By Ina Paiva Cordle

McClatchy Newspapers

(MCT)

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.

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.

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.

"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."

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.

"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."