The Little Black Dress

I’ve been cleaning out closets, which has resulted in a mountain of Stuff To Get Rid Of in our guest room (I met my housekeeper at the door last week and said, “TAKE IT ALL!”). When I cleaned out the guest room closet, I found a beautiful silk Ann Taylor suit that I had totally forgotten I owned.

I haven’t worn it in, oh, five years, mostly because it’s too big. I pulled it out and initially put it in the giveaway pile, but then I took my also-too-big black cocktail dress to the tailor and as he was pinning the sides and I was starting to see how lovely that dress will be once it’s altered, I started to think about the suit and about how for all this time I’ve had these two perfectly beautiful and classic and FUNCTIONAL dresses in my closet and I haven’t worn them because I just couldn’t get it together to have them tailored.

And that made me think about the trap we fall into when we have children, of feeling like we don’t really need anything nice, because in the end, it’s just going to wind up smeared with peanut butter (or blood!). And eventually, I think, we start to feel less like we don’t NEED nice things and more like we don’t DESERVE them. And that, my friends, is the slippery slope that ends in a closet of $4.00 grey polyester sweatpants from WalMart. You know the ones, with the elastic at the ankles? Those.

Then, once you’ve amassed the All Sweatpants Wardrobe, you will MOST CERTAINLY be invited to something where you really should NOT wear your sweatpants, and you will panic, because OH MY GOD you have to buy something to WEAR which means you have to find time RIGHT NOW to try on 400 dresses and of COURSE when you find one that (mostly) fits and that you (sort of) like it will cost a MINT and then on top of THAT you will have to pay the SITTER and suddenly your husband’s office Christmas party is costing you a whole week’s pay which makes you think that maybe you don’t really need to go anyway because what would you even talk to these people about in the first place. Because really, you’re just a mom!

Or something like that.

What I’m saying is this: answering to “Mommy” doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to wear clothes that are not playgroup appropriate and talk to other adults about something other than poop every once in a while. But wearing only sweatpants can make us feel that way.

silk faille dress
dress by J. Crew

Every adult woman should have in her wardrobe at least one really lovely dress, something that you can wear to a variety of non-kid-related functions. Chose a classic shape, like a sheath or simple halter; go with a solid, not a print. A dress that falls to the knee can be worn with heels AND flats; something sleeveless can be covered up with a jacket or sweater or shawl. A scoop or V neck will show off a beautiful necklace (or your beautiful cleavage, although you should be restrained if this is going to be your Go To dress–you might not want to show The Girls off at a funeral, for example). A boat neck offers more coverage but is still flattering and sexy. A wrap dress is fantastic for curvy girls (oh how I envy you curvy girls). A slip dress is another great option (and again, one that I cannot pull off). J. Crew has a Little Black Dress shop, which is a good place to look for inspiration; they offer a range of styles, and even some really functional prints. Browse, and see what you like.

Ideally, you need two good dresses, a Little Black Dress and a second dress, or dressy suit, in an interesting color. The black dress is good for evenings (with heels and a sleek clutch bag) and day (with flats or boots and a jacket). Depending on the fabric and the cut, you may be able to dress your black dress up and down through most of the year. Mine is a three-season wool blend, which makes it fairly versatile, and it has some beading and embroidery at the hem.

The second dress should be something in a beautiful color, to cover afternoon weddings and christenings and Sunday brunch–functions where the little black dress is perhaps not entirely appropriate. Again, go for something classic; you don’t want to wear the dress once and have it go out of style. Choose a flattering color, but steer clear of white (bad for weddings) and Easter egg pastels (best for small children). Embellishment is nice, but I would err on the side of simplicity; too much embellishment and you look like a bridesmaid. DO NOT wear white shoes with this dress, and think twice about black shoes. Again, J. Crew has a nice selection of pretty dresses in color, just for inspiration.

I know you’re thinking oh, right, a dress is EXACTLY what I need in my closet, to wear to Gymboree or in the carpool line. But I’m entirely serious, both about the practical value of the Really Good Dress (eventually, someone you know will get married or have a baby or die or throw a party–it’s the Circle of Life) and about this whole idea that we somehow don’t deserve to have nice things. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a great dress; I got my black dress at an end-of-season sale for under $50.00, and the very pretty Mir is a successful patron of consignment shops. Keep in mind that you can always have things altered, too, for that really perfect fit.

A really terrific dress can work for a variety of functions; for parties and lunch dates and for dinner out with your husband. I’m having the jacket on my blue silk suit altered, and I am totally planning to wear it with jeans and a white tee, because WHY NOT? A dress is elegant and easy and VERY chic this fall.

In the end, the important part is this: you absolutely don’t have to stop being beautiful–or sexy, or sophisticated–just because you are a mommy. And this way, when your husband comes home on Thursday and says, “Oh by the way, the office Christmas party is Saturday night,” all you have to scramble for is the sitter.

I can’t help you with that. Sorry.

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