By Ina Paiva Cordle

McClatchy Newspapers

(MCT)

MIAMI — Breezy and bohemian, in soft prints or colorful solids, maxi dresses are the go-to choice for hot summer days and balmy nights.

Admirers say they like the flowy, feminine dresses because they don't stick to the body, instead allowing air to circulate on a humid day. And since they often drape the midsection, and come in strapless, wide-strapped, halter or even sleeved versions, the dresses can flatter any body type.

"They are super comfortable, yet they still look sexy because you can show off your upper body," says Susan Schaffer , 41, a registered nurse at the University of Miami Cosmetic Medicine and Research Institute in Miami Beach, Fla. Schaffer's collection includes four dresses (ranging in price from $30-$60); she says she wears them every weekend.

The maxi dress — also known as the patio dress — took center stage last summer, and has re-emerged as an important look again this year, fashion experts say.

"It's been a trend that carries over, season after season," says Katharine Rubino , public relations manager for Neiman Marcus' Coral Gables store. "Each season it gets updated with different prints and different silhouettes."

The loose, airy dresses also translate easily from day to evening.

"You think of it as something more casual for day," Rubino says. "But it can go into evening by adding a heel, a great pair of earrings and a great clutch."

Throw on a cardigan or shrug, and you're ready for air conditioning.

And don't think that if you're short you can't wear them. Just forgo the flats or flip-flops and wear wedges.

The dresses can be found everywhere from big-box discount stores (at prices as low as $20) to high-end boutiques or department stores (where prices can go into the hundreds of dollars).

Neiman Marcus' assortment, which hits the higher end of the price range, includes a colorful cotton dress with detailing at the neck by Laundry for $265; a jersey dress by Ali Ro for $200; a chiffon, patterned dress by Vince for $345; a pastel floral print dress by Alice & Olivia for $484; and a silk print dress with metallic detailing by Diane Von Furstenberg for $895.

"Most of the patio dresses tie around the neck," Rubino says. "Some have straps that go over the shoulder, or you can tuck them in to create a strapless patio dress — two different looks with one dress."

And for the budget-conscious, Target sells long, flowy cotton jersey dresses in an assortment of solid colors. Some have tiered bottoms, often with low-cut V-necks and spaghetti straps. Many are sold for $25.

Shoppers can also find an array of patio dresses online.

A recent search under "category," "dresses" and then "maxi" on trendy fashion site shopbop.com revealed 278 offerings from dozens of designers. Styles range from super-casual beach-wear to the ultimate, cool party attire.

Shopbop fashion director Kate Ciepluch says brands like James Perse , Rachel Pally, and T-Bags offer a variety of casual dresses in mostly cotton/modal jersey fabrics. Prices range from $150-$250.

Daughters of the Revolution, a small line out of Malibu, Calif., also offers soft prints that appeal to customers who go for a bohemian style, Ciepluch says.

"Our customer has always gravitated toward dresses because they are a hassle-free item that doesn't require much fuss — just a great flat sandal, accessories and you're set," Ciepluch says.

"A maxi dress is a sexy, dramatic spin on a category that is already hugely popular."