Arts & Culture

For the Love of a Laura Ashley Dress

Decades later, those dainty florals still hold a powerful grip on the South

A vintage photo of two women; the one on the left wears a light teal sweater, the one on the right wears a pink dress.

Photo: Laura Vinroot Poole

A vintage photo of Laura Vinroot Poole (right), wearing a pink Laura Ashley dress, alongside her mother.

“Many of us have visceral memories about new spring clothes,” says Laura Vinroot Poole, the lauded Charlotte fashion retailer

That’s putting it, perhaps, lightly. I wish I couldn’t still feel the white tights my mom stuffed me into on those spring Sunday mornings before church. The scratch and tug, the elastic top strangling me right at the belly button as we stood for “Blessed Assurance.” A fluffy polyester dress and shiny white shoes with a dumb buckle felt as fun as a basket of melted Cadburys.

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I admired the older girls in their Laura Ashleys, those flowy cotton dresses printed with roses and daisies, with hems so long their moms didn’t even make them wear hose. I never actually got one of those coveted dresses, but maybe it’s time—the British brand has been having something of a resurgence stateside. Or, perhaps, the romance of their florals never quite went away. 

“As Southerners, we relate to Laura Ashley’s warmth, modesty, and the earthiness of lace and ruffles and flowers,” Poole says. “We love botanical prints and flowers, the softness and romance.”

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A post shared by Wanderlust Vintage (@_wanderlustvintage_)

Founded by the couple Laura and Bernard Ashley in the United Kingdom in 1953, the company first became known for designing tea towels and scarves. They expanded into homewares and then eventually into clothing—soft shapes with floral patterns that reminded the namesake of her upbringing in the Welsh countryside. The 1980s grew into something of a heyday for the brand, with a home goods catalogue mailed internationally, and the publication of The Laura Ashley Book of Home Furnishings

As a teenager, Poole baptized her room in pink-and-green rosettes. “Growing up, all my girlfriends had Laura Ashley bedrooms, and mine might be the last one standing,” she says. “The sheets, the comforter, the pillows, the curtains, the rugs are all from the original patterns.”

When Poole posted a picture on Instagram of one of her own vintage Laura Ashley dresses, her audience went nuts. “This was 1988 and I wore a French blue polished cotton dress by Laura Ashley. I bought it at the famous August sale in London and I L O V E D it💙,” she posted. “My prom dress was Laura Ashley too! Same cut but floral 🙌😂❤️,” a commenter responded.

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A post shared by Laura Vinroot (@lauravinroot)

“Laura Ashley was like the other end of the pendulum swing from the 1980s punk and goth vibes,” says the Southern-born textile designer Scot Meacham Wood. “It was this super romantic, super pretty look. It reminds me still of all these floral dresses I see littering Instagram. Laura Ashley or Laura Ingalls Wilder?”

In 2000, the company moved its North American headquarters to Fort Mill, South Carolina, although it relocated to New York last year. As the brand marked seventy years of production in 2023, it also continued a buzzy partnership with the designer Batsheva Hay, who started her fashion career after having one of her favorite Laura Ashley dresses remade. The Batsheva x Laura Ashley collection is a fever dream of ruffled collars, puffed sleeves, and maxi skirts in archival prints of roses, daisies, and dainty nosegays. 

photo: Batsheva
Dresses from the Batsheva x Laura Ashley collection.

One of springtime’s great joys is pushing winter coats to the back of the closet. For generations of women, donning a Laura Ashley is a similar seasonal pleasure. “Why is there a reinterest in Laura Ashley?” Meacham Wood ponders to himself. “Maybe because we’ve gotten so techy that romance and comfort feel like a deep breath of relief in the modern world.”