Why The Sweater Dress Is Winter 2020's Hero Piece

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If there's a single item that perfectly balances elegance and ease in fall and winter, it's undoubtedly the sweater dress. Though a wardrobe classic, designers gave the hero piece a modern rejig this season, from spliced and hardware-adorned styles from the likes of Bottega Veneta and Victoria Beckham to elegantly detailed versions from Proenza Schouler, Khaite, and Peter Do. This fall, your knitwear is more than just a cold weather basic.

Designers crafted their fall/winter 2020 sweater dresses long before COVID-19 manifested, but pandemic dressing certainly helped spur the current craving. "Having never been a woman who wore dresses, I was shocked at how many sweater dresses I have picked up during the pandemic," Tibi style director Dione Davis says. After wearing the brand's space-dyed style around Paris ahead of the worldwide shutdown, Davis has since leaned into the look at home, going from structured coats and tall boots to indoor slides, socks, and a cardigan. "Looking polished with little to no effort is an art form that I have been trying to master during the pandemic," she says. "Oddly enough, despite the fact that the dress has an open back and form-fitting silhouette, it turned into a work-from-home hero piece."

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When shopping for a sweater dress, there's an important distinction between styles. Roomy and oversize shapes are best for a classically cozy look, while slimmer silhouettes, be it an unconventional cut or one with sophisticated features, are best for dressing up. In the case of the former, Davis suggests buying one made from alpaca or cashmere. "The luxurious texture should make up for the lack of defined shape to the garment," she explains. The stylist favors pieces like tall boots and a patent leather trench coat for an elevated effect and socks with Birkenstock slides for a thrown-on day look. "A sweater dress has the most cost-per-wear because it really can be two things at once."

Sweater dresses with unique necklines, open backs, or asymmetrical hemlines aren't quite styles you'd snuggle up in. However, Davis says they make for a striking focal point — especially during video chats or Zoom events — while maintaining a level of comfort that makes sense in your own home. Influencer Kelly Augustine tells TZR, "I'm loving how most of the sweater dresses this season are off-the-shoulder or [have] cutouts of some sort. It's the little details that matter." Beyond the dresses themselves, new-season styling cues bring a fresh and transformative feel to the iconic piece. Key extras include tough lug-sole boots, minimalist footwear and bags, and leather layering pieces from blazers to coats.

For more sweater dress styling ideas, keep reading for seven fresh outfit formulas from fashion insiders ranging from buyers and stylists to designers and influencers. Shop their picks if you're in the buying mood. Or share links to your favorite pieces with friends and family — the holidays are just around the corner.

How To Wear A Sweater Dress: With Combat Boots + A Jacket

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"Through the years, I've found that sweater dresses are such an important part of a winter wardrobe. It's the perfect polished at-home piece because it mixes cozy comfort with chic style," Danielle Williams Eke, design director of 11 Honoré, tells TZR. "I love to see sweater dresses styled with combat boots. It creates a much-needed juxtaposition of soft and hard. I also love layering my sweater dresses with moto jackets for that same reason."

How To Wear A Sweater Dress: With An Oversize Coatigan + Chelsea Boots

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"When it comes to knit dresses, I'm always looking for pieces with versatility that can easily be transitioned from day to evening," says Libby Page, Net-A-Porter's senior fashion editor. Citing Bottega Veneta's leather-trimmed ribbed midi dress as a personal favorite, she says styles with unique detailing such as this are ideal for dressing up with a heel or down with a boot. "I will be wearing my knit dress with an oversized coatigan in a complementary neutral color and chunky Chelsea boots in black."

How To Wear A Sweater Dress: With Sneakers + A Hands-Free Bag

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"This season is completely different than in previous years. I'm planning on staying home and staying in as much as possible due to the global pandemic, so my idea of a great sweater dress is oversized and casual," model and influencer Anastasia Furrow tells TZR. She says a roomier style is perfect for relaxed and comfortable at-home moments while being functional for errands, like a trip to the store for essentials. "I would pair a maxi-length sweater dress with socks and sneakers and a crossbody bag or fanny pack."

How To Wear A Sweater Dress: With Over-The-Knee Boots + A Belt

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"Khaite and Gabriela Hearst have been my favorites for sweater dresses for a couple of years now," says stylist Sarah Slutsky. Championing Khaite's feminine necklines and Hearst's minimalist silhouettes made from luxe and sustainable fabrics, she adds, "I feel like these dresses are the master of comfortable warmth while still being sexy." As for Slutsky's go-to styling cue? "I love my ribbed turtleneck sweater dress with a vintage belt and over-the-knee-boots." If you're not into belts but want a little waist definition, go for a knitted dress with a built-in tie.

How To Wear A Sweater Dress: With Everyday Accessories

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"Right now, I think we're all focused on comfort, and sweater dresses are the perfect combo of comfortable and chic," Augustine tells TZR. The fashion influencer says accessories like jewelry and shoes are key for a distinctive look, whether you opt for a cutout sweater dress, like Victor Glemaud's maxi, or a fitted, below-the-knee silhouette. "I always have on a pair of hoop earrings and statement rings." In the footwear department, Augustine favors a mix of options. "Sweater dresses are great because you can wear them with sneakers, booties, or knee boots — every shoe height works!"

How To Wear A Sweater Dress: Layered Or With A Baseball Cap

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"I have fully accepted the challenge of striking the delicate balance between luxury and normcore during the pandemic," Davis says. "With my sweater dress, I will accessorize with a chic, minimal earring like my vintage silver clip-ons, and a baseball cap. If you want to add a layer, try styling with a loose trouser underneath if you are missing street style moments." If you go for the pants-under-dress look, finish with polished boots.

How To Wear A Sweater Dress: With Tights + Heels

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"We at La Ligne believe your sweater is your best friend on and off the couch. Knits tend to travel well, so you don't have to worry over wrinkles, and being comfortable means that you will have plenty of focus for back-to-back Zooms," La Ligne co-founder Valerie Macaulay says. Favoring unexpected styling, she suggests pairing a slinkier, more feminine sweater dress with combat or flat boots and oversize designs with sheer tights in the same color as the knit with a colorful heel.

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