Mom Essential: The Sweatshirt Dress

My love for sweatshirts both humble and elevated is well-documented on this blog. Comfortable, unpretentious, street-savvy and newly hip, it’s one of my central fashion convictions that there’s a sweatshirt for anyone and everyone.

So you can imagine how enthusiastic I was about the idea of a sweatshirt dress. Just make a sweatshirt longer and, lo and behold — a dressier, more versatile version of a beloved garment. Right?

Well, not exactly.

I’ve tried quite a few sweatshirt dresses now, and I’ve discovered there are always a few perils when a garment extends over the hips and bottom.

Take the front pouch you often find on a hoodie. Once you turn the hoodie into a dress, you can’t just leave the pouch in the same place, because it just looks WEIRD. You have to place it proportionally towards the bottom of the hem, which means it goes over the lower abdomen in a sweatshirt dress — which means, if not cut well, it becomes what I call ‘mama belly city.’

(Now, I don’t mind my mama belly, but generally I do my best to dress around it because I really want to avoid those kind of ‘Oooh, are you pregnant again?’ glances. [THE ANSWER IS NO AND DON’T ASK THIS STUFF, OKAY?] And sadly sometimes a pouch on a hooded sweatshirt dress isn’t so flattering in this department.)

So the sweatshirt dress needs a bit more navigation than a simple ‘throw it on and go’ sweatshirt. You really have to know your body, or you have to try stuff on. I’ve tried many sweatshirt dresses — crewneck style, hoodie style with no pouch, hoodie style with pouch, sweater dresses in the form of sweatshirts.

Sadly, I haven’t found a universal ‘GIRL GET THIS’ item in this subgenre, but I have a few guidelines:

+ Keep it shorter. Above the knees is good. The longer the sweatshirt material hangs, the dowdier (in a not-cool unironic way) it is.

+ Pouch or not to pouch, that is the question. I generally vote no, because most of us don’t have invisible or non-existent bellies and very few pouch-y sweatshirt dresses work. (And the ones that do are mostly tunics, like this one from Target’s A New Day line, which is frankly more of a tunic and rather unwearable as a dress!) The placement is just too tricky and not easily remedied by a tailor. Of course, some of the sweatshirt dresses I own have a front pocket — but I tend to wear them on my uber-confident/DGAF kind of days.

+ The tricky thing about sweatshirt material — whether it’s cotton, fleece, French terry — is that there’s great variation in how these drape. Fleece is a lot stiffer than terry, for example, and the drape factor matters when you wear a dress. So if you’re buying online, think through what kind of feel you want — go for fleece or heavier fabrics if you need something structured, or terry or cotton if you’re in the mood for something softer and drapier.

I know, this is just a bit more complicated than “I’ma gonna buy a sweatshirt and go”, right? But it’s worth going to a little effort, because once you find a sweatshirt dress that works, it’s just so brilliant. A sweatshirt dress is comfortable but just a tad funky in that Public School/Vetements kind of way. It says you’re playful enough to try something just a tad different, while respecting your need for speed, comfort and spontaneous toddler-chasing. It’s not precious, so it can take a beating — but you can gussy it up and make it sexy with some kind of boot and maybe some devil-may-care jewelry. It’s just enough fun and edge, but it’s also a real workhorse of an item — which makes it a great addition to any busy mom’s wardrobe.

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