Models wearing maxi dress
Spring/summer 2011 designs by Gucci; Marc Jacobs; Etro; Emilio Pucci; Louis Vuitton

What? Clothes for hot summer nights: floaty and fluid; colourful and carefree. Think maxi dresses made of the lightest silk to waft in an island breeze, or strapless jumpsuits the colour of the brightest bougainvillea. Think one-part Marie Helvin in a sarong dress on the cover of May 1974’s Vogue, one-part Marisa Berenson at Studio 54, and a splash of Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Grab a mojito and go.

Where? At Pucci, designer Peter Dundas refined the brand’s identity as the go-to label for island- and party-hopping types, with long dresses in saffron, china-blue paisley print and cobalt silk that combined revealing cutaway sections with ankle-length, billowing skirts for the ultimate in haute-bohemian evening wear. Meanwhile, Dior’s South Pacific theme sparked diaphanous dresses in tropical-fish colours with twisted rope detailing; Marc Jacobs embraced 1970s-era disco-sarong dresses and jumpsuits with obi belts (partly inspired by Naomi Campbell’s birthday party in Cannes last year, and the way that guests in long dresses hitched said gowns up around the waist after dancing all night). At Gucci, a satin jumpsuit in the colour of desert-island sand also came with a tasselled lariat of a belt, the better to lasso those coconuts.

Why? Because a summer party is the perfect opportunity for some sartorial escapism, and your work colleagues aren’t around to see you (not) sweat. Severe black concept clothing just doesn’t cut it on a balmy evening. These dresses pay safe, chaste-yet-sexy tribute to more hedonistic times, and the fabric and float provide ventilation. Luisa de Paula, buying and merchandising director for says, “The maxi has been a best-selling style for us this summer, particularly with the 1970s trend,” and the site’s sales of jumpsuits are up 129 per cent on last year.

Should you invest? There might not be much of summer left, but perhaps that’s all the more reason to make the most of it. High-summer trends don’t change as much as autumn ones – they have more to do with temporal than fashion seasons – and this is more about memories than fashion. The make-up artist Jemma Kidd, whose family has a home in Barbados, says, “I went to Barbados in April. In the evenings, when we would go out for dinners or barbecue parties, I had my favourite Matthew Williamson neon-pink prom frock, Donna Karan’s simple black shifts or a crimson draped Vivienne Westwood dress.” For pieces that don’t need to be relegated to tropical islands alone, Luisa de Paula suggests looking for “tunics to wear as a simple dress that you can layer over trousers when it gets cooler.” Just keep fabrics light and fluid. Summery styles may be hard to find on the high street now (it’s wool coats, everywhere you turn), but has several designer pieces from high summer and pre-fall collections that work after dark, including Zimmermann’s Labyrinth Twist blue silk maxi with a cutaway back (£279) and Paul & Joe’s mosaic-print silk strapless maxi (£513). Other styles that offer an easier take on evening dressing include Whistles’ new Juliana jumpsuit, (£195), with straps that twist over the collarbone leaving newly tanned shoulders bare, and maxis in silk or coloured jersey by labels such as Tibi, Milly, Splendid and T-Bags, which will take you from day to evening.

Accessories Layered-up, fine gold necklaces and any drink that comes with a cocktail umbrella.

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