How to wear… a dress over trousers

There are certain trends that circle back around again and again. Many of this summer’s biggest looks fall into that category: tie dye, satin and now, the dress over trousers. Last seen strutting down the catwalks, the red carpet and the high street in the 90s and Noughties, the much-derided styling proposition is back, with a modern twist.

Of course, in South Asia, traditional dressing has long involved the combination of a dress and trousers such as the shalwar kameez, or a kurta or kurti layered over matching trousers or even jeans. In the west, it became popular in the 1920s and 30s, with the likes of Louise Brooks, Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers pairing housecoats and robe-style tops with silk pyjama trousers. More recently, stars such as Jessica Alba, Anne Hathaway and Britney Spears threw together cocktail dresses and flared jeans for their red carpet appearances in the early 2000s.

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Too often, dresses paired with jeans come across looking heavy, bulky and shapeless. But when styled properly, the clever interplay of masculine and feminine looks stylish, fun and very 2019.

While we wait for summer to really kick in, this is the ‘It’ silhouette to ensure you’re prepared for unpredictable weather, without having to keep pulling on the dreaded opaque tights.

For inspiration, we turn to the catwalks. Look ahead to autumn-winter, where Jil Sander made a study of this silhouette, offering an ease and simplicity that is often missing from interpretations of the trend. There was a white shirt dress, unbuttoned to the waist over black trousers, and a number of V-cut tunic tops floating over wide leg trousers in stone and chocolate brown.

At JW Anderson, too, a pair of impeccably tailored high-waisted black trousers with a wide-leg cut provided the foundation for gorgeously chic asymmetrically draped tunics in deep teal and butter yellow, embellished with crystal brooches. At both shows, the effect was simple, clean and unforced – this wasn’t your typical high-gloss runway styling, reserved for size-zero, 6ft tall models. It was grown-up, practical and doable, even for mere mortals.

The trick to pulling it off is to put together the top and bottom halves in such a way that creates shape and definition. Shirt dresses are particularly useful for this, as you can choose to undo a few buttons to lighten the look and show off more of the trousers. Likewise, the recent trend for midi dresses with high leg slits comes in handy for the same reason.

Naomi Watts stepped out last week in a strapless tunic over trousers by Marina Moscone and balanced out the sculptural satin draping with strappy sandals. When worn under a dress, wide legs are most flattering for any height, and even petite women like Naomi can join in with a cropped style.

Amber Heard opted for wide legs too at the Cannes Film Festival last month. For ease of wear, go for a lightweight, floaty dress like Amber’s midi, which comes across more effortless and streamlined than fussier styles. She teamed her dress with billowing culottes in the same neutral tone for an elegant, minimal finish, topped off with layered gold necklaces.

If you prefer more of a statement dress, such as Yara Shahidi’s sequinned Monse gown, a fitted slim or cigarette cut on the bottom will let it shine.

The asymmetric hem is key for making this one work, as it reveals the jeans and offers a contrast, and the playful juxtaposition of the ultra-dressy frock and the casual denim gives it another boost. From there, let the dress be the star of the show, and keep your accessories simple and sophisticated.

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