In addition to variety, many dresses on Amazon are included in the retailer’s Try Before You Buy initiative, allowing you to order and try on at home before purchasing. Plus, Prime Members can receive free one- to two-day shipping on a majority of dress styles.
Size Range: Varies, depending on the brand | Shipping Policy: Free Prime Shipping for members | Return Policy: Free returns for most Prime items
What to Look for When Buying Dresses
First and foremost, you want to make sure a dress is available in your size, as there is nothing worse than falling in love with a dress only to find out your size is sold out or unavailable. If you do end up falling in love with a dress and it comes in your size but is sold out, many brands and companies offer restock notifications, which can help ensure you ultimately snag the dress of your dreams once it becomes available again. Another hack: our best overall pick, Nordstrom, offers free tailoring on anything — whether or not it was purchased from the retailer — so you can always size up and get it tailored in-store if you need to.
It’s also important to consider your budget as well as look at the price range of dresses offered when shopping for dresses. If you plan to invest in a dress with a higher price tag, Meknat says to “make sure it’s not too trendy and won’t go out of style by the next season if you want to invest in a piece that can be worn more than once.” That’s why we picked Reformation as a splurge option — the brand’s silhouettes have timeless appeal and the high quality materials increase the longevity of the dresses.
It’s also important to have things like your personal style and the occasion dialed in before considering your budget. “It’s better to have a clear vision of what you’re looking for first and then go to the stores and brands within your budget rather than the other way around,” says Elysha Lenkin, a TV and celebrity stylist who has worked with Carrie Underwood, Serena Williams, and Tina Fey.
Shipping and Return Policies
Before clicking add to cart, be sure to double-check the shipping and return policies. Not only do you want to ensure you have a clear idea of the policies and how soon your dress will arrive, but you also want to make sure your dress is returnable if you’re unsure of the sizing. Many retailers offer returns on most items, however, some sale items could be final sale, depending on the store. Nordstrom and Amazon are best in class when it comes to returns — Amazon has free returns for Prime members and Nordstrom has such a generous return policy that usually takes any returns without a time limit, even sans receipt or original packaging.
“It’s also important to consider your body type while shopping for a dress, as different styles complement different body types,” says Meknat. She recommends getting to know your body shape and which styles are “the most flattering to your shape and size” before honing in on a dress type.
Comfort is another key fit component. “I know that isn’t necessarily everyone’s point of view, but I think there is a way to combine comfort with looking your absolute best,” says Daniela Romero, a celebrity stylist who has worked with Sarah Hyland and Kaley Cuoco. Romero also recommends trying something new and, if it doesn’t fit right, she recommends a quick trip to the tailor to achieve that amazing fit and feel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which brand is best for dresses?
We picked Nordstrom as the best place to shop for dresses due to the retailer’s wide variety of styles, price points, designers, and sizes, as well as regular sales and clearance items. The retailer is also known for its generous return policy and free tailoring in-store.
Are expensive dresses worth it?
It totally depends on your budget and the item’s potential cost-per-wear, but, overall, investing in a dress that’s versatile and high-quality can be worth it. If you can find a timeless, well-made black dress that can accompany you to formals, wedding events, dinner dates, office parties, and the like, it can be worth investing in. Cheaper dresses don’t always last long and tend to be more trend-forward, meaning you’ll get less wear out of them in the long run.
Is a cocktail dress long or short?
According to Lenkin, a cocktail dress can be whatever length you choose (though they do tend to be on the shorter side). “Focus on the styles you love and the length that suits your body best,” she explains. “The key is to feel comfortable so that you’re not tugging at a shorter hemline or tripping over too much fabric around your ankles,” she adds. For a more modern spin on a cocktail dress, Lenkin recommends a classy floral maxi dress in a silk chiffon fabric.
What makes a dress office-appropriate?
“A perfect dress to wear to the office is anything that isn’t too short, so you can sit comfortably in it,” says Romero. “I think you should be able to show your personality in office clothes and have some fun with it, though.” To do so, Romero recommends looking at colors, patterns, and different necklines to mix it up. “It comes down to the accessories for executing a look and making it look super polished,” she adds.
What’s the difference between cocktail and formal attire?
“It used to be that cocktail attire was shorter and formal attire was longer, but that is no longer the case,” says Lenkin. She says a short dress can be the perfect ensemble for a formal event, just like Reese Witherspoon once demonstrated on the Golden Globe Awards red carpet in her knee-length, bright yellow Nina Ricci dress. “Rather than get your guidance from the ‘formal’ or ‘cocktail’ descriptors, plug into other adjectives that resonate with the way you want to feel at the event, and then align your dress to express these words,” Lenkin recommends. “An elegant, sophisticated, or glamorous dress will work well for many occasions.”
Take Our Word for It
Jessie Quinn is a contributing commerce writer for PEOPLE and has written for publications such as Byrdie, InStyle, The Spruce, NYLON, and more. When researching the best places to buy dresses, Jessie tapped celebrity stylists Daniela Romero, Elysha Lenkin, and Naz Meknat for their expertise in dress shopping, including what to look for in dresses and advice for dressing for more formal occasions. She also did her own research and carefully considered everything from a variety of styles, price points, size ranges, and shipping and return policies before landing on her top picks for the best places to buy dresses.