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What Is It About Little Black Dresses?

The High WASP woman loves nothing so dearly as her little black dress. Think about it. Although the industry tries, i.e. Boyfriend Jeans and White Shirts, only the little black dress is spoken of in code. The LBD. “What are you wearing?” we ask. “My LBD,” we answer.

Little black dresses are, by the laws of physics, appropriate. That’s the point. For whatever reason, I do not know the science behind it, black reads like absence of color. That’s right. You can wear black without making any kind of color statement at all. Like buying IBM, back in the day. Can’t go wrong. Little black dresses absolve us of the responsibility of figuring out dress code. Of understanding our color profile. An enormous relief.

With the social contract resolved, you are free to find a little black dress that looks good. On you. You can optimize for your self, and nothing else. Good upper arms? Broad shoulders? Long legs of pleasing shape? Whatever you smile about when you look into the mirror? Play it up.

Oh, I know some like to insist we must fret over the relative au courant-ness of our little black dresses. But I believe, and will stand behind my statement, if you find the right LBD, good fabric, good fit, good design, suited to your personal geometry, you can wear it nigh unto forever. Until threads pop out of the weave. Until what was shiny becomes dull, what dull, shiny. (How do I know? Guess. You are probably right.)

Little black dresses can also allow for self-expression. If you go for that sort of thing. If you don’t spend your life trying simply not to make a mistake. If your greatest dream is not to avoid turning the corner of a hotel hallway, seeing into the ballroom from afar, and realizing instantly that they are feathered and you only gabardine.

For you, you lucky souls, self-expression is possible.

Let’s look at High WASP archetypes as example. (For no good reason. You and your culture have your own icons. Or you share mine. Doesn’t matter. This is for the sake of explication, deconstruction. The answer is not the answer; we are only modeling a process.)

The Sturdy Gal
She wears her LBD to the Garden Center Board dinner. Pulls out the family pearls. Vaguely annoyed by the frivolous supporting diamonds, but not enough to go shopping. She dreads shopping. If her sister doesn’t call to check, she will wear her flats, even though, being leather, they are unsuitable. Caught, she will bow her head and wear satin pumps. No heels over 2 inches, however, no matter what gets said. Or by whom. Leopard cardigan, matching clutch. Who says sturdy limits our fun?

The Artsy Cousin
The perfect chance to untangle all her Indian jewelry and hang it from ears and neck. Even if the little black dress is something her mother gave her. And the jewels might have been affixed to her clutch in some non-righteous workshop. But it’s all for a good cause. Many things are burning in this world.

The Grande Dame
She may mutter under her breath about the demise of long dresses on the West Coast for anything except Opening Night at the Opera. Or Hollywood rigamarole. “These awards,” she might say. “Good lord, when will they stop with all these awards? The next thing you know we will be awarding people for taking out the garbage.” I digress. The Grande Dame wears bling. She finds it appalling, that term, bling. But, in the language of the day, it’s bling. And the Grande Dame, who likes to shop, who has a personal shopper at Saks, and another one at that boutique (you know the one), she wears au courant shoes. Nude shoes. Take that Vanessa Williams, Chloe Sevigne, Sienna Miller. Ha! For the Grande Dame, the little black dress is only a starting place. But, fortunately or unfortunately, her deeply ingrained culture will constrain her to the world of the appropriate. Nude shoes, diamonds, outre jackets, and all.

35 Responses

  1. Ah, nothing like a LBD! They are Always a relief. Of course I like the look you pulled together for the Artsy Cousin, but Yay for Sturdy Gal's cardigan, and the Grande Dame was a pleasant surprise.

  2. Sturdy gals can wear leopard? Sign me up. I like these how-to-wear-x posts, they're very fun.

  3. I'd wear the sportsy version, whatever that would be. I guess possibly flats and no bling at all. I so need a black dress!

  4. Really, I thought I was an Artsy Cousin but seeing this I do believe I'm a sturdy gal. I'm going to study the Grande Dame's style tho and I agree about the sad demise of long dresses.

    With the right black dress you could style them all.


  5. I love that the perfect LBD can be jazzed up a bit or dressed down. I love that the same LBD can look completely different on two people with two completely different styles. Great post!

  6. these latest posts are pure genius. i've missed your writing- will be coming back more often, again.

  7. Bugger! Links too big. Anyway, there are a few at the TopShop site under dresses. Cheap and cheerful.

  8. Love the Grande Dame. Jackets play a big part of my wardrobe these days. Off to seek out one like your GD is sporting.

  9. I have at least six. Still haven't found that perfect one, obviously.

    Loved this: "Until what was shiny becomes dull, what dull, shiny."

    Spot on. But also I know it will run around my head until I find a way to use it as a metaphor.

  10. Oh, dear. I just realized I'm a "sturdy girl." I'm not sure how I feel about that…but I think I like it.

  11. I really MUST go shopping for a new LBD. It's been too long since the last one fit, and I've been too lazy to look for a new one.

  12. I recently bought a new LBD. I loved it. I have now seen the exact same dress on at least four other Money Town women. I doubt if I'll ever wear it again.

  13. I have come to realize I must be a Sturdy Dame. Which sounds like an oxymoron but really, isn't all of human identity an oxymoron? And Twenty Four, I feel your pain. Life in Money Town has its hazards.

  14. Oh, and hello Cate. Hello Sweet T. I love seeing bride bloggers in the bride afterlife…Which is a flippant way to put it but I'm trusting in your forebearance.

  15. Ahhhh, what a divine topic – we absolutely cloak ourselves in LBD love, if there was such a things as LBD swaddling clothes we would be swaddled.

    And please forgive us Miss LPC, we are still cracking up at unintended images of IBM and its lack of color.

    Grins and giggles to you, this was a bright spot in the afternoon!

  16. And what, pray, will Artsy and Sturdy be drinking when they're out and about wearing their own versions of the BLD..? Hmmm?


  17. Maria that is really funny. I actually did think, just this morning, hmm, perhaps I should do how each of these style archetypes interacts with alcohol…

  18. Artsy Cousin is my favourite, but the LBD is such a responsive canvas. I loved your shoe remark re Sturdy Gals, their "still perfectly good" shoes are a decade out of date, if they are too focused on other matters and perhaps do not have a sister.

    L., my aristocratic ex-husband's term for Sturdy Gals was "Jennifer Cleanjerseys".

  19. I love a little black dress. All of mine are made of jersey though, which I believe is probably terribly inappropriate for any occasion which would not be equally well served by a pair of jeans. One day I will be a Grande Dame though. One day.

  20. I too have many LBDs but not enough occasions on which to wear them. I might have to start wearing them to work from home.

  21. All the women have a black dress in her closet! are a functional piece in the closet! so the girls has to find the perfect dress!

  22. I'm a fashion design student and I think that the black dress is a classic in the female stuffs! hehe!! I have several dresses!

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