15 August 2007

Choosing a board room *and* bar stool appropriate LBD

Can you recommend a little black dress that would work for both day and night? I would preferably like to be able to wear it for all occasions --- work, weekends, and even for cocktails or dinner out. I hate ironing -- what materials would allow me to avoid having to do so? Additionally, I am a budget conscious shopper and would preferably like to spend under $200. Thanks!

My first instinct when I read this reader question was to write back and inquire about her measurements and find out which figure features she'd most like to showcase. After all, how could I, the unyielding trumpeter of "flatter your figure first," recommend a dress before I knew how tall or short, thin or heavy, or small or large busted she was?

But just as I was about to craft my follow-up e-mail, I reread the question and realized I was dealing with not one, not two, not three but four requirements: (1) has to be a little black dress (2) has to have a style that is day/night appropriate (3) has to be made of a low-maintenance material, and (4) has to have an under-$200 price tag.

Forgive me, but adding a fifth qualifier - a potentially complicated fifth qualifier like "must fit and flatter a petite frame with a disproportionately large bust" - would have rendered this endeavor near impossible to complete.

So instead of my usual "avoid this" and "look for this" diagnosis, I've amassed a small collection of reasonably-priced, versatile black dresses, all of which are made of either matte jersey or chiffon, with the hope that you're able on your own to discern between those silhouettes that might enhance your particular features and those that, well, might make you look a whole lot less svelte than you actually are.

You'll notice a few of these dresses, the first, second and next-to-last, in particular, are on their own completely office-inappropriate, but one of my favorite tricks when I have a formal event to attend directly after work is to pair the sexy up-top frock with a demure swing coat or fuller-coverage capelet for the entirety of the day. For recommendations in similarly inexpensive price-points, try this, this and my favorite, this.

In addition to the practicality of having built-in protection against the often aggressive office air conditioning, you'll also allow for an "unveiling" once you arrive at your after-hours destination.

Though I should warn you, I hear men hate the idea of a woman in a conservative outfit revealing in one fell movement that underneath her girlish jacket is a pair of defined shoulder blades, a bare back and a hint of cleavage.

Absolutely. Hate. It.


Alexa jersey dress by Tart ($184 at blondette.com)

Barbi tank dress by Velvet ($173 at revolveclothing.com)
Short sleeve bubble dress by Clu ($191 at revolveclothing.com)**
Belted boatneck dress by Frenzii ($98 at southmoonunder.com)
Matte jersey dress by David Meister ($172.86 at dillards.com)
Silk chiffon belted dress by Maggy London ($148 at macys.com)
Drape back sheath by Suzi China Maggy Boutique ($138 at nordstrom.com)*
Matte jersey dress by BCBG Max Azria ($180 at nordstrom.com)

*your editrix's top pick

**this dress only looks like a mini because of the model's height


fashionable.girl said...

I love the idea of wearing a cute office appropriate jacket over a sexy black dress! Good advice!

Anonymous said...

i love all these! :) time to excercise that credit card!


Anonymous said...

This may be one of those questions that reveals my ignorance, but is there some sort of bra-like contraption that you can wear with a top/dress with a low back, like the second to last dress. I've seen some bras with a strap that is relatively low, but still visible on some of the more daring items I'd like to wear. I'm a B/C cup and so small enough to get away without a bra in some instances, but I wondered whether there are alternatives. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have the first Tart jersey dress in white and the second Velvet tank dress in blue. Love them both but got to say that I can't wear the Tart dress to the office - even with jacket - too low-cut and with a button-up, the empire waisting makes it too is-she-pregnant-office-gossip-fodder. The dress begs for bare sculpted shoulders and the lookie-here-cleavage.

stuck in l.a. said...

The low-back dress from Nordstrom is gizorgeous. Buying. It. Now.

Scott said...

Hopefully I won't get my head chopped off for saying this, but from a guy/boss/professional point of view an LBD during business hours says "immature" or "doesn't know what's appropriate."

Maybe it's the industry I work in, but when I see an LBD in the office I look for what's left of a hand stamp from the night before.

I'm sorry if this isn't what anyone wants to hear.

Johanna said...


I don't know if you're translating "little" as "mini," because if you are, then yes, wearing an LBD is totally office inappropriate. But if you're looking at the majority of the dresses in this post and thinking they're either "immature" or smack of someone who "doesn't know what's appropriate," then we should talk, because I flat-out disagree with both accusations.

I knew I'd get backlash for the first, second and penultimate dresses in this collection, but that's exactly why I qualified their recommendation with an "if you have a formal event directly after work" scenario; I'm not endorsing this as an everyday practice by any stretch of the imagination, just a quick fix for the occasional post-work, don't-have-time-to-change cocktail party. Paired with a cute, demure, full-coverage jacket, you're practically wearing a simple black skirt.

I appreciate your sharing with us your opinion, but perhaps you could explain why you find a woman in a knee-length black dress in the workplace to be so disdainful.


Scott said...

Ooooh, I knew I'd be called to account for my comment, so you'd think I'd have a great answer ready to fire off?

First, I re-read your post and I agree with your caveats.

Second, I like black. It's simple and classic, which usually translates to elegant.

However I'm a guy, and I don't know if you've noticed but woman have nothing on men when it comes to being parochial about style rules, (stop by the men's style forum for a taste) and although I rail against rules for fashion one that doesn't seem to want to go away is that men don't wear mostly black before sundown unless they're going to a funeral.

That said, I do wear black, although it's pinstripe, and I do it knowing I'm going to stick out. As such, I wear it when I want to stick out, like say, if I'm going to be standing in front of 30 or so people pointing a lot.

So, I don't really have an answer, but I do know I'm not alone when I say it, and from my fifteen years or so of being in offices it's been my experience that wearing a black dress will get you noticed, but not in a good way.

Like I said, I know I'm not alone when I say this.

However, and this is my caveat: it could be the industry I'm in.

nyc admirer said...

I'm wondering in what industry this Scott fella works, because I can think of no classier or more elegant a professional outfit for a woman than a simple, well-tailored black dress. And who would ever wear an LBD to an establishment that stamps hands? Isn't that a trashy top and jeans kind of thing?

Anonymous said...

if you think it looks good on a bar stool, it doesn't belong in a boardroom. word

Teek said...

This is so odd to me - do men not wear the same suits to dinner and drinks at a bar? Do men expect us to carry a cocktail dress in our handbag to work in the morning, along with a change of accessories and make-up kit? The same dress can be worn many ways.

Also, no industry I've ever worked in frowns on wearing black suits. I'd say that's the winter uniform most places I've worked for men and women (NY, London, Phoenix, etc.)

Anonymous said...

you can wear your work clothes to a bar, but if you see an outfit you think, "wow, that would be hot for going out to a bar" the bottom line is, it's not appropriate for a boardroom. don't get me wrong, you can be the receptionist in a slutty outfit, but if you want to be taken seriously, wear something businesslike in the boardroom. if you want to look hot and sexy at the bar, go home and change