I paid the price for a shirtwaister —
but it was worth it

Anna Murphy.

Buying clothes is an unpredictable business even for the most expert among us. You know how it is. You buy something you are sure will prove to be your most useful item ever and you end up barely wearing it. Then you buy something you are not quite sure about that quickly becomes a much-loved permanent wardrobe fixture.

But sometimes You Just Know. It was like that when I spotted my first Samantha Sung dress seven years ago. It was a shirtwaister, as my mother still insists on calling them. (Sung calls it the Audrey and it’s her bestselling style.) It came in a strong floral print and was perfectly tailored to have just the right amount of fullness in the skirt, just the right amount of curve-cling in the top half.

I reeled at the price — how could a simple cotton dress cost several hundred pounds? — but I paid it. Right decision. In terms of cost per wear it has proved one of the best-value items I own. That dress is indestructible.

And it hasn’t dated one jot, precisely because, I suppose, it was just that little bit dated from the start.

Here is the ultimate, easy one-stop way to look pulled together on a summer day: so flattering to the figure, so practical (it goes in the washing machine). Those 1950s women had a lot to worry about, as Mad Men reminded us, but it evidently didn’t include how to look good on a July morning. And my shirtwaister, for all its retro feel, has just enough of a modern edge to stop it looking like fancy dress.

The Korean-born New York-based Sung still focuses on print dresses, having added more styles to her range, as well as some pretty skirts and cardis. She has also introduced a touch of Lycra to her fabric mix, so that the more recent incarnations are even more wearable. The cost, I now realise, is explained by the quality of the fabric and the small production numbers. I — and the growing numbers of Samantha Sung fans, including Kirstie Allsopp and Alexandra Shulman of Vogue — deem it a price worth paying. That is why I have bought two more over the years.

I am not exaggerating when I say that every single time I put on a Samantha Sung dress I get at least one compliment. (Actually, there is one exception. I fell so in love with my most recent acquisition that I wore it for the first three evenings of my holiday, and my other half asked me somewhat quizzically if I had packed anything else. I changed on the fourth night Into another Samantha Sung dress.)

In the UK the best choice of her dresses — she offers a fabulous array of patterns every season, floral, geometric and abstract, plus heavier fabric weights for winter — is at kjslaundry.com, where prices start at £425. I currently have my eye on a black and white checked number but am sitting on my hands. Please someone buy it so that I don’t have to.