Dress You Up #7: An all-black wardrobe for El


The other day, I received the following email from my friend El:


I'm hopefully about to get a management job where I will unfortunately only be able to wear black. Would you like a challenge for your dress me up?...I have nothing black in my wardrobe, it washes me out. Makeup suggestions might even be helpful so I don't look like a zombie.

An all-black work wardrobe? That's harsh! Still, as far as uniforms go, I think I like this idea better than one involving a pleated skirt or a polo shirt, so let's see what we can do for El.

My first suggestion for El is to invest in a few black dresses. Why dresses? For one thing, they are the easiest business casual appropriate wear there is, not requiring you to match or put things together. More importantly for this case, though, they'll fade consistently. The biggest issue, to my mind, in wearing black tops and black bottoms together is uneven fading (or even uneven original dyeing with new pieces), which leaves one piece looking worn. With dresses, you don't have that issue.

I've picked five dresses to suggest for El. These dresses all have a similar, flattering basic shape. I think cotton jersey or ponte would make great choices, since she'll be able to launder those herself, and I'd go with at least one long sleeved and one short-sleeved option.

Oasis scoop neck dress
60 GBP - johnlewis.com

Oasis short sleeve shirt dress
50 GBP - debenhams.com

Eyelet dress
$45 - delias.com

Dresses ruched dress
$43 - modcloth.com

Old navy dress
$27 - oldnavy.gap.com

Much as I love dresses, there are some days when you just want to wear pants. My suggestion is that El get 2-3 pair. I'd go with one straighter leg, one wider leg, and possibly a cropped pair if that's within dress code. If possible, she should go for synthetic, since it won't fade as quickly.

White House Black Market wide leg pants
$50 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

Calvin Klein flat front pants
$30 - calvinklein.com

White House Black Market capri pants
$40 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

For skirts, I have much the same advice as dresses--I think El should go with hemlines around the knee for maximum versatility. She'll probably one want more fitted skirt and one fuller one, and she might consider some detailing for visual interest, like the seaming on the top left skirt and the buttons and slit on the bottom right one.

White House Black Market knee length black skirt
$40 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

White House Black Market knee length black skirt
$50 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

Jones New York black skirt
$79 - zappos.com

White House Black Market black skirt
$20 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

Pure Simple black skirt
$45 - zappos.com

On top, my main advice for El is to find as many shapes as possible and to look for interesting details around the necklines whenever she can. If possible, she should steer clear of jersey and other fast-fading fabrics. She should also try to get a mix of sleeveless (to be worn with cardigans and/or jackets), short, and long-sleeved options.

J Crew long sleeve top
$30 - jcrew.com

Calvin Klein cap sleeve shrug
$25 - calvinklein.com

Kaliko sleeveless blouse
30 GBP - debenhams.com

Principles by Ben de Lisi black top
30 GBP - debenhams.com

Rocha John Rocha black blouse
13 GBP - debenhams.com

Old Navy ruffle tank
$23 - oldnavy.gap.com

Old Navy short sleeve top
$18 - oldnavy.gap.com

Shoulder top
16 GBP - debenhams.com

Dorothy Perkins black top
14 GBP - dorothyperkins.com

Dorothy Perkins black top
14 GBP - dorothyperkins.com

Black top
9.80 GBP - debenhams.com

For a lot of her outfits, El is going to want a jacket or cardigan as a top layer. Like other tops, my suggestion for these is that she get the widest variety of shapes possible. I'd try for one fitted cardigan, one fitted jacket, and one drapey cardigan, at the very least. A cropped cardi/shrug and a boyfriend style cardi would also be good choices.

Splendid cardigan
38 EUR - my-wardrobe.com

Windsmoor shrug cardigan
59 GBP - houseoffraser.co.uk

John Lewis black v neck cardigan
56 GBP - johnlewis.com

Old navy cardigan
$25 - oldnavy.gap.com

Drape cardigan
23 GBP - debenhams.com

Windsmoor black jacket
49 GBP - johnlewis.com

Black cotton jacket
35 GBP - debenhams.com

Black jacket
25 GBP - debenhams.com

Shoes are the single most important thing El is going to need to buy. She's going to be on her feet all day, so comfort is absolutely a must. Beyond that, though, with the limited clothing options available, her shoes are going to be more noticeable than they would be if they had a really interesting color or pattern to compete with. My suggestion is that she focus the majority of her budget on shoes and concentrate on what will be most comfortable. I'd look for supportive flats and wedges.

Sofft maryjane pumps
$55 - nordstrom.com

TopShop loafer shoes
$100 - topshop.com

Wedge heel shoes
$98 - bananarepublic.gap.com

Ego and Greed leather shoes
$26 - oaknyc.com

Franco sarto sandal
$79 - piperlime.gap.com

Jessica Simpson flat shoes
$59 - zappos.com

Me Too flat shoes
$53 - endless.com

Luckily, non-black jewelry is allowed at El's new job. I say run with that! The all-black palette will make jewelry really stand out, and necklaces, especially, can add color near El's face, which will be good if she's worried about being washed out. As far as jewelry is concerned, there's really no wrong here--El could do pretty much anything she likes. The following are just some ideas, using the clothes I've suggested above.

Dresses draped dress
$43 - modcloth.com

Windsmoor shrug top
59 GBP - houseoffraser.co.uk

Me Too flat shoes
$53 - endless.com

White House Black Market metal jewelry
$35 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

Coral jewelry
18 GBP - zoojewellery.com

White House Black Market wide leg pants
$50 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

Dorothy perkin
14 GBP - dorothyperkins.com

Wedge heels
$98 - bananarepublic.gap.com

Juicy Couture post earring
$42 - zappos.com

Forever21 filigree bracelet
$7.80 - forever21.com

John Lewis black v neck cardigan
56 GBP - johnlewis.com

White House Black Market pencil skirt
$20 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

Sofft shoes
$55 - nordstrom.com

Nine West feather earring
$24 - ninewest.com

Turquoise ring
$9.50 - delias.com

Kaliko black top
30 GBP - debenhams.com

Sateen jacket
35 GBP - debenhams.com

White House Black Market full pleated skirt
$40 - whitehouseblackmarket.com

Jessica Simpson black shoes
$59 - zappos.com

Vintage looking jewelry
$30 - unique-vintage.com

TopShop stretch jewelry
$28 - topshop.com

Eyelet dress
$45 - delias.com

Black cardigan
23 GBP - debenhams.com

Franco Sarto black wedge
$79 - piperlime.gap.com

TopShop enamel ring
$20 - topshop.com

Charm gold pendant
$17 - ladiesemporium.com

Good luck with the new job, El!


I love it!! El, you look great.

I want those Michael Kors ballet flats SO badly.

I think those are all really good idea. I also agree with you that if non-black jewelry is allowed that is the way to add color back into the wardrobe. It's also the perfect palette I think for adding in funky/chunkier jewelry than you would normally wear.

This is great! If I were El, I might invest in very few black pieces (2-3 dresses, 4 tops, 2 pants and a great skirt) and go nuts with accessories.
Also? I am surprised at the lack of scarf usage.
Another WINOW win!

Great pics, Grace!
When I used to wear all black for restaurant work, I often dyed my pieces to make them last longer and continue to match. A $2 pack of Rit dye will extend lots of pieces.

Wow, so many great options! I'm especially drawn to that short-sleeved shirt dress.

Great selection and I love the jewelry selection. If I could share one thing, though, at the thrift stores in LA (I assume every other city as well) the black clothing sections are always the largest in volume. The dresses are often designer, mostly a conservative cocktail length, and they are only $8.99. Hope E. will give the thrift store a chance. Four dresses to one dress at retail. Can't beat that. Dress you up is my favorite blog series.

Wow, Grace, I am just catching up on blogs. I love what you've got for me here!!!

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