It wasn’t too long ago when shopping for a dress meant spending hours at your local department store, sifting through racks and racks. Thanks to the internet, though, you can now shop for a dress for every occasion and aesthetic while in your sweats on the sofa.
And still, with endless options, the search for the perfect dress can be overwhelming. “There's a ton of variety in the dress category these days. Dresses in varying silhouettes, lengths, and fabrications can make it challenging to know what's right for you,” says Whitney Keefe, a stylist at Stitch Fix. The online platform provides personal styling recommendations for a fixed fee. “If you're looking to emphasize your curves, A-line or wrap dresses are great options because they will fit close to the body through the waist and flow away at the hips and thighs. If you are straighter through the hips and thighs, try a classic shift dress. Lately, I'm loving a midi-length dress for all body types. They're comfortable, effortless, and easy to dress up or down.”
Once you've pinpointed the general style, you can look to the below guide to find the best retailer for you. Whether you prefer the variety of a department store or the curation of a niche online platform, there are options available. We've parsed through the new and established sites and determined which has the strongest offerings for various circumstances and many types of shoppers.
We considered everything from size and price ranges to shipping and returns policies, not to mention (again) the variety or niche each retailer may zoom in on. Just see for yourself, ahead.
Sometimes you know exactly what you're looking for when shopping online. Other times, you just want to browse and get inspired. Lulus makes both options easy for customers. The site is masterful at allowing you to filter by trend, color, style, and key features like sleeve length and neckline. Example: You know you want a more "feminine" dress, but how will you search? On Lulus, you can search for off-the-shoulder, tiered, or both. And if the first dress you click into isn’t quite right, they suggest similar styles with slightly different details. With most dresses under $100, you can easily stock up on a few styles you love without feeling the pinch.
Size Range: XXS–3X | Shipping: Free on orders over $50 | Return Policy: Free on all orders within 10 days of delivery
Best for Cocktail Attire
Revolve carries a slew of brands and dress styles but at more elevated price points, ideal for those occasions when you might be willing to splurge, such as for a fancy vacation or an elegant party. But it's also a great place to shop in a pinch, as they offer free two-day shipping in the United States. Returns also are free—the prepaid label is already included in the packaging. So, it really is a source of convenience all around.
Size Range: XXS–4X | Shipping: Free two-day shipping | Return Policy: Full refund within 60 days; exchanges up to 90 days
Buying anything online at Nordstrom is such a pleasant and streamlined experience. Dresses are especially easy thanks to Nordstrom's curated selection of brands across several price points; however, you know even the lower price points are of good quality and value. Filter by occasion, size, and more to discover a host of options that fit your needs. Plus, with Nordstrom price matching, you're guaranteed the best price for that particular item across major retailers. Not to mention the return policy is very accommodating and flexible—so much so that they technically don't have one. According to Nordstrom, they "handle returns on a case-by-case basis with the ultimate goal of making customers happy."
And if the dress you ordered is generally what you were looking for but would be perfect with some adjustments, you can take it to your nearest Nordstrom for free alterations and tailoring. (Note: You must be a Nordy Club member to get this service for free, but it's free to sign up.) You can also hit up sister brand Nordstrom Rack for discounted dresses from the same brands that sell on Nordstrom.
Size Range: XXS–4X, plus petite and maternity sizing | Shipping: Free standard shipping | Return Policy: Flexible
If you want every type of affordable dress at your fingertips, start at ASOS. Sort of like fashion’s own online search engine, ASOS carries a broad range of major brands, price points, sizes, vibes, and trends—you name it. You can find everything from a flirty cutout dress to classic shirt dresses at budget prices. They also carry athletic dresses from brands like Adidas and Nike, and going-out dresses from Topshop (a brand that previously had around 510 shops worldwide).
And if you choose a dress that doesn't work out after all, the company makes the return process easy—just print the free label and drop it off at your closest UPS.
Size Range: XXS–5XL | Shipping: Free standard shipping on orders over $49.99 | Return Policy: Full refund within 28 days via the original payment method
Reformation already caught our eyes with its gorgeous floral dresses and silk gowns made for garden parties, but add in the fact that they are a carbon-neutral company (meaning they achieve net-zero carbon emissions), and we’re officially in love. Since 2009, the Los Angeles-based brand has strived to merge sustainability with style by recycling scrap materials, focusing on local manufacturing, and reducing the chemicals used in production. But its conservative production doesn’t mean a limited selection; you can find anything from your next wedding gown to your next sundress. The brand focuses on a minimalist aesthetic with structural details like high slits, square necklines, and puff sleeves. Who said eco-friendliness couldn’t be stylish?
Size Range: XS–3X, plus petite sizing | Shipping: Free U.S. shipping on all orders | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days
While Amazon certainly offers some designer and higher-end options, it's the place to dress shop if you're wanting to get the best bang for your buck. Not only are there so many affordable options, but Amazon offers the most extensive reviews and star ratings so you can get a fairly accurate reading of the product's quality. And, of course, if you're an Amazon Prime member you get free two-day shipping, which beats most other retailers.
Amazon Prime also has a newish offering aptly called "Try Before You Buy," which gives you a seven-day try-on period, so you can test out various sizes and colors and only get charged for what you keep (it also includes free returns). This is great if you're in the market for new dresses since that buying experience usually requires proper fittings with different sizes in order to find the perfect fit for your occasion.
Size Range: Varies | Shipping: Free two-day shipping with Prime membership | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days of delivery
Best for Weddings
Whether you’ve decided to buy your wedding dress online or are just looking for some inspiration, BHLDN by Anthropologie is a great place to look. Its wedding dresses range from $150 to $3,000 and from classic to modern. They also carry plenty of bridal party and mother-of-the-bride dresses, so your entire wedding party is covered. Feel free to browse the collection online and then go try it in-store or schedule a virtual appointment in the comfort of your home.
Size Range: 00–26 | Shipping: Free shipping over $50 | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days
Best for Going Out
Nasty Gal excels in a certain type of dress: the going-out dress. You know, the one you slip on for the night fully knowing it’s about to get spilled on and sweated through. You want it to be trendy and cheap, so you don’t mind wearing it only once to that party or club. So you turn to Nasty Gal, which offers an encyclopedia of the latest trends at insanely affordable prices. They also carry a plus, petite, and maternity line and are constantly dropping new collections. We can’t complain that there’s almost always some sale going on.
Size Range: 0–24 | Shipping: $11.99 standard shipping | Return Policy: 28 days from date of receipt
Best Plus Size
With plus sizes ranging from 14 to 28, Eloquii makes finding the perfect dress easy for all shapes and sizes. From sweater dresses to sequin slips, the spread of styles has you covered for casual and dressy occasions and everything in between. The pieces are trend-forward, whether you lean towards sequins, lace, or solid colors. They even offer a rental service, making it possible to have a new dress for every day of the workweek.
Size Range: 14–32 | Shipping: Free standard shipping on orders over $125 | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days
Best for Work
Founded by a management consultant and the former head designer of Zac Posen, the women-led brand M.M.LaFleur is all about empowerment in the workplace through functional, comfortable, and stylish clothing. The line of dresses checks off all the boxes you want in office attire—appropriate length, comfortable fabrics, and sophisticated colors. These aren’t the frumpy designs you’ll find in the work section of your department store—no, you’ll want to rock the streamlined silhouettes even after happy hour. Best of all, all of the brand’s clothes are machine washer friendly, so you can save on the dry cleaner costs.
Size Range: 0P–18 | Shipping: Free ground shipping on orders over $150; $10 flat rate on orders less than $150 | Return Policy: Full refund within 21 days of shipment
With the motto, “not your mother’s maternity clothes,” Pink Blush truly delivers chic, modern maternity wear. The items are designed to be worn before, during, and after your pregnancy, and trust us, you’ll want to wear these dresses long after. From form-fitting knit dresses to playful tiered numbers, the brand lets you tackle any occasion during your pregnancy. You can even shop for dresses geared toward petite or tall figures. And at affordable prices, the designs deserve to be bought in every color. It's worth mentioning that the brand's sizing mostly ranges from XS to XL, so it's not as size-inclusive as others on this list.
Size Range: XS–XL | Shipping: Free standard shipping on orders over $175 | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days of receipt
Best for Vacation
If you love to discover new and emerging designers and also appreciate an aesthetically pleasing e-commerce experience, Shopbop is made for you. The clean and editorial-forward site offers thoughtful edits with easy designers like Rhode, Rixo, Ulla Johnson, and La DoubleJ. The best part? Shopbop is part of the Amazon family, so if you're a Prime member, those benefits stretch far—with free two-day shipping plus free returns.
Size Range: XXS–3XL | Shipping: Free two-day shipping with Prime membership | Return Policy: Free returns within 15 days; $10 label fee from 16–30 days
If you adore designer fashion and aren’t subscribed to Moda Operandi’s newsletter, you’re missing out. The retailer's emails feel more like a magazine with its rundown of upcoming trends and stylized trunk shows. Encouraging fashion discovery, they regularly host trunk shows of new collections from fashion designers like Balenciaga, Carolina Herrera, and Emilia Wickstead including swoon-worthy dresses. Its frocks lean over-the-top and are best for holiday vacations and glamorous nights out. The best part is you can read through the site’s Edit, which gives you insider advice on all the upcoming trends and how to wear them. Whether you dish out the dollars on the dress or not, you can still leave with some priceless fashion knowledge.
Size Range: 0–20 | Shipping: $10 standard shipping | Return Policy: Full refund within 28 days
Sherri McMullen, the owner of her eponymous boutique, opened her doors in Oakland in 2007 and has since attracted a cult following of shoppers who were interested in coveted brands like Tibi, Zimmermann, Peter Do, and Christopher John Rogers. The shop is curated with a keen eye for tailoring and eclectic workwear, including belted dresses with flared skirts, wide-leg trousers, and graphic printed blazers. Though, you can also find everything from breezy dresses to cozy knitwear, should you be all-in on the trend-based appeal.
Size Range: Not listed | Shipping: $10 for ground shipping | Return Policy: 7 days for a credit or exchange in store, return merchandise must be received on or before 10 days from delivery
Fame and Partners
Think you have to shop in person to get a custom dress? Think again! Fame & Partners revolutionizes online shopping by allowing you to customize a range of occasion dresses based on your measurements and heel height. No matter if you are the bride, bridesmaid, or prom queen, you can receive a custom-fit dress right at your door. Making everything to order, the brand also minimizes its environmental impact by producing less stock. However, if you just want to save money without all the frills, you can browse the site’s outlet, which features styles up to 80 percent off. It’s important to note that the sale items are final sale.
Size Range: 0–8; custom alterations | Shipping: Free to the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada | Return Policy: See details on the company's Zero Waste Fee here
Best for Wedding Guest
There’s no mistaking a LoveShackFancy dress. It’s often ruffled and floral-adorn—always elaborate and unapologetically femme. The burgeoning brand is a maximalist’s dream and the perfect source for dresses to be worn to weddings in luscious garden venues.
Size Range: P–XL | Shipping: Free ground shipping on orders over $200 | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days of delivery
Best for Basics
When looking for simple, no-nonsense dresses for working from home and occasionally running an errand, you can’t go wrong with Uniqlo’s utilitarian designs and affordable prices. Surely the hoodie or T-shirt dress makes for an excellent get-up when working from the couch. And still, the minimalist designs can also be great for more professional settings. (When I needed a simple dress I could wear to interviews during my senior year of college, I opted for the brand's stretch short-sleeve flare dress in black and added accessories like necklaces and blazers based on the level of formality. The best part? The dress came with built-in pockets.)
Uniqlo regularly collaborates with other designers as well, so you can enjoy Marimekko’s joyful prints or JW Anderson’s timeless designs at a fraction of the price.
Size Range: 0–14 | Shipping: $7.99 standard shipping | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days of the order date
If you're looking for international designers and luxury looks, Net-a-Porter is the place, featuring dresses by Jason Wu, Givenchy, Hervé Léger, and Alaia, to name a few. Designs are seasonally fresh and on-trend, and stock tends to sell out. Pieces are truly editorial, like this Tom Ford mesh-panel jersey-crepe dress, this Stella McCartney midi dress, and this Valentino cut-out dress. The shopping experience is extremely well-curated, and also offers designer shoes and accessories to complete the look.
Size Range: 0–26 | Shipping: Free standard shipping | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days of the order date
Best for Curvy
Dia & Co
Curvy women may choose to shop a label with an extensive range of plus-size options. If that's the case, Dia & Co. is a great online destination, offering tons of dress styles from brands like Eloquii, 11 Honoré, City Chic, and more. Styles range from formal, like this Genee Lace Cocktail Dress, to workwear, like this classic Precious Pleat Dress, and fun casual wear, like this Miranda Printed Sweater Dress.
Size Range: 10–32 | Shipping: Free standard shipping | Return Policy: Full refund within 30 days of the order date
Our absolute favorite site to buy dresses is Lulus because its search engine allows you to narrow down options so specifically. And if you still can't find what you're looking for as you search, it's so good at suggesting similar picks. For an even more cost-effective route, especially if you're a Prime member, Amazon has plenty of options, reliable reviews, and a "Try Before You Buy" policy. Those who want something truly luxurious and fashion-forward can look to Net-a-Porter. You can even add shoes and accessories to your checkout card if you're going big.
Meet the Expert
Whitney Keefe is a stylist at Stitch Fix. She is the manager of the company's Styling Ambassador Team and lives in San Francisco.
What to Look for When Buying Dresses Online
Like with any piece of clothing, the material is a critical factor that sometimes is overlooked. Yet it impacts how hot or cold you’ll be in the dress, the likelihood of it getting wrinkled throughout the day, and how easy it will clean. If you are going to a summer wedding, you’ll want to look for materials like lyocell and cotton (example: Reformation's Madden Dress) to promote breathability and prevent wrinkling as you sit through the entire ceremony. For colder temperatures, wool is a great breathable, wrinkle-resistant choice.
On the other hand, if you are shopping for dresses you’ll regularly wear to work or around the house, you’ll want a fabric that won’t require dry-cleaning unless you are ready for expensive bills piling up.
Another factor that is easily forgotten when shopping for dresses online is what bras and underwear you’ll need to wear underneath. While backless and plunging necklines look amazing on the mannequin, you’ll likely need a special bra (or no bra) to make it work. Likewise, a body-con number like this sweet and simple one from Lulus will likely need a seamless thong or shapewear. Nothing is worse than ordering your dream dress only to realize you don’t have the right undergarments to complete the look, so think ahead and consider adding a sticky bra or boob tape to your cart while shopping.
Shopping for clothes online is no easy feat, especially when selecting dresses in new silhouettes and colors. When shopping for an event with no extra time to spare, it can be wise to buy the same dress in different sizes and/or colors just to be sure you end up with something to wear. Given that some websites have minimum spending for shipping (ahem, ASOS), doing this could also keep you from getting hit with a delivery fee. For a fool-proof strategy, you should ensure that the company has a reasonable return policy so that you can in fact return the ill-fitting piece(s) in the end.
Returns policies can vary greatly from site to site, so it's important to read through the fine print in each place you purchase from. Nordstrom, for example, is practically infamous for its relaxed return policy, which is great news for those who drag their feet when it comes down to completing the chore. But generally speaking, larger stores are much more likely to take returns or offer up store credit if you miss the return deadline. Nordstrom is one of a kind in that it has virtually no return policy. However, smaller brands tend to charge for the return label itself and keep to a tighter deadline.
What silhouettes are best for office settings?
Not every dress is made for an office setting, and it’s easy to go from looking professional to inappropriate. The key to finding work-appropriate dresses is all about fit. “When it comes to creating a polished and professional look, the fit is super important. For workwear, look for a dress that fits properly through the arms and shoulders, loosely skims through the body, and hits just above or below the knee at the hem,” says Keefe, who also notes that shift dresses and wrap dresses "tend to be foolproof options.”
To make dresses with thin or no straps more professional, you can always throw on a blazer or sweater. Switching up jackets and accessories also makes your go-to office dress feel new.
How do you wear dresses in winter?
Just because the temperature dips doesn’t mean you have to lock up all your dresses in storage. Rather, you can reach for a sweater dress that proves classic when you want to feel warm and swaddled. Adding a long wool coat, tights, and tall boots is a fabulous way to create a chic and cozy outfit.
And there are clever ways to transform your spring and summer dresses into year-round pieces, too. “While adding layers over a dress is always a good idea, don't miss the opportunity to layer under a dress,” says Keefe. “I always have a fitted white T-shirt, a fitted black turtleneck, and a fitted crew neck sweater in my closet ready to layer under my sleeveless dresses when the temperatures drop.”
How do you wear a dress from day to night?
Whether you are traveling all day on vacation or going straight from work to a dinner date, you’ll come across the need to take a dress from day to night. With the right dress and accessories, this transition can be easy.
“During the day, wear a casual dress with flat sandals or sneakers, a straw tote bag, and a denim jacket,” says Keefe. “In the evening, swap your flats for a block heel or statement boot and trade your straw bag for a sleek clutch.”
What is an A-line dress?
If you ever went dress shopping or looked at dresses in a magazine, you’ve probably heard the term A-line. This classic shape is seen in a variety of dresses from strapless to puff sleeves.
“An A-line dress mimics the shape of the letter ‘A,’” says Keefe. “It fits close to the body through the bust and waist and flows away from the body through the hips and thighs creating a timeless and universally flattering shape.”
What is a midi dress?
As Keefe puts it, a midi dress lives between a mini and a maxi dress, with the length being a great option for petite individuals who tend to shy away from full-length dresses.
“The bottom hem of a midi dress will hit you somewhere between your knee and ankle," she explains. “I'm 5-foot-2 and my closet is full of midi dresses. I'm not always comfortable in a short dress, and I've fallen on more than one occasion after tripping over a too-long maxi dress.” To avoid getting lost in your dress, wear one that fits you well through the shoulders and torso and hits anywhere between your knee and ankle.
How can you find the right size online?
First things first: Be wary of sites that span a lot of brands. If you see something you like on one of them, it's best to head over to the actual designer's site to make sure the measurements are exact. For the most precision, however, you should keep a measuring tape close by and read the reviews to see if the item runs true to size.
Why Trust Byrdie
Emily Cieslak is a Byrdie contributor and has written about fashion for other publications like The Knot, Real Simple, and Red Carpet Fashion Awards. Assisting celebrity stylists and styling photoshoots has taught her how to shop for all different body types and aesthetics, especially online. When getting dressed, she chooses dresses over pants any day and has shopped from the majority of these retailers.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough dress retailers from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
Bick R, Halsey E, Ekenga CC. The global environmental injustice of fast fashion. Environmental Health. 2018;17(1):92.