This is one of those cases where a picture really is worth a thousand words. This image is from the July issue of Lucky, and if that's the best they could get the model to look with a team of stylists and hair/makeup people dedicated to her very gorgeousness, you should stay the hell away from anything known as the "gathered smock" dress (aka sack dress). Because no, Lucky, the gathers do not give a slenderizing just-roomy-enough shape. They make her look heavy (possibly pregnant) and swathed in draperies.
See also: maxi dresses. These can look cute, these can look fresh and summery -- or they can look like this photo, courtesy of British Elle. And Cat thinks we can all pretty much agree that would be a bad thing.
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This "floaty trapeze" also from July Lucky is better, but there's still very much an element of not-quite-rightness. And if you have any curves -- hips or bust -- just avoid this all together. To make it look right, you need to be stick thin with perfect arms and shoulders. (Read: 18; Cat used to wear this look when she was, in fact, 18. No more.)
And here's why Papier thinks these dresses are a travesty -- because they're unfair to women who have spent eons in the gym perfecting their figures...