What to Wear with a Black Dress

1What do you wear with a black dress? Reader L has what might seem like a silly question at first…

Hi, I have a silly question, but could you talk about what colors you wear with a black dress? I like saturated bright and jewel-tone colors, and combining them with black feels too stark, so I get a lot more wear out of navy blue, charcoal, and black prints than solid black. But I’m looking to incorporate a more polished, professional style into my work wardrobe, and excluding black limits my options for basic work dresses a lot. I’m always cold in the office so dressing in layers is a must, but the only thing I have that seems appropriate is one gray blazer. What else should I look for to layer over black dresses? I’m a designer in the tech industry, so I have a lot of leeway, style-wise. Thanks for your help!

We’ve talked about what to wear with a gray suit, but we haven’t talked about what to wear with a black dress. I know Sally at Already Pretty had a post a while back on “wearing black with intention,” and Angie at YouLookFab has also tackled the issue. I’m going to be less refined than either of those two fine ladies, though, and say: whatever you want.

Something that I don’t think I’ve disclosed before here on Corporette is that from 2006-2009ish, I had a personal clothes blog. I would say “personal style blog,” but it wasn’t anything as fancy as that — it was mostly just headless shots of myself in clothes that I had bought and was trying to decide whether or not to keep; sometimes outfit pictures. My mom was pretty much the only reader. Anyway, one of the things that I chronicled on that blog one September was this:  I had just finished a big project at work and felt somewhat giddy from the sudden lack of pressure.  To “celebrate,” I decided it would be amusing to wear a different black dress every day that week. So this is what I wore to my BigLaw job for one full week in late September:

1 2 3 4 5

Now, a few caveats — the first picture was taken before I headed out to my brother’s birthday dinner; at work I had just worn the black shirt-dress. It was a little flouncy, looking back, but not quite as fancy as this picture makes it out to be.  The second dress was one that I’d bought at a Brooks Brothers outlet for $9 and had a neckline that was cut way too high to be flattering to my curves, but I thought worked with fine if I used a thin gold Maria Chavez necklace to “lower” my neckline. The third outfit — lightish green jacket (hated the color but loved the cut so I bought it on deep discount) and a darker green necklace that I thrifted at Eastern Market in DC during law school. Thursday I may have gone to an informational interview with an in-house friend; I loved that light blue Ann Taylor blazer and wore it with a tiny sapphire necklace. Friday I actually changed the outfit after the picture, switching to a silver necklace so I could throw on this crazy gray leopard print blazer that I got on deep discount (I think it was $80 down from $500). (Yes, I know now that dress was way too short for work. I also think the dress itself was like $30 from Gap.)

So what are my takeaways here? Even though I say “wear whatever you want” with black, I actually do have some rules:

  • wear black by itself, with no colors (e.g., Monday and the shirtdress and shoes)
  • play with texture if you’re wearing multiple blacks (particularly if they were bought separately), e.g. my Tuesday BB dress with patent leather belt
  • wear black with multiple colors, not just one — playing with tones of the same color is fine (as I did with the Wednesday green blazer/green necklace or the Thursday light blue blazer/dark blue necklace)
  • personally I’m not a fan of wearing white or cream with black — it always feels too waiter-ish to me (but I did wear my pearls with the Monday dress, so hey, rules are meant to be broken)

I think so long as Reader L wears multiple colors with her black dress, it doesn’t matter how saturated or jewel-toney one of the colors is.  Readers, what do you think?  Do you have certain colors that you won’t wear with black?  Do you have any “rules” for styling black dresses for work?

Comments

  1. I have a RED Silk blouse that I love to wear with a black dress. The manageing partner make’s me wear this to court b/c he know’s the judge LOVES my red lipstick, so the red SILK blouse goes with it and it is NOT tite fiting so there is alot for the Judge to keep his eye’s on! Yay! I have 6 cases next Tuesday before the COURT, then the manageing partner and me are goieing down to Baltimore again to see that old crusty jerk who want’s me to write his breif’s for him. I think he is NUTS, but we are makeing alot of money on those cases, so the manageing partner says to be nice b/c we need this jerk to sign the paper’s b/c we are NOT admited in Baltimore. FOOEY!

    Robert said he want’s me to text me a picture of ME so he can hang it in his locker at work. I do NOT want him hangeing any picture of me in the Park’s Department locker room. FOOEY! I dated him twice and already he is hangeing my picture in Central Park? No Way HOZE! That is all I need for Mayer Blumberg to find out my picture is in his locker. DOUBEL FOOEY!

    • Did you misspell so many words on purpose? Were the grammatical errors for effect? Not to mention all the SHOUTING.

      I find it hard to believe you given the way this was written.

      • Anon 2.0 – Just FYI Ellen is our resident troll. S/he posts numerous posts everyday with outlandish spellings and random capitalization. Just ignore him/her/it. And, no, I never even read what is written, much less believe it.

  2. hoola hoopa :

    I posted something similar recently regarding black pants. Based on replied, I realized that I needed black accents in jewelry or scarves. I bought a couple of items and it made all the difference.

    The You Look Fab post linked and the pants-related post Sally linked within that are actually really good illustrations.

    • Agreed that the Already Pretty and You Look Fab posts are tremendously useful. In fact, they’re the reason why I think Kat’s Wed & Thurs looks don’t work for me — there’s nothing to tie the black to the other items, and thus the black does not look intentional. Echoing the color of the blazers in a necklace doesn’t fix the issue, either, because they still don’t do anything to tie to the black.

  3. Call me boring, I usually wear my black cardigan with black dresses.

  4. While I love this blog so much, I have to say that Sally’s post about wearing black with intention is the single greatest piece of fashion advice I have ever read on the internet. It is a must read. Once I read that, I felt like I not only understood how to use black, but how to dress period.

    Also, if you have ever wondered how to pull off black and navy, it is great for that. I wear black shoes with navy suits all the time now using advice from that post.

  5. I’m a little confused…the Friday dress looks like it is almost-to-the knees to me? Maybe it was shorter than it looks in the picture, but I don’t see that dress as being “too short” for work, especially with tights underneath! I think it looks cute.

    I’m a total fan of pairing bright jewel tones with black, either as an accent like jewelry or in a blazer. Or, even a fun-colored belt!

    • TO Lawyer :

      I agree – I don’t think the Friday dress is too short, especially if your office goes more casual on Fridays.

      And I agree, I generally pair bright colours with black, especially jewelry if I can. One of my fav current outfits is a black dress and a black and red striped blazer. I don’t like the look of a bright red blazer with black though – I feel like the colour contrast is a little too jarring.

      • I agree with you on the stripes too! It lets you mix in bold colors without it being totally overwhelming like a solid red blazer.

    • It looks a couple inches above the knee on my computer. I think of black dresses as neutral items that go with everything and agree that wearing more than one color makes them look more chic.

  6. Merabella :

    So last night my husband said that he feels like his casual clothing choices aren’t really pulled together. I think he means that he doesn’t really have a lot of “outfits” or clothes that can easily be pulled together into an outfit without much thought. He’s pretty much set in the formal suit wearing venue, and has plenty of clothes for work (he’s a coach, so spends most of his time in gym gear), but needs some elevated casual wear.

    What are things you think should be in a man’s casual/business casual wardrobe?

    • Anonymous :

      Not sure about business casual but I think most men’s casual wardrobes are well served by a couple pairspair of well fitting dark wash jeans, a few workshirts and collared shirts in several colors, and a fleece for cooler days.

      • I’d add a well fitting blazer that is not part of a suit. In the fall, my DH pairs dark wash jeans, and button down shirts with a curdoroy or wool blazer. Look for one that has a modern cut.

    • Merabella :

      Well to answer my own question, if anyone else has one similar… I did find this in my searches.

      http://www.primermagazine.com/tag/the-getup

      Dude, they do not have blogs on how to dress your husband/SO… This is obviously lacking in the blogosphere if anyone is up for the challenge.

    • Lady Harriet :

      Does he have a pair of shoes that are leather but neither sneakers nor formal dress shoes? I’m thinking something like a pair of dark slip-ons, or even cowboy boots (if that’s his style). Dress shoes aren’t necessarily built for a lot of standing/walking around, but sneakers look odd with an otherwise-nice outfit.

    • Amelia Pond :

      Rory (my SO, not his realy name) had the same issue. There are a few men’s clothing blogs. He found Put This On and Why You Mad?! to help. He leans more preppy so he also likes Unabashedly Prep

    • Amelia Pond :

      Rory (my SO, not his real name) had the same issue. There are a few men’s clothing blogs. He found Put This On and Why You Mad?! to help. He leans more preppy so he also likes Unabashedly Prep

    • Mr. Anon has started using the services of Fourth and Grand — they pair you with a stylist who, after a short interview about what you are looking for, sends a box of things to look through every few weeks. Very reasonable J.Crewish prices. I’ve liked nearly everything she had picked out so far. I’d say Mr. Anon has kept 2 of the 6 or 7 things in each box so far.

    • I often find this magazine ridiculous, but this article and slideshow (photo spread in the print edition) has what I think are some good looks for inspiration and lists of designers/stores:
      http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/men-uniform-0

    • My dh will sometimes say he wishes he had more of a style. His casual clothes are graphic tees & jeans or plaid/cammo shorts. And this has been his style since the 90s. However, he overheats really easy and wants nothing to do with layering, and hates wearing shirts with collars unless he has to for work. His work uniform is khaki pants, a golf shirt, and sometimes the dreaded short sleeve button front shirt. I encourage him to wear dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up, but that’s too fussy & hot for him.

      So, when he laments his lack of style, I pretty much ignore him because he won’t change what he wears anyway. However, I did finally get him to ditch the loose fit jeans for a dark wash straight cut style last year and so that helps.

    • SoCalAtty :

      My husband lives in nice jeans and polos – he really likes the coolmax nike polos, but buys others when they catch his eye.

    • My husband has found a few brands of elevated casual-wear that fit him well (Banana Republic is his current favorite), and he just goes into the store and buys a version whatever’s on the mannequins. The mannequins are nearly always layered, so it gives him better ideas for how to use certain pieces (for example, a BR mannequin recently taught him how to incorporate cardigans into his wardrobe). I think for men (as for women), layering is the key to looking more “finished.”

  7. Veronique :

    My first instinct was to say that I would wear black with anything, but that’s because I don’t really own colors/clothing items that I wouldn’t wear with black. I’m not a huge fan of black with orange or yellow (Halloween and bee connotations) and I wouldn’t wear black with a white button down (waiter). Other than that, I would wear a black dress with anything! I regularly wear a black dress with a jewel toned cardigan or blazer, and think it’s a great way to highlight the color (see today’s TPS report). I may repeat the same color/tone in other elements (shoes, jewelry, etc), but sometimes just like to have one item as a pop of color in an otherwise neutral outfit.

  8. Business, Not Law :

    I like pairing black with cognac colored accessories. Neutral but with a “pop”.

  9. One of my best statement jewelry purchases was a black onyx necklace. I don’t wear a lot of black clothes but having a black necklace that can tie in with any other black in my outfit (shoes, belt, trim on clothes) often helps tie an outfit together.
    I primarily wear black with neutrals and rarely as a the major color in my outfit, it doesn’t suit my coloring very well.

  10. Veronique :

    Random threadjack: the power cord on my Lenovo laptop has stopped working. Something has gone wrong at the place where the power cord connects into the laptop. This is at least the third time that this has happened to me in as many years with the same Lenovo laptop (work laptop, so no charge for replacement). Has anyone else had this issue?

    • big dipper :

      I have had the same issue with a Samsung laptop (which I love to death despite this issue, by the way).

      I asked the guy at the repair shop if I could do anything to avoid it. He gave me two tips:

      (1) When you’re using the laptop, make sure the heavy part of the cord is resting on the same flat surface as the laptop. I’m not sure if that makes sense. But as an example – I’m using my laptop at my desk, and the black box part of the power cord is sitting next to it on the desk. I think if the cord for your laptop is heavy, if the black box part is on the ground, it pulls on the cord which pulls on the connection and loosens it.

      (2) Try to plug the lap top in on the same side the cord plugs in at. This is also hard to explain. My laptop cord plugs into my cord on the left side of my laptop. If I use my laptop in bed (try not to judge me, I’m a student, it’s how I watch Netflix), I have to plug my cord in on the right side. So the cord is going over or around my whole laptop, and plugging in at a weird angle into the connector. Then, if the cord is dangling, it’s placing pressure in weird places on the connector and messing with the joint.

      Sometimes these things are unavoidable, but I try to be mindful of them when I’m using it.

      Hopefully my examples made sense…

    • Meg Murry :

      I had this issue with a Sony laptop years ago. First the charger would wiggle loose so it looked like it was plugged in, but it wasn’t charging. Because of that, the battery life got shorter and shorter, so then it would only work if it was plugged in. Then it would only work if the charger was plugged in and lifted up and twiseted a little bit – so I had to prop things under where the charger connected to the laptop and not move it or it would lose the connection. Then finally one day it just wouldn’t charge no matter what I did. I considered buying a docking station on ebay or somewhere cheap, as the laptop was a few years old by then, but never bothered, just popped out the harddrive and put it in a case to use as a secondary drive for our desktop. It was a known issue for that laptop at that point, but since it was several years old it wasn’t worth the cost of repairing.
      But short answer – could you get a docking station (or 2 – one for work, one for home) to lessen the plugging & unplugging in the power port and movement when plugged in? Not all laptops have them, but they are handy if there is one designed for your machine, and if its 3 years old you could probably pick one up cheap.

    • I’ve had my Lenovo laptop for about 3 years, no problems thusfar. I have a second Lenovo laptop at work, and haven’t had problems with that one either.

    • Veronique :

      Thanks everyone! I do think it’s some combination of user error and laptop error, since this is the first time I’ve had this issue in over a decade of laptops and I don’t think my usage has changed much, if at all.

      Big Dipper, I think that your first suggestion might be part of the issue. I work from home, so I’m usually on the bed or on the couch, with the cord hanging down. I’ll make an special effort to follow your tips, since my cord seems to be working again.

  11. I think black works great with bright colors. Like Veronique I tend to avoid black + bright orange (Halloween) and black + yellow (bumble bee). I also don’t think I’d wear a bright red blazer with a black dress to work – if I were pairing red and black I would probably keep the red more subtle because its so loud. But I think bright purple, blue and green are all great with black. I also wear gray (obviously), cream/off white, pink and more muted shades of purple/blue/green/red. I have mint green and peachy coral sweaters that currently get a lot of rotation with black dresses.

  12. saacnmama :

    How odd that Kat acknowledges that the last dress is too short for work when many of the dresses featured here recently are much shorter than that! She’s confirming my thought that they are too short, but then why are they featured here?

    • Probably because different people are different heights, and therefore the appropriateness of the dress on the model/mannequin (or on Kat) is not determinative of whether or not it would be appropriate on someone else.

      And I write this as someone who is quite tall and can’t buy any of the dresses featured here, but that isn’t because they are “too short”. It is because they are “too short for me”.

      • Anonymous :

        This. Anything that looks almost too short on a model hits me perfectly at the knee (in reg) and like the model in petite. So if the sizes are out, I can order accordingly.

    • Most models are 5’9 and up. Most women are not.

    • I also think short and flared, like that dress is, reads even shorter and more girlish. If the skirt were straighter, I think it would juuuust be OK with black tights, but in that case I would go more covered up top.

  13. SoCalAtty :

    Hi hive, I just wanted to pop in and say thank you for all of the input and hugs on my late MIL drama post last night.

    It was really good to have other angles and perspectives – I think it always is!

    So by way of updates: Husband tells me he spoke with MIL last night and explained that the late night phone calls have to stop, because it is simply not safe for him to go to his job tired and stressed. He also reiterated that all he is doing is trying to help, and if she doesn’t like his help then he would help her find a tax lawyer to finish everything up. Husband has decided to cut off contact with SIL completely for now, because she only ever calls to yell and scream at husband and demand he do things (example, she needed money from MIL, husband asked SIL to make a list so MIL knew what she needed, and SIL demanded husband write down the list for her! That conversation ended with “I’m not your secretary, do it yourself” so that was good at least)

    It sounds like husband took a good stand without hurting feelings (much). My youngest SIL is coming over tomorrow night for a slumber party, I’m sure she’ll have all sorts of interesting things to tell me about what is going on that I don’t know (she and I are really good friends, she was my maid of honor. We just really clicked all those years ago and hang out when we can. She cracks me up because she is so much better about staying out of the drama than husband – she just stops answering her phone! Smart girl.)

    So thank you everyone! Let’s hope this conversation sticks. When husband came home he basically said to me that I’m right about boundaries needing to be set and he just needed a kick to see how serious this was getting.

  14. This is completely off-topic, but what do you all wear on a first date? Most of the first dates I’ve gone on have been after work for drinks, but I have one coming up that’s on a Saturday night.

    • momentsofabsurdity :

      Dark wash skinny jeans, tall boots (or nice flats, or heels, or whatever) and a blousy/chiffon-esque top in a saturated color. I get a lot of date tops from Express. For context, my first dates are usually drinks dates, and I’m a pretty casual person in terms of dress generally.

      • springtime :

        Same look for me too. Delicate jewellery. Hair down. Makeup to make me look bright and fresh but not like I’m trying too hard (eyebright by Benefit is my best friend), pinky lipstain, mascara, blush, powder.

      • first date :

        Do you know where you’re going? Is this date with a man? If it’s dinner at a restaurant, I’d go with a dress. Guys like dresses and heels, and they’ll never fault you for being “overdressed”. I have to disagree on the blousey top, unless you need it to BUILD curves. I feel like blousey tops hide your figure and only work if you’re very thin/narrow on top. I have broad shoulders/chest and look much better in fitted tops.

        • One little comment…so many stereotypes :(

          • first date :

            going with what I think is the safest choice. i’ve never been complimented on a flattering pair of jeans, only on dresses. if it’s not your style, feel free to ignore!

    • TO Lawyer :

      Depends on the venue I think. For me, it also depends on the vibe I want to give off. For a more casual look, I like dark skinnies + heels + a nice top, like momentsofabsurdity suggested. If it’s not a Saturday night, possibly a fun blazer. For a nicer but not fancy look, I’d wear a casual-ish dress or a top with a black bandage skirt which is perhaps my favourite and most comfortable piece of clothing.

  15. Shopping help :

    Vicarious shopping help needed please!

    Any suggestions on a dress (or other outfit) to wear to a baptism in the suburbs during the day, then transition to dinner in the city at night? I’ve never been to a baptism and am at a loss as to what to wear. I’ll be traveling and am trying to avoid having to wear two completely separate outfits on the same day.

    Brick-and-mortar options would be best as the occasion is coming up soon. Thanks in advance for any ideas.

  16. I like wearing black with camel or maroon/burgundy. Agreed that using a print scarf with several colors including black helps tie everything together and looks much more polished. One quirk (one of way too many) of mine is that I don’t like seeing the top of the black dress in the “V” of a colored blazer or cardigan (as in Wed. and Thurs. above) so I will either leave the blazer/sweater open (so that there is a continuous visual column of black), or drape the scarf to fill that whole V neckline and cover the black at the neckline.

  17. ah, thank you so much for answering my question! I think my biggest fear is whether or not outfits will look intentional if I just start putting black into my current mix (it’s been a slow process for me in general to feel good at putting together outfits that look like actual, cohesive outfits and not just “I grabbed what I could find,” since that is in fact how I dressed most of the time all the way up through grad school), so the comments about having accessories with some black and using more than one accent color are so helpful! I don’t have much in the way of black in my scarves or jewelry either, so I guess I have some more accessory shopping to do!

  18. If you love COLOR you will LOVE ADA Collection! They have belts for all sizes, and colorful ones (not to mention the best Argentinian leather out there)! Go to http://www.adacollection.com to view the collection and go to shop to view everything you can buy on-line. I even called once and was able to buy a belt that wasn’t posted to their online store- they were extremely nice. I think their Fuchsia and Aqua are fab! And it would be a nice pop of color under a blazer. You can find their belts at Nordstrom and Bloomingdales as well. They also have colorful jewelry.
    Adding a thin sweater over a dress with a belt over the sweater is also a nice way to style a black dress.
    -Susan

  19. No orange: Halloween.
    No yellow: Bumble bee.
    No white: waiter.
    Other than that, everything goes. I love pink, red, turquoise. I LOVE pearls with black. Avoid gray, beige, brown. I mean, why bother?

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