Five ways to style a basic black dress

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Monday, March 14, 2016

My travel schedule is one of the biggest constraints in my life, but I'm convinced that it has helped me to develop better personal style because it forces me to plan ahead and be extremely thoughtful about how I can wear things in different ways. It's also really important to me that I maximize every item that I pack, especially now that I've been limiting myself to carrying only this duffel bag regardless of trip length!

I recently took a 10-day trip that involved both work and personal travel, and one thoughtful reader (hi, Jill!) suggested a post about what exactly to pack into a small duffel bag in order to get through 10 days of work and play. While that full post is under construction, thought I'd share the hardest working item from that trip (that also takes up very minimal room in my bag): a MaxMara crepe wool black dress.

It's been in my closet for years and years, placed firmly in the "formal occasions only" section. To follow my own rules for this challenge, I pulled it out, stripped it of its formal title, and wore it five times on one trip. (And, no one noticed!)

It surprised me how easy it was to come up with new ways to style this dress once I put some thought into it. Here are five ideas on how to get more mileage out of your LBD:

#1 Wear it with simple accessories and bright lipstick for a party

This exact outfit is how I normally style this dress, an item that earned its keep in my wardrobe long ago for the number of weddings and formal events where I've worn it. It's simple and structured, fits perfectly and pairs well with minimal, understated pieces (like my favorite oversize black clutch and nude pumps). When I'm traveling, I like to save space by sticking to a neutral palette and adding "pops of color" with lipstick, nail polish or earrings.

#2 Add a blazer, tights and flats for work

The fact that I'd never thought to wear this dress to work is actually kind of embarrassing (as is the number of black work dresses I own that are utterly unremarkable). And I love that it has the power to make Walgreens tights and a basic Banana Republic blazer look expensive, as well as make me feel rather brilliant.

#3 Top it with a pale blue button-down, glasses and heels for work

My love of the perfect blue button-down is well-documented, and partnering it up with my favorite cocktail dress may be the best outfit idea to ever enter my little brain. To keep it looking formal, I buttoned it to the top, paired it with heels and wore my glasses (which are Prada and make everything I wear look serious). Side note: I know Warby Parker and Bonlook were supposed to have gotten us all past luxury eyewear but me and my astigmatism just need them.

#4 Turn it into a skirt with an oversize silk blouse

Honestly, this silk shirt is unique in that it is as comfortable as a sweatshirt yet is a beautiful thick cream silk that drapes perfectly. (It's Theory, and I feel that way about most of what they make.) Pulling it on over this dress had never occurred to me before, but they were practically made for each other. Please ignore my pale skin that can hardly be discerned from the shirt and wall, it's a side effect of the Chicago winter and spending 12-hour days under fluorescent lights in beige conference rooms.

#5 Transform it into a casual dress with a basic tee

Such a simple concept, but again one that I've never really tried. And this one could be several outfits by changing accessories: I'd wear it with simple heels for dinner, with flats to wear it casually, or with tights and a wool scarf to warm it up.

Although these outfits are extremely simple, they prove the point that I can be doing more with something I already have in my closet. I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to style a basic black dress, and would love to hear any ideas you have!

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6 comments on "Five ways to style a basic black dress"
  1. i love these wonderful ideas Colleen! I especially like #3 and #5! and i think on a cooler day a sweater might work too!
    thank you for sharing, love the pictures :)

    1. Thanks so much Echo! And totally agree on sweater - even a sweater and ankle boots for a cool spring Saturday (or a San Francisco Saturday any time of year...)

  2. Hi, Colleen! By now, you know how much I like your blog but this must be my favorite post yet. What a great way to demonstrate how easy it can be to style one basic garment in order to achieve many different looks. I love, and would wear, each and every outfit presented. Alas, dresses and skirts no longer fit into my casual lifestyle and as a result I don't wear them much anymore. Still, I'm sure the same idea can be applied to other clothes if I take the time to think about it.

    BTW, you look beautiful, pale skin and all!

    1. Ivanka, thanks so much for your kind comment! Really appreciate your feedback on this post and the outfits themselves. And you are totally right that this concept can be applied to many other items in our wardrobes. But I am shocked that you don't wear skirts and dresses, even casually! Although I am that way with khakis. For some reason, I just don't wear them ever. (And thank you for affirming my pale skin, learning to accept it!)

      Thank you as always for reading and providing your thoughts!

  3. Love, love, love the way you styled this dress!! I always go right for a pair of pants and forget about all the pretty dresses waiting to be worn... And this post proves a dress can be just as versatile.

  4. Hi Lydia, thanks so much for reading and for your comment! And I think we have opposite problems, as I normally skip over the pants and need to be better about styling them for work. But love the versatility of dresses for packing :)