Whether it's short and sweet, long and fluid or something pretty in the middle, white dresses continue to capture the imaginations of designers and shoppers summer in, summer out. But why does the garment have such an enduring appeal?

Julie Christie in Far from the Madding Crowd is one answer for why the romance of the white dress has endured

 Julie Christie in Far from the Madding Crowd is one answer for why the romance of the white dress has endured Photo: cocktail dresses australia

 Picture Julie Christie running with abandon across the Wessex countryside in Far from the Madding Crowd , white dress wafting as she gathers speed past the poppies. Or Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, trussed in Cecil Beaton's white lace gown in My Fair Lady , bending over the railing to holler, "Come on, Dover! Move your bloomin' arse!" Each was a scene-stealing moment, perhaps for the obscenity reverberating around the racetrack in Doolittle's case, but largely because of the white dress and its utter exquisiteness.

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 How to wear your summer dresses nowA raft of designers tapped the garment's romanticism for their spring/summer 2015 collections, from the cut-outs forming blossoms at Valentino to the intricate lacework on Chloé's Seventies shirt dress via the criss-cross ties closing Louis Vuitton's flippy mini.

 Audrey Hepburn holds her parasol aloft in Cecil Beaton's white lace gown from My Fair Lady. Photo: Rex

 This explains why, of the 1,860 dresses on Net-a-Porter over 25 per cent are white - the website's buying manager Ben Matthews says the style is "synonymous with summer" - and it's a similar story on the high street. At ASOS, after black, white dresses are the best stocked category, with 299 to choose from out of 3,389.

 These stats considered, it's no surprise that the 'perfect white dress' tops our shopping list every summer. But why, with a wardrobe full of PWD permutations, do we faithfully perform this annual ritual?

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 "A little white dress is an instinctive choice in summer…it never loses its appeal," says Alannah Sparks, Farfetch's fashion editor. The website has seen a significant increase in sales of white dresses compared to last year, which Sparks attributes to the staple's "utter simplicity": "Choose the right one and it will really go the mile for you, whether it's a crisp white shirt dress…or a crochet number."

 White dresses are given whimsy at Valentino, Chloé and Louis Vuitton on the spring/summer 2015 catwalks. Photo: Isidore Montag

 Net-a-Porter has sold more than double the number of white dresses compared to last season, a leap which Matthews says is down to the way designers have worked with the colour. "Last year white was tied into purity and minimalism whereas this season the key trends focus on the Seventies…a much more relaxed way to wear white."

 This redux is why Matthews expects Isabel Marant's Rafael mini dress to be a best seller this summer and why Chloé's folksy creations have already been "flying off the rails" at Farfetch. Chloé creative director Clare Waight Keller's white dresses capture "the innocence that people seem to really be yearning for this summer," says Sparks.

 Yearning for innocence aside, the other explanation is that with a plethora of options, there really is a style of white dress to suit every silhouette. As Topshop's design director Jacqui Markham puts it, "everybody looks great in white".

 Certainly white is "great", but for those of us who, ahem, don't boast Audrey Hepburn's gamine proportions, here are some styling tips to live by this summer.

 Pick something sleeved

 Pay attention if… you've been neglecting your bicep curls and would prefer not to expose those upper arms.

 Good news! Dresses with sleeves come in a multitude of guises this summer, from COS' T-shirt style with a low-slung peplum to Vanessa Bruno's homage to the Seventies rendered in Broderie anglaise. The tee shape is flattering on all silhouettes, but if you prefer more coverage than it affords, try Topshop's judo-style wrap dress (bracelet sleeves show off the slimmest part of the arm).

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 Disguise your undergarments

 Pay attention if… you've got a larger bust and wouldn't dream of leaving the house without a bra.

 You can't wear backless and strapless, and curse sheer fabrics so a white summer dress must be a no-go, right? Wrong. What you need to look for are textured materials (you'd need X-ray equipment to see through Hobbs' crocheted Jessie dress) and a slightly looser fit so there's so chance of spying a bra's lace imprint or straps against the fabric.

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 Synthetic fabrics are a one-way ticket to sweat patches so swap polyester for pure cotton when the temperature peaks. These four are 100 per cent cotton and have slightly more languid silhouettes, which means you'll feel (and look) cool for summer proper.

 Embrace a roomy silhouette

 Breezy cuts are the name of the game here. Toast's shirt dress has the volume of an artist's chemise, while J.Crew's kimono-style neckline will look smart for a summer spent in the office. What Alannah Sparks calls "rose-tinted, Woodstock" style never goes amiss (especially with "Seventies" being the trend buzz word) so give ASOS' off-the-shoulder, spotty dress a spin.