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12 best girls’ summer dresses, from frilly sundresses to handmade frocks

The Independent logo The Independent 27/07/2022 Rebecca Moore

A trusty summer dress is a seasonal essential. Many of us will remember wearing our favourite childhood frock, with hours spent on the beach or exploring the garden, so choosing the right one is crucial for the longer days.

Replenishing the summer wardrobe is essential – more so than ever with kids seemingly growing at an epic rate. Many dresses have been designed with expanding bodies in mind and come with adjustable button holes and elasticated waists.

Whether you’re looking for a dress for a special occasion, a beach companion to throw on and off, or you feel like treating your little one to a special new frock for an upcoming celebration, we’ve found a selection to fit the bill.

Coming from an industry that carries a large footprint – and as we’re dressing precious young skin – we only included dresses that were made from cotton or linen.

From childrenswear designers such as Rachel Riley and Il Gufo, to high-street helpers Next and M&S, there’s a huge range of summer dresses for girls of all ages. So, if your child’s wardrobe could do with a new frock or two, you’ve come to the right place.

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How we tested

With the help of a three-year-old and six-year-old, we tried out a variety of dresses in typical summertime environments – the beach, local park, garden etc. We didn’t ask our testers to perform any tricks, just to go about their usual daily business – though jumping, dancing, running and play in general all featured heavily.

High on the agenda was the dress’s appeal, as it’s important for our mini-fashionistas to like the threads they’re wearing – they’re supposed to make you feel special, so likeability is key. Ultimately, though, dresses are most likely to be worn all day, so comfort and breathability were highly regarded, too.

We also considered the quality of materials versus the price tag, but also how durable the garments were and whether they’d last the six weeks of summer. Sustainability plays a big part, too, gaining extra kudos.

The best girls’ summer dresses for 2022 are:

  • Best girls’ summer dress overall – Frugi Abigail checked dress: £32, Welovefrugi.com
  • Best handmade girls’ summer dress – Celine linen girl’s dress: £64.99, Freya-lillie.com
  • Best girls’ summer dress for detailing – Smock London Indira Gandhi flutter dress: £45, Smocklondon.com
  • Best lightweight girls’ summer dress – Kidly Label perfect tee dress: £8.50, Kidly.co.uk
  • Best colourful girls’ summer dress – Next frill sleeve cotton dress: £10, Next.co.uk
  • Best girls’ summer dress for special occasions – Rachel Riley blue pineapple frill sundress and bloomers: £59, Rachelriley.co.uk
  • Best girls’ summer dress for comfort – Joules Jude Jersey dress: £19.95, Joules.com
  • Best fun girls’ summer dress – JoJo Maman Bebe girls’ white sweet dinosaur print summer dress: £10, Jojomamanbebe.co.uk
  • Best value girls’ summer dress – M&S pure cotton leopard print dress: £8, Marksandspencer.com
  • Best classic print girls’ summer dress – Polarn O. Pyret checked kids dress: £20, Polarnopyret.co.uk
  • Best luxury girls’ summer dress – Il Gufo antique pink checked linen dress: £114.80, Ilgufo.com
  • Best baby girls’ summer dress – Mamas & Papas tropical all over print Jersey dress: £16, Mamasandpapas.com

Frugi Abigail checked dress

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Best: Girls’ summer dress overall

Rating: 9/10

You only have to touch this dress to know it’s a summer wardrobe essential. The fabric is wonderfully tactile and has been crafted from 100 per cent GOTS-certified organic cotton, and the result is a lightweight, beautifully soft and breathable dress.

The pretty checked pattern is reminiscent of picnics on a summer’s day, and is full of thoughtful touches. It was easy to pop over our three-year-old tester’s head, while there’s a soft lining in the top section, a stretchy elasticated back for comfort, and an adjustable button fastening on the adorable cross-over straps.

Sustainably speaking, Frugi has a planet-friendly approach, donating 1 per cent of its turnover each year to charity, which is a nice feel-good touch. There’s an array of matching items too – even a dress for mum!

Buy now £32.00, Welovefrugi.com

Celine linen girl’s dress

© Provided by The Independent

Best: Handmade girls’ summer dress

Rating: 9/10

If we could only describe this dress in one word, it would have to be: pretty. There’s plenty more to say, of course, starting with the bread and butter of Freya Lillie – a British sustainable luxury fashion brand – which exclusively hand-makes all of its orders in northeast England.

Made to order, so expect a few weeks’ wait, we opted for the gorgeous dusty-pink colourway. We found the linen composition rather luxurious, durable and breathable. The frilled back straps look undeniably elegant, but fashion meets with function, as there are adjustable button holes and an elasticated waist to give this gorgeous dress some extra use. And trust us, you’ll want your little darling to wear this for as long as possible.

Buy now £64.99, Freya-lillie.com

Smock London Indira Gandhi flutter dress

© Provided by The Independent

Best: Girls’ summer dress for detailing

Rating: 9/10

Hand smocking makes us go weak at the knees, particularly when it comes to childrenswear, so we fell in love with the Indira Gandhi flutter dress straight away. The design talent from Smock London shines through, with incredible hand-smocked detailing in pastel shades of pink, yellow and blue. It’s lovingly handmade using 100 per cent cotton sateen, which made it one of the comfiest frocks we tested. The stretchiness also ensures it lasts that little bit longer than most kids’ outfits.

Fully breathable, complete with cotton lining, our three-year-old tester looked angelic as she floated around in this dress. We adore the ruched-style shoulders and sweet button closures along the back, which beautifully catch the light in the sunshine.

The London-based brand is all about giving back too, so every time you buy from Smock, it donates an item to a child in need.

Buy now £45.00, Smocklondon.com

Kidly Label perfect tee dress

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Best: Lightweight girls’ summer dress

Rating: 8/10

Looking for something cool and relaxed to quickly slip on at the beach or at the park? Kidly has the answer – its much-loved perfect tee dress is a summer essential.

This simple frock is the most lightweight out of all the dresses we tested, and kept our little tester cool. Made from 100 per cent organic slub cotton, it has a slight texture to it, which adds to the casual look.

We love the sweet patch pocket, and are big fans of the non-twistable side seams and dropped back hem, which is great for nappy wearers. Choose from four delicious pastel shades, from size six months to six years.

Buy now £8.50, Kidly.co.uk

Next frill sleeve cotton dress

© Provided by The Independent

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Best: Colourful girls’ summer dress

Rating: 8/10

For us, this dress from the high-street giant is summer in a frock. The vertical-striped design reminded us of a much-loved ice lolly. Our three-year-old tester soon realised it was perfect for twirling, thanks to its lightweight 100 per cent cotton composition and adorable frill sleeves.

The button-up front looks super sweet, albeit a bit of a faff when dressing, but that’s a suitable price to pay in the name of gorgeous fashion. Part of the Better Cotton Initiative, this dress not only looks good but is doing some good, too.

Buy now £10.00, Next.co.uk

Rachel Riley blue pineapple frill sundress & bloomers

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Best: Girls’ summer dress for special occasions

Rating: 8/10

Childrenswear designer Rachel Riley (rumoured to be one of the royal family’s favourites) has scooped many awards for her standout designs. And tropical days call for pineapple prints. This dress is fully lined and comes with coordinating bloomers to keep nappies tastefully hidden.

Made from 100 per cent cotton, it’s wonderfully light and we love the gathered thrills at the shoulders and back. There are three buttons at the back of the dress for easy dressing, too.

While we can’t deny the more substantial price tag, the quality is undeniable – it’s the perfect outfit if you have a summer baby celebrating their first birthday.

Buy now £59.00, Rachelriley.co.uk

Joules Jude jersey dress

© Provided by The Independent

Best: Girls’ summer dress for comfort

Rating: 8/10

While you may associate this British clothing brand with quilted jackets and wellington boots, we were impressed with its summer offering. With a selection of summer dresses to choose from – all featuring pops of colour and playful prints – the Jude jersey dress is a summer sensation.

Our six-year-old tester loved the two front pockets, while the elasticated waist kept it in the right place, despite heavy activity.

Designed with all-day comfort, the breathable 100 per cent cotton kept clamminess at bay, and the fun ice-cream and polka-dot print is subtle yet full of spirit. The quality is apparent, and confirmed by the Better Cotton Initiative tag.

Buy now £19.95, Joules.com

JoJo Maman Bebe girls’ white sweet dinosaur print summer dress

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Best: Fun girls’ summer dress

Rating: 8 /10

This brand has been keeping our kids stylishly kitted out for 30 years and continues to impress. While historically dinosaurs have been pigeonholed as a boys-only design, we love this forward-thinking summer dress. Our devoted dino fanatic loved the print, while the 100 per cent cotton composition was soft on her skin. We’re also pleased to hear that JoJo Maman Bebe is a proud member of the Better Cotton Initiative.

There are three buttons at the back, which is great for younger ones (sizes start at six months), while the sleeveless design kept our three-year-old tester cool and free to go about her daily business.

Buy now £10.00, Jojomamanbebe.co.uk

M&S pure cotton leopard print dress

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Best: Value girls’ summer dress

Rating: 8/10

Trusty M&S delivers yet again with this pure cotton dress in a leopard print trend – a trend that has no signs of waning and we’re all for it. We love this take on the popular pattern, which looked effortlessly cool on our three-year-old tester.

It’s a casual fit with a dance-ready flared skirt, while the rounded neck had the right amount of stretch for easy dressing. Made from 100 per cent cotton (bar the trimmings, which have two per cent elastane), play is the order of the day with this colourful dress.

Buy now £8.00, Marksandspencer.com

Polarn O. Pyret checked kids dress

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Best: Classic print girls’ summer dress

Rating: 8/10

Swedish childrenswear brand Polarn O. Pyret – or P.O.P for short – has been creating sustainable unisex clothes since 1976. Often praised for its sunhats, P.O.P has the whole summer wardrobe sorted. Boasting a classic gingham design, this checked kids’ dress is a beautiful frock for summer.

Fully lined, it’s made from GOTS-certified organic cotton, which felt soft against our six-year-old tester’s skin. At first we were a little dubious about the additional shoulder straps but we needn’t have been – they’re elasticated, so offered plenty of freedom. The wide frilled skirt meant that dancing and adventures weren’t held back, and the back zip fastening kept it fitted without making it fiddly to take on and off.

Buy now £20.00, Polarnopyret.co.uk

Il Gufo antique pink checked linen dress

© Provided by The Independent

Best: Luxury girls’ summer dress

Rating: 8/10

If designer clothes are your thing, then we urge you to check out Il Gufo’s stunning collection of summer threads. The Italian fashion brand for babies and children is known for its gorgeous outfit sets and partywear, so naturally, it has summer soiree ensembles sorted.

Unlike the majority of children’s dresses on the market, this one is made using 100 per cent linen. While it’s not as soft to the touch as cotton, linen is known for its hard-wearing and resilient qualities, and thanks to the woven nature, it’s delightfully breathable, too.

As the most expensive out of all the dresses we tested, we expected high quality with an attention to detail, and that’s precisely what you get with this dress. Designed to be passed on to the next generation, the finish is rather wonderful – we particularly love the cuffed sleeves and delicate bow at the top of the buttons at the back. Our six-year-old tester felt like a princess as she danced around in this twirl-worthy skirt.

Buy now £114.80, Ilgufo.com

Mamas & Papas tropical all over print Jersey dress

© Provided by The Independent

Best: Girls’ summer dress for baby 

Rating: 8/10

We got some serious tropical vibes with this cute dress from Mamas & Papas, featuring luscious leaves and lemons. Little ones will appreciate the easy-breezy nature, thanks to its floaty design. Our three-year-old tester loved the sweet patch pockets, and as it’s made from 100 per cent jersey cotton, it was soft on the skin too. In sizes newborn to four years, there are buttons at the back to help with changing, and we really liked the turned-up cuffed sleeves.

Buy now £16.00, Mamasandpapas.com

The verdict: Girls’ summer dresses

We fell in love with Frugi’s Abigail checked dress on every level. Highly comfortable for a full day of playing, fun and colourful, and wonderfully soft on the skin without costing the earth. Speaking of the planet, it’s made using certified organic cotton, and the brand champions a giving-back ethos. A big thumbs-up from us.

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