The Budget Babe | Affordable Fashion & Style Blog

Hunt for the Perfect Sweater Dress

We hit Fifth Ave the mall this weekend in search of the perfect sweater dress. It's our favorite one-piece ensemble for chic winter-style that defies even the coldest, crummiest weather. In order to earn a spot in our closet, the perfect sweater dress would have to 1) look good with either tights, leggings OR skinny jeans; 2) be snuggly and warm (or suitable for layering); 3) be versatile enough to dress up or dress down and; 4) not make us look like snowmen.

Here's how the search went down...

Our first stop (based solely on where we parked) was Express. Within seconds, we spotted a rack of sweater dresses near the front of the store. Basic neutrals like black and gray dominated. We decided to try on the dress on the left (above) because the textured brown and taupe weave gave the fabric some added interest. The fit was flattering and the skirt draped nicely, but the pattern and cut of the sleeves made our shoulders look really broad. The fabric was also kinda rough and didn't seem especially warm (68% cotton, 32% viscose), so when we read the $59.50 price tag, it was easy to leave this one alone.

Next, we headed over to Steve and Barry's to see if Bitten SJP's fall collection would include a sweater dress—which it surprisingly did (above right). In fact, it was the first item on display by the entrance. It looked promising—had a Ralph Lauren vibe to it—and felt soft to the touch. Plus, it was only $19.98 so our fingers were crossed that it would work out in the dressing room. Unfortunately, the turtleneck was too constricting (it felt more like a neck brace than a comfy sweater), and the thick knit made us look 10 pounds heavier. Moreover, it was too short for anyone post high-school diploma to wear sans leggings or pants. No deal.

Our third stop was Forever 21. No shortage of sweater dresses here, although interestingly enough, they were all pretty tame and classic in design. Mostly neutral shades—gray, black, cream—as well as a few in red, purple, rust and emerald green. We rummaged around for a while, happily bopping our heads to the sounds of the latest tunes from M.I.A., piling dresses high on our arm and then headed swiftly to the dressing room, determined not to get sucked into spending the rest of our afternoon there. Miss, miss, miss, HIT! The black sweater dress on the left (above) smacked of DKNY and fit like a glove; it was fitted but not too revealing, and looked as great with the skinny jeans we were already wearing (Chip & Pepper Nik Skinny Stacks, purchased for $25 on eBay) as it did on its own. The fabric was soft and the right thickness (78% cotton, 22% nylon). Sure, black is a safe color, but its always slimming and flattering. Besides, we could easily dress it up with heels, a different belt, a scarf, cute clutch, bold pendant, colored tights...the list goes on and on! We had to have it. Price: $27.80. Yeah, kinda steep for F21, but we knew we'd get a lot of wear out of it, so we bought it anyways.

As we're leaving the dressing room, we spotted the dress on the right (above) and since it was the first funky sweater dress we'd seen all day, we decided to try it on, too. While we love kimono sleeves, the horizontal design on the shoulders made us look like linebackers. Yick. The price ($22.80) was nice but not when you consider the fabric was 97.5% polyester and 2.5% spandex. Pass.

Although we had already scored one choice sweater dress, we hadn't even hit Target yet, so onward we marched. The Alice Temperley collection had been completely picked over. Xlihiration and Mossimo each had a few sweater dresses, but they were scary in cut, color and touch. Then we spotted the gorgeous purple sweater dress on the left (above) by none other than Isaac Mizrahi, and we knew we had found something special. While made almost entirely of Merino wool (the sleeves and top are 17% nylon), the dress was pleasantly soft and allowed for freedom of movement. Subtle pleating around the waistline created a flattering silhouette. We could wear it with tights and boots or skinny jeans and it would look equally fly. price tag, but we figured we'd take our chances at the check out cuz hey, it's Target, how much can it be? Well, it was our lucky day because the cashier didn't know how much it was either, and since it was the last of its kind, she asked us if $14.99 seemed like a satisfactory price. Hells yeah! And thus we scored our second perfect sweater dress.

Because no trip to the mall would be complete without a quick stop at H&M, that's where we headed next. H&M does a spectacular job appealing to a wide demographic of fashion-forward individuals. The smell of fast food wafting in from the nearby food court didn't hurt our shopping experience either. Mmmm...Johnny Rockets. Not as many sweater dresses as we had hoped, but we did see some fabulous coats, so if you're in the market, now's the time. Awesome cold weather accessories, too. But we digress: Finally decided to try on the lively geometric design sweater dress on the right (above) because we wanted something with a little more pizazz. Sadly, it was scratchy, and a tad too short to function as a dress. And on top of that, the bold design made our figure look off-balance. $29.90 for 92% rayon, 8% polyester? We don't think so. But hey, we had already copped two fab sweater dresses to keep us looking cute and feeling toasty for many months to come. Mission accomplished!

Look for an upcoming post on the hottest sweater dresses available on the web.