Arts Back in black

The little b!%*&k dress: friend to cash-strapped fashionistas everywhere

The annual office holiday parties, cocktails with old friends visiting from out of town, client luncheons, open houses: Most of us have more social obligations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than we do the rest of the year. You want to look classy, festive, and impressive for each occasion—but how can you keep it simple and not break the bank? Try the Little Black Dress.

A staple of women’s wardrobes for 100 years, the LBD comes in two classic styles. The first is the sheath, popularized by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Sleeveless, usually one piece from the crew neck to the just-below-the-knee hem, with princess seams along the front and back for shaping, this cool silhouette glides easily from day into evening and is perfect for after-work gatherings and more casual settings. The fancier option is the ballerina or cocktail version, which usually has spaghetti straps or a similarly open neckline, a defined waist, and a full skirt ending just above or below the knee.

With one or both of these classics in your closet, and a small dose of creativity, you’ll easily navigate the long holiday season looking graceful, comfortable, and effortlessly chic. Here’s a head-to-toe tour of LBD variations.

If you’d rather not distract from the simple perfection of your LBD, concentrate your accessories above the neckline. Tiaras aren’t just for weddings and drag shows—go ahead and play the princess with a delicate wire crown embellished with flowers and beading. Or, take inspiration from the new film Memoirs of a Geisha, and accent your chignon with a stick of silver charms. Whether short or long, pull your hair back in a boldly patterned scarf in a bright color, or tuck fresh flowers (poinsettias would be a Christmas classic) behind an ear.

If your dress bares your shoulders, play up this famous launching point for flirtatious glances with the season’s hot shrugs and capelets. An open-weave throw in a metallic yarn will allow skin to peek through while reflecting light up into your face. For an element of the unexpected, choose a bronze or opalescent piece over the usual silver or gold. And forget what they say about Labor Day—a bright, solid white has graphic impact against a clean black dress.

Make a defined waist your focal point, especially if you have an hourglass figure. Try multiple silk ribbons in a vibrant color such as orange or citron. Buy enough to cinch your waist with a bold, sharp bow in back and long tails; just below the hem of your dress is flirty. You can also easily make your own sash out of taffeta or moiré: Use some Stitch Witchery (an iron-on hem tape) to seal in any raw ends. This season’s waistlines are extra-wide and tight, inspired by Japanese obis. Not crafty? Scour the thrift shops for a guy’s tuxedo cummerbund (you’d be amazed how many ’80s prom remnants are out there) and cut and pin to fit.

Not crafty?

Scour the thriftshops

for a guy’s tuxedo


The hem of your LBD is an easy place to experiment. It should hit either just above or below the knee, depending on your legs and your comfort level. Let your slip show for once: Buy a half or full-length slip an inch or two longer than your dress, with a nice lace or patterned hem. Look for a deep, rich neutral like wine or navy, or dye the slip yourself. This adds a sexy lingerie element in a subdued, still-professional way. If your dress is strapless or has spaghetti straps, let the slip straps show also. Stitch Witchery can be your friend again here—accent your hem with ribbons, small silk flowers, embroidered patches, or even metallic garland. Just iron on, then pull off when the evening’s over (test your materials on a hidden spot first, of course).

If your LBD just doesn’t lend itself to any of these suggestions, remember you can always change your look below the knee. Patterned tights in a herringbone or fishnet are classic—nude or very pale colors bring it up to date. (Beware opaque tights, especially in a bold color; they can thicken legs.) Flat-heeled shoes with a full skirt are an unexpected twist that works; try your Converse high tops, a funky suede boot, or knee socks and Mary Janes. To keep your line long and lean, make sure your socks and shoes either end a few inches before the hem of your dress, or disappear under the hem.

However you keep your LBD going through the holidays, honor its classic simplicity. It works for a reason. The LBD is a blank slate you can by turns make whimsical or punk, seductive or demure—all the looks you need for this holiday season and years to come.

By Leigh Baldwin

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