How to wear a breezy cotton dress

I have barely taken off my coat in front of someone I don’t live with since last summer. Which is a bit bizarre, come to think of it. But life has been so strange in so many ways for so long now that stuff like that happens and we barely notice.

Going for a walk replaced going for a coffee or a drink all winter long, so I had a coat on. Then outdoor dining came back, which was thrilling, but the weather wasn’t playing ball, so the alfresco-dinner dress code was very much “party at polar base camp”. During a particularly bracing spring, a fluffy, pink faux-sheepskin coat, which in previous years had been what I wore to cheer up grey days in February, became my go-to Friday-night-out look on the rare evenings when I succeeded in scoring a precious restaurant reservation.

But now, for the first time in what seems like ages, I don’t have to dress according to what will keep me warm. Summer is coming, and if the evenings are cold, then we can eat inside. What I really want to do is wear a dress. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a party or cocktail frock – there is something ceremonial about any kind of a dress, even just the summery cotton kind. I’ve worn tops-and-trousers for a year, because separates are more practical for adapting to whatever the day throws at you – which is precisely why a dress is more fun. A dress is slightly high maintenance. A short-sleeve dress and a heel takes for granted that you will have shelter and somewhere to sit down. Life has consisted of an awful lot of being resilient and coping and uncomplaining, recently, and it feels mood-altering to wear clothes that aren’t diligently practical and salt-of-the-earth sensible.

Mood-altering – and also a bit scary. Wearing short sleeves in public for the first time this summer feels like wearing a bikini on the beach for the first time would, in a normal summer. After being mummified for a year, having skin on show – even just an upper arm or an ankle – feels exposing. So I am feeling my way out of swaddling inch by inch, just as I am feeling my way back into the world little by little. An easy summery day dress – no shoulders, no knees – and an old favourite pair of sandals with a comfy heel are the perfect way to get back into the swing of dressing up. After a long winter, it’s time to hang your coat up.