Monday, 29 January 2018
The Dressing Well Blog
Elizabeth Fragala

500 Black Dresses: A Lesson in Individual Style

By Dressing Well Stylist Elizabeth Fragala

Usually when I snuggle up on a wintery January night to watch the Golden Globes, I expect plunging necklines, colorful dresses, sky-high heels and jewels galore. But this year when it was announced that presenters and guests would all be wearing all black, I braced myself. Not against the cold, but rather in anticipation of a dark night of stunning actresses lost in a sea of midnight, ebony, and ink.

To my delight, what I noticed instead was an attention to detail, texture, and silhouette that was not only thrilling, but an illustration of the fashion wisdom that we share in our one-to-one consults with clients. Rather than feeling confined, the fashion choices proved that a head to toe black look can be as memorable as a rainbow of gowns, and the evening turned into a tutorial for how to rock the monochromatic look.

Here are four observations. Hope a few resonate with you!

#1 Pop with the Rule of 3
When wearing all black, we often encourage our clients to add a pop of color and wear it in three places. Mandy Moore illustrates beautifully how this is done. Moore’s high neck halter in front created a deep, rounded back that cascaded into a luxurious train. Thoughtful touches - a crimson band that accented her waist, red-orange lipstick and shoulder grazing red crystal drops in crimson - created a timeless portrait fit for a museum wall. Her look was a strong take on the classic princess gown that oozes confidence, strength and style. 

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#2. Sparkle and Shine with Texture
Black does not equal boring! Sequins, lace and velvet all add depth to a color that may or may not bring out the best in your skin tone. Helen Mirren illustrates this with two fabrics: her silver metallic neckline softens and draws attention to her face while sheer lace breaks up the solid black that would be harsh against her English rose skin and platinum hair. Men are generally more restricted in their black tie options, and velvet is an easy way to add sophistication to a classic tuxedo. Sterling K. Brown’s velvet tux was a rich touch and the contrast with the sheen of the silk lapel added depth.
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#3 Fit your Figure
Octavia Spencer shone in her black sequin tea length dress, combining texture with perfect fit. The all-over sequin fabric moved with the light and the full skirt accentuated her curves. Flounced sleeves added a feminine feel and the unexpected mid-calf length showed off her shapely legs.

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#4 Add a Touch of Flair
Tracee Ellis Ross stood out in a matte black sheath and turban. Manipulating the taffeta to form such a beautifully shaped head wrap is not simple, and I applaud her for her look and taking the time to get it right. The crisp taffeta folds accented her angular features and the height of the head wrap added even more length to her lean figure and created a majestic feel. In her top hat and tulle, writer/director and co-creator of the award-winning show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amy Sherman-Palladino added more than a touch of drama to the evening’s outfits. There’s no need to go so as far as a feathered hat, but don’t be afraid to add personality to your look with a signature piece.

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Last Word
The next time you step out for the evening in your black dress (or pants!), take a cue from an evening with the stars and consider the many options available in textures, detail and silhouette. You’ll stand out in all the right ways!

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Elizabeth Fragala

Elizabeth Fragala joined the Dressing Well team as a stylist in 2004 after living abroad in such fashion-rich cities as London and Tokyo. Following in the steps of her two grandmothers (and a grandfather!), Elizabeth learned to sew as a child. She honed her fashion sense while working at the renowned Issey Miyake boutique and Liberty of London. Elizabeth gained an insider’s knowledge of the industry as an assistant designer at the womenswear manufacturer, Briggs NY.

Learn more about Elizabeth »

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Pat 2018-01-30 10:50

Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your eye for incredible detail. Black may not be everyone’s color of choice but applying principals of design, as you’ve described, works for everyone, every color.

This was so helpful to me...I intend to take a closer look at my wardrobe and make sure texture and shine is in there somewhere.

Thanks again, and I hope we hear from you again soon.

Elizabeth Fragala 2018-01-30 12:13

Thank you so much for your comment, Pat! I am so glad you are inspired to find a way to wear black that is unique and flattering to you. Your own closet is a great place to start. Let us know what you discover!

Deborah E. 2018-01-30 13:07

Thank you for the pointers. Excellent article. I may revisit photos of the gowns now. I thought the usual camera shots of the entire gown wasn’t as focused this year as they were walking in. You have renewed my interest.

Elizabeth Fragala 2018-01-30 17:07

So glad you liked the photos, Deborah! Seeing the entire look is crucial, especially as the stars pay attention to every detail from head to toe. And they really got it right this year.

Pamela 2018-01-30 13:11

Great blog on black! Although extremely fair complected, I have always worn black with confidence. Yes, a "pop" or two, or three of color always adds excitement! Black remains the ultimate standard for chic! And isn't it wonderful that black is now mainstream for female wedding guests, and even their bridesmaids! (I'm old enough to remember the days when women would never wear black to weddings!)

Elizabeth Fragala 2018-01-30 17:12

I agree with you on the beauty of black chic on its own or with color, Pamela. As you point out, the ease and versatility of a black dress or pants is a wonderful go-to for every woman for casual and formal wear. And yes, it wasn't so long ago that black at certain occasions or seasons was frowned up. So glad that has changed!

Joanne 2018-01-30 18:06

Great blog piece and pics, Elizabeth! Your writing style is very smooth, descriptive and made me want to go buy lots of black clothing! I actually DO wear a lot of black, but will pay more attention to the ‘pop of color’ and texture suggestions. So proud of my former first grader! :)

Elizabeth Fragala 2018-01-30 20:06

So many women, such as yourself, shine in black, but long for a bit more color on a night out. A 'pop' of color is the perfect way to brighten a classic look. So glad you enjoyed the blog post and took away a bit of inspiration!

Wendy 2018-01-31 13:46

While I always look forward to reading the Dressing Well blog each month, I was highly impressed with how fresh and inventive your breakdown was on how to play up the elegance of the black dress. Kudos!
Wendy Austin

Elizabeth Fragala 2018-01-31 19:52

Thank you for taking the time to comment, Wendy, and for being a loyal reader! There's so much to learn from the glamour and style of Hollywood. I'll keep an eye out for more lessons from the red carpet.

Laurie Harden 2018-02-02 19:39

What an insightful and well-written article! I learned new tips on how to make an all black look really stand out! I loved reading this. Thank you!!

Elizabeth Fragala 2018-02-12 18:52

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Laurie, and that you took away tips for your own wardrobe. I a sure you will look as stunning in your outfit in black as the ladies on the red carpet!

Christina B. 2018-02-11 16:19

Hi Elizabeth,

Your post about 500 black dresses reminded me of the section in Ready-to-Wear where Mary Lou Andre talks about how it's justified to own 14 pairs of black pants.

My closet has gotten into a state of pants-demonium itself as I really don't like to wear jeans. I recently ordered a new pair of black jeans - Wit & Wisdom from Nordstrom with a built-in slimming panel.

I really think you can't go wrong with black pants and dresses and pantsuits. Especially if you don't like to wear jeans and khakis and chinos aren't your thing either.

Years later I find myself wanting to dress in head-to-toe black all over again.

Chris B.

Elizabeth Fragala 2018-02-12 18:55

You really can't go wrong with black pants or all black for an evening out, as you well know, Christina! Sometimes too many pairs of black pants can get confusing in your closet, so I suggest putting them together with the top and hanging as an outfit, as the best way to avoid "pants-demonium."


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