Tunic dresses and footless tights: A how-to guide

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Tired of jeans and a tee for casual wear? Looking for something that is AS comfortable as your yoga pants but just a LITTLE nicer looking?

I have the answer: a tunic dress and a pair of footless tights. Like the classic jeans and a tee look, this requires no elaborate planning; like the ubiquitous sweat suit, it is comfy and cozy. But unlike both of those options, a dress is a more grown up, thoughtful, elegant look. Even when the dress is essentially an overgrown sweater.

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Banana Republic jersey tunic dress, $98.00

Length matters. If the hem of your dress/tunic is too long, or the hem of your tights is too short, the proportions will be all wrong. Look for a dress that hits ABOVE the knee, rather than below; this can range from mid-thigh to skimming the knee cap. If you have slim legs, you can go shorter; if you are wider in the hips and thighs, choose a hem that hits at the knee. Remember that you're going to put tights on with this dress, so you will still have some coverage.

Shape matters, too. Look for a tunic dress that flatters your figure. If you are curvier, look for a tunic with a little bit of structure, either in the cut or in the fabric. If you are slim, an A line or trapeze dress will work for you. Look also for dresses with detailing at the neckline or hem. Buttons, pleats, cowl necks, and empire waists all draw the eye up toward your face. If you opt for a hemline detail, make sure that the hem falls close to the knee, rather than at a wider part of your thighs.

Fabric makes a difference. The tunic-and-leggings look is essentially a casual look; you wouldn't wear a tunic dress and footless tights to dinner at the White House, for example (god help you if you did). But as with all casual looks, there is still some wiggle room. Tunic dresses are available in a variety of fabrics, from wool to jersey to silk; choose one that seems appropriate for your everyday routine. If you want to wear this look for your workday, a merino wool or silk dress might be more appropriate than a jersey dress. Think also about the weather where you live; in a warmer climate, silk might be perfect, while colder weather calls for a proper sweater dress.

Not all tights are created equal. As with the tunic dress, hemlines on footless tights vary. Opt for a pair of tights that hits at the top of your natural ankle, where your calf begins to widen; this draws the eye to the narrowest part of your leg, which makes your whole leg look slim. For the longest line, stick with dark colored tights -- black or brown -- and skip patterns or textures.

Finish with the right shoe. A tunic dress with footless tights is a casual look; keep your shoes casual, too. Flats are your best option, either a ballet flat or a Mary Jane or a pretty athletic-inspired flat (but NOT an actual athletic shoe; if you would play a sport in it, do not wear it with a dress).

A short list of things to avoid at all costs. Do NOT wear your footless tights with heels, unless your day job includes a pole, or with a mini skirt, unless you are under the age of six. Do not wear footless tights to dressy occasions, or pair them with a cocktail dress. Footless tights are an alternative to jeans or sweats, for casual day and evening wear. You wouldn't wear a hoodie to a wedding; don't wear your footless tights either. You can, however, spiff up your tunic dress, if the cut and fabric lend itself to that, by adding proper tights (you know, with FEET) and dressier shoes. You can't do that with your yoga pants, let me tell you.

Who else is thinking about tunics and footless tights?

HerbalTonya turned a sweater into some cute footless tights for her daughter.

Adventures in the Stilletto Jungle shows us how Jessica Biel is working the tunic (and where to get the one she's wearing).

And Sew Fussy models a tunic dress she made herself. Check out her cute hair, too! Love it.

Susan Wagner writes about fashion at Friday Style and The Working Closet, and about everything else at Friday Playdate. She would like you to imagine that she's wearing a cute dress as she writes this, but really she's in her yoga pants. And possibly a baseball cap, too.

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