How to Style a Sleeveless Maxi Dress

How to Style a Sleeveless Maxi Dress
Sleeveless maxi dresses are an easy wear in the summer and spring. This guide shows you how to wear this staple all year round and still look elegant.

Sleeveless maxi dresses are a common staple for summer and spring wardrobes. You throw on the dress, slide into some sandals and pick your favorite summer handbag. It’s the perfect casual outfit for warm weather.

But what if you want to wear a sleeveless maxi outside the casual, summery setting? What if you want to rock one to the office, church, or family gathering? Better yet, what if you want to wear a sleeveless maxi in the fall or winter?

This is where styling comes in. You can indeed wear a sleeveless maxi dress to something more formal or serious. I have worn them to church, date nights, the office and even weddings. And no, you don’t have to wear a trench coat or an ugly cardigan all the time to cover those arms.

In this post, we will discover how to style a maxi dress for different weather conditions and occasions. We will cover appropriateness, warmth and, of course, style because that’s why you are here.

But first…

What Bra do You Wear With a Sleeveless Dress?

My favorite thing about summer besides mimosas is that I don’t have to wear bras all the time. Showing nipples and baring all seems fine during this time of the year, especially at the beach or parties.

But if you want people to take you seriously in a sleeveless maxi dress outside of the beach, you might need to wear a bra. What you don’t want is to have bra straps showing on your back or shoulders.

What’s the solution for this?

The obvious choice is a fitting strapless bra unless you have a generous bust, in which case a bra converter will come in handy. The converter pulls the straps together in the back while simultaneously giving you a nice lift and cleavage. But this will only work if the dress has enough material on the back.

But if you have a bare back or a really deep neckline, plunge bras or boob tape will work better. A plunge bra holds up your boobs without giving you the full coverage, so it’s hard to see them. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always boob tape if you are willing to deal with the adhesive.

What to Wear Over Sleeveless Maxi Dress

If we are being honest here, the only way to solve the issue of cold and modesty is to wear something over the sleeveless dress. It is also the only way to make such a dress less casual and appropriate for more serious events.

Thankfully, outerwear choices for a maxi dress are abundant, and you only need to pick the right one for each occasion or weather. And since we are talking about a maxi dress here, choose something that won’t ruin the structure of the dress, especially if it’s not winter.

What to Wear Over a Sleeveless Maxi Dress in Spring and Summer

The weather is hot and humid, so you need to keep the outfit as light and breathable as possible. The best tops and layers to wear over a sleeveless maxi dress in hot weather include;

Denim jacket

A denim jacket over a maxi dress is perfection all year round, but more so during hot weather. For some reason, denim doesn’t make you feel hot and is quite breathable. And you can get a denim jacket in different colors like pink and white to suit any maxi dress. Denim is appropriate for pretty much any occasion, except maybe the office.

maxi dress with sheer lace top

Sheer top

Sheer or lace tops make great layers for summer because they add no warmth at all. But I prefer wearing this top under the sleeveless dress. It gives the dress added sleeves and makes the whole outfit very stylish and feminine.

Choose a color that goes with the dress or the same color. I also find long sleeve sheer tops look better than short sleeve options.

Lace kimono

A kimono adds modesty and class to any outfit, and maxis are no exception. A lace or sheer kimono will transform an otherwise casual and inappropriate sleeveless dress into something you can wear anywhere. And all this without adding too much warmth or weight.


The variety of cardigans still amazes me to this day. This means you can find one that’s just perfect to wear over a maxi dress in summer. You can wear a lightweight cardigan in the morning or evenings, but it will also work during the day, provided there’s air conditioning.

Better yet, find a long sheer cardigan if it’s too hot or you want something a little more casual.


Yes, sometimes all you need is to wrap a scarf around your shoulders. It’s simple, light, and will make your sleeveless maxi more modest. Of course, a pashmina scarf is always a good option because it’s so cooling, breathable, and elegant, but any nice scarf will do.

For weddings or special events, drape the scarf over your shoulders with the tongues hanging on your front side. Then tie a belt on your waist, going over the scarf to make a super cool top.

Button-down shirt

Thought a sleeveless maxi dress can’t get any more casual? Try wearing a button-down shirt over it. You can then fold up the sleeves and wear beautiful gold jewelry with it for a very elegant look.

And yes, you can also tie a knot on your waist and make the dress look like a skirt.

What to Wear Over a Sleeveless Maxi Dress in Fall

 Fall gets chilly in the mornings and evenings, but the days are not always as cold. This means you can wear something warmer than what you wear in summer but not heavy materials fit for winter.

Some great options include;

Thick Cardigan

Classy cardigans remain the best layer for sleeveless maxi dresses. They are warm, elegant and don’t take away from the beauty of the dress. For fall, go with a long cardigan instead of a short one to fit the style of the season.

Trench Coat

A trench coat is a great alternative if you don’t like cardigans or are going to a more formal occasion. Get a bright-colored trench with pockets and a belt because it adds more to the style. This, combined with a clutch bag and some high heels, make the perfect combo for weddings and formal events.

Leather Jacket

It’s okay to wear a denim jacket over a sleeveless maxi in the fall. However, a leather jacket seems more appropriate for this darker season. It’s edgier, and you can wear a turtleneck or t-shirt underneath the dress and then throw on a leather jacket on top.

What to Wear Over a Sleeveless Maxi Dress in Winter

Can you wear a sleeveless maxi dress in winter?

You absolutely can with the right layering. But it may not be enough to simply throw on a warm coat over the dress when the weather is below zero. Instead, take it a notch higher by wearing something warm under the dress, such as a turtleneck or warm t-shirt.

Chunky sweater

You can turn a cool sleeveless dress into a skirt by wearing a chunky sweater over it. This is a very casual and comfortable look that you can match with sneakers or boots for many occasions.

Fur coat

Nothing says winter like a fur coat, so it’s the obvious choice to cover your upper body over a sleeveless maxi dress. Remember, we are talking about faux fur here, not sheep fur.


And if it’s not toe-curling cold or you have to go to a formal event, wear a warm peacoat instead of fur. This coat is long and stylish, and the belt creates a defined waist and structure. Between the coat and the warm t-shirt underneath, you won’t feel any cold. Feel free also to wear a scarf around your neck to add warmth.

What to Wear Over a Sleeveless Maxi Dress in for Work

Finally, you must wear something structured to make a sleeveless maxi dress fit for work.


A long blazer is the best choice because it’s formal and structured. Of course, a blazer can’t turn any summery dress formal, but it really works with the right dress. Choose a dress that can pass for office wear- straight, pleated, and wrap dresses are good choices.

And if the dress is bright colored, choose a dark-colored blazer and vice versa.

Structured coat

Any regular structured coat will work well with a sleeveless maxi dress. You can wear it to work during winter because coats are allowed at this time. I also like wearing a light sweater over the maxi dress and then throwing on the coat over it.

How to Accessorize a Sleeveless Maxi Dress

Accessorizing a sleeveless maxi dress depends on the occasion and what you wear over the dress. For example, a winter look calls for warm boots on your feet, a scarf around your neck, and maybe even some gloves. You also want a handbag that allows your hands to be free so you can stick them into your pockets for warmth.

Summer, on the other hand, allows you to have your pick with accessories. If you are attending an outdoor casual event, open sandals or strappy heels are a really good choice, no matter what you wear on top. You can also adorn your ears, neck, and wrists with jewelry since they are not covered up.

Summer is also the perfect time to throw on a wide-brim hat and wide sunnies, both as accessories and sun protection.

What about fall?

Well, let’s start with sneakers on your feet or a nice pair of closed heels if you are attending an event. You can still wear jewelry since you are not too covered up, and choose a handbag that’s appropriate for the occasion. Fall is a good time to experiment with colors from maroon to peach, but I like to keep it bright and counteract the effects of the cold.

Can you wear a sleeveless maxi dress to work?

Yes, if you layer it right, you can wear a sleeveless maxi dress anywhere, including the office. Simply throw on a fitting blazer over the dress, a pair of nude pumps, and a formal tote bag. Of course, you should also keep your jewelry light and professional to tie the whole outfit together.

What do you wear over a sleeveless maxi dress in winter?

Cold weather doesn’t mean you can’t wear a sleeveless maxi dress. You only need to layer it with other garments, such as a turtleneck and a coat to keep warm. A chunky sweater is also a good option. If you have to, rock some tights under the dress to keep your feet warm.

Lior Shapiro

I love clothes with pockets and dresses, and I think any woman can pull off a good maxi dress.
I believe women's clothes with pockets make the world a better place.