Reader Request: LBD Alternatives

 little black dress alternatives

Lara popped this one into the suggestion box:

Is there a non-black alternative to the LBD? Black on my upper body depresses me, and I don’t like color blocking either. Then the modesty issue, sleeves and at least below the knee, please. So many beautiful LBD, but not for me. Any suggestions would be most helpful. 

So let’s start with the general: What can you wear if a black sleeveless sheath leaves you feeling cold or looking pallid?

Try navy instead

Navy seems to be a controversial color that many women associate with casual dressing, prepsters, and/or sailboats. And I’ll admit that many navy evening dresses look a bit odd. However, navy has all the darkness of black with none of the cold, lifelessness. Navy pairs beautifully with loads of colors – as this post on complementing navy proved – and if you pick a simple navy dress with minimal detailing, you can load on the fun and funky accessories to complete your look. I suppose this might not fly at actual black tie, but anything less dressy than the dressiest should be just fine.

Add color through layers

If you’ve already GOT a black sleeveless sheath that fits and flatters you overall, you can kill two birds with one stone by layering. The complexion-draining properties of black can be mitigated by a cardigan, scarf, or necklace in a more flattering color. Put something non-black between your face and the dress, or up near your face. And since most LBDs are sleeveless, doing a wrap, bolero, or blazer helps in the modesty and temperature regulation departments. If you’re looking for something truly dressy, eDressMe has wraps, shrugs, and jackets appropriate for evening.

Try a pattern

There’s no denying that black feels dressy, but solid black isn’t required. Consider a print or pattern that includes lots of black, but incorporates other colors, too. Texture is also a great option – lace, sequins, and other embellishments can help black or black-and-other-colored dresses feel livelier.

Throw caution to the wind

I don’t own an LBD myself. I do love black, especially for winter, but if I’m going to a fancy dress party or formal affair I am far more likely to reach for bright red or regal purple. So Rachel Zoe thinks you need a classic Little Black Dress to be a complete human being. SO WHAT?!? If you like turquoise, get thee a Little Turquoise Dress. You look good, you feel good, and nobody comes up to you, drink in hand, and says, “Why on earth aren’t you wearing black, darling?”

In terms of where to find an elegant dress with sleeves and a below-the-knee hem … er, that’s a toughie. But here are a few places to check:

  • Talbots – Their new Aisle Style line is aimed at weddings, but the garments are appropriate to most dressy affairs.
  • Boden – This British retailer organizes its dresses by length, and always includes “below-the-knee.” Weirdly, this is one of the only current options. But check back!
  • Macy’s – Search by sleeve length and narrow from there! Here are 3/4 sleeve dresses, and long-sleeved options. (Those links are being finicky. If they don’t work, scroll down and look for “Sleeve Length” in the left rail.
  • eDressMe – Again, a massive resource for all things formal. Most options are either knee-length or floor length, but there are some midi options mixed in.

Do you own an LBD? Is yours a traditional sleeveless version, or some alternative? Would you do a navy frock instead? Or a bright color? Does layering help make black less harsh against your skin? Where else would you recommend shopping for a modest LBD alternative?

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

  • tina

    I bought a Donna Karan LBD fifteen years ago when I was a struggling waitress. I paid over $300 for this dress and STILL have it today and still get compliments on it. It is timeless. I also bought a navy dress (also Donna Karan–she was hot in the 90s!) that I could still wear (gotta lose a few pesky pounds). I dress them up with all kinds of accessories and they still look great and current.

  • Emily I.

    I recently went to my husband’s high school reunion and wore a dress that was bright blue. My skin is pale, my hair light blonde and black does me no favors, so complimenting my coloring is a priority. Since most of the other women were wearing black, (with a few in red) my outfit really stood out and I am certainly easy to spot in the photos.

  • Eleanorjane

    Nope, no LBD ever! I love dressing up for events and the thought of wearing the same thing all the time (and the same thing as everyone else) is miserable to me.

    I get around the cost factor by shopping on sale. I have reworn all my formal dresses with different accessories and to different events. There’s no reason why a cobalt blue or purple or red dress can’t be just as flexible as a black one.

    PS – there’s navy and navy. Midnight blue looks beautiful on lots of skin colours and can be as dressy as all get out. Dressier fabrics in navy are good i.e. velvet, chiffon or satin are much better than a more work appropriate matte crepe fabric.

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    I’m a big believer in the LBD too. I have one from Banana Republic in a smooth knit, that’s over three years old and going strong. I also like navy and dark gray as alternatives.

  • Anonymous

    I do actually own a number of LBD’s. They run the gamut from silk jersey to tee-shirt knit. Oddly enough I really don’t wear them very often. I do own two navy knit dresses and have worn them a ton! Some how the navy just seems lighter and easier. I actually keep a nice LBD on hand as kind of a fallback option but it is not my go to outfit for dressy events. Like another reader, I have really used separates to maximize my formal wardrobe. This allows you to rotate things in and out without feeling like you’re investing a fortune every holiday season. I like to wear black on the bottom, brights on top and than really have fun with shoes and accessories. For years I kept to a palette of browns and golds and creams and I really liked that. You don’t see yourself coming and going or feel like you are going to drown in sea of black.

  • Anonymous

    I like black. Navy’s nice too, buy you can’t beat a sleeveless little black dress. Gray is also good, or a dark, muted colour like aubergine. Anything bright or colourful sort of takes away the effect. Not that you can’t wear colour, but if you do, the effect is totally different — it no longer has the chic sophistication of a little black dress.

    Having said that, I almost never wear mine. I think the last time I wore it was to a wedding four years ago, even though it still fits fine. I almost always wear a sleek, sleeveless, dressy black top and pencil skirt (usually gray, but sometimes a muted colour or black with print — I have this awesome one with huge ampersands printed all over it) instead, or else skinny jeans in a very dark classic wash (if it’s a slightly more casual setting), and then put on some statement shoes. Red high heels are my favourite.

  • Aziraphale

    I like black. Navy’s nice too, buy you can’t beat a sleeveless little black dress. Gray is also good, or a dark, muted colour like aubergine. Anything bright or colourful sort of takes away the effect. Not that you can’t wear colour, but if you do, the effect is totally different — it no longer has the chic sophistication of a little black dress.

    Having said that, I almost never wear mine. I think the last time I wore it was to a wedding four years ago, even though it still fits fine. I almost always wear a sleek, sleeveless, dressy black top and pencil skirt (usually gray, but sometimes a muted colour or black with print — I have this awesome one with huge ampersands printed all over it) instead, or else skinny jeans in a very dark classic wash (if it’s a slightly more casual setting), and then put on some statement shoes. Red high heels are my favourite.

  • LinB

    Every couple of years or so, the Fashion Dictators put out a notice something like “Pink is the new Black!” “Brown is the new Black!” “Orange is the new Pink!” I think that the LBD dress is here to stay — it’s been a fashion staple since Lillie Langtry, in the 1870s. It would take a famous beauty, indeed, to knock the LBD off its pedestal.

  • Lara

    Sal, thank you very much for the help!

    I’ve been leaning toward inky, darker navy, and the darker plum/aubergine colors I’ve been seeing. It’s a relief to know that what felt like a private rebellion of one, is not so private after all! Black is obviously a time tested, elegant classic, just on other people! :-) I’m happier in color.

  • http://badgerbadgerbadger.com Sarah

    Where’s the navy dress in the picture from? I love it!

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Oh, it’s from an older post and sadly now sold out! Here’s the link in case you wanna track it down on eBay: http://rstyle.me/n/guthdm7e

  • Stephanie

    I have a classic sleeveless LBD. I got it last year, during my first year of grad school. It’s not made out of the dressiest fabric (that kind of loose stretchy unwrinkleable poly) but I can dress it up or down as need be. It’s great to teach in with a cardigan and boots and tights. On the other end of the spectrum, I wore it to a wedding last weekend with pearls and wedges. (If I need something really fancy, I can bust out one of my old dresses from sorority formals and sausage myself into it.) I only really wear it from October-April, though. I have a navy jersey dress that I wear the crap out of in the summer!

  • Anamarie

    I am actually facing the LBD issue right now – I have a cute sleeveless fit and flare dress I’m planning to wear for my husband’s holiday party with a rhinestone collar necklace and leopard pumps – but I need a shrug or “fancy” 3/4 sleeve or s/s cardigan and I am striking out all over the internet. I usually wear the dress to work with a cardigan, but all my cardigans read “work” not “party.” I usually dress with a lot of color in my daily outfits, so to me, LBD for a holiday party with cute accessories is the way to go. I’m in Minneapolis, and I really don’t want to be sleeveless in mid-December! I also don’t want to spend more than $100 on something I probably won’t wear much. ugh

    • Heidi L.

      Dang,didn’t reply to your comment,but left my own below that might be relevant.

    • T.

      I was in the same boat. You could buy a pashmina from here http://www.thepashminastore.com I am not affiliated with them, but am a happy customer. I like their silk/pasmina wrap for dressy occasions, and they are all priced at $50. You could also check Boden for dressy cropped cardigans, although they are probably all sold out by now.

  • Dee

    I think LBDs are great but if you don’t look your best in black I agee that going for another color is good. Often times I see women wearing black dresses (especially women guests on talk shows), and I think they you would look better/prettier in a nice teal or plum colored dress or some other color, becasue of their coloring. Very pale blonds and red heads especially. I am struggling now to find a nice outfit for a fancy wedding around the holidays. I can wear black but found a pretty plum colored dressy dress (sequins/chiffon) at Nordstroms, on sale to boot! Will probably wear that. I msyself would not go for a fancy navy dress becasue then you have to get shoes — I am pretty sure I would want fancy NAVY shoes, and dark hose to keep the look streamlined.

  • http://viktoriasbookshelf.blogspot.com Viktoria

    Wine is a good substitute for black, and unusually available at the moment.

  • Devon

    Where is that necklace from? So pretty!

  • Hannah

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always heard that the idea behind the LBD is to be a versatile, go-to part of your wardrobe, something that works in a variety of situations and through most of the year, that you make an investment on so that you don’t have to have to buy a new dress for each occasion. Since I feel more comfortable in bright colors, the most versatile dress is something jewel-toned, sleeveless and knee-length, because I know that will allow me to feel comfortable in many situations. I have a couple of dresses like this in my closet, and they also look good with my sweaters and scarves so I can layer them in case it’s cold. While I do have a wintery LBD, it makes more sense for me to buy colorful dresses because I get more joy out of wearing them.

    Just my two cents!

    • http://www.closet-coach.com Heidi

      Hannah, you’re spot on. That’s absolutely the goal of the LBD, but it could just as easily be a Little Red Dress or a Little Green Dress or a Little Navy Dress, depending on your own style, coloring and wardrobe palette. I have an adorable little book written in the ’60s by the director of a fashion house and she often advocated white as an alternative to black as well.

  • Relynn

    I have a LOD – A Little Orange Dress. lol It’s a great sheath that fits me nearly perfectly, which was a shock since it’s ready-to-wear. I got it at Target a couple springs ago and it has cap sleeves, a self-fabric belt, invisible zip in the back, and it’s the perfect length for me. It was on clearance when I bought it for all of $20. It’s fully lined, too. Actually a fairly good quality garment for the retailer/price point. I was thoroughly impressed. It’s seen many a wear for special occasions and dates. It’s a great color for my hair/complexion/eyes, too. It’s like a mix between coral and pumpkin. Not a harsh color at all.

  • Heidi L.

    Anamarie,
    You could look for a cute vintage beaded sweater on Etsy or Ebay.You might even get lucky and find a cashmere one.They are often available for less than fifty bucks,depending on condition and if they’re lined in the body or not.

    Heidi L.

  • Kirsten

    Don’t wear black either, but love my Little dark Grey Dress! With a colorful, classy necklace, it’s quite chic. Still haven’t found a dressy shrug though.

  • Thursday

    I own a couple black dresses, but they’d get worn the least of all my dresses – I much prefer colour and pattern! Dresses in my favourite colours (red, blue, green) can be dressed up or down just as easily with accessories, jackets, shoes, etc. I can’t imagine going to a party or event wearing a black dress anymore.

  • http://www.meganmaedaily.com/ Megan Mae

    I have one single black dress. It was gifted to me. I’ve only worn it a few times though I love it to pieces. It’s just very formal for my life. I’ve worn it to a funeral, and twice to class, dressed down as much as possible. I may wear it out to the Art Crawl one month. I just don’t wear black much. I’d much rather wear grey or bitter brown or olive. Something dark, but more subtle than matte black.

  • shebolt

    I shy away from the LBD. First, black is a bit too severe for my pale, freckled complexion. Second, I’ve been to events where I stand out (in a good way) because I’m the only woman in color in a sea of LBDs.

    My current LBD is a fantastic emerald green.

  • Ellen Schaad

    I have a brown satin for weddings and a midnight blue for all the rest. Navy blue is my base color instead of black as well.

  • A.

    i’m not big on navy, but i actually just bought myself a beautiful navy dress over the weekend to wear to a wedding next month. it’s the only fancy-ish dress i own right now, so i foresee it being worn a lot to weddings and fancier parties for the next few years (as long as i can still fit into it). i was instantly comfortable in it, no matter the color not being my top choice. i don’t know that i own a black dress that i would consider an LBD, but i *do* have a purple and black patterned dress from express that i thrifted a few years ago and has become the epitome of an LBD. i’ve worn it at least three times this year, and i’m not a big dress wearer.

  • GoddessMel

    My LBD is an ‘Audrey’ style full skirted number that gets worn mostly for work but is also appropriate for dressing up when I can’t think what else to wear. I can wear a button down shirt or T under neath, a T over the top, or add a cardigan, blazer, or denim or leather jacket. I’ve worn it with heels, flats and Cons. Always appropriate and always chic.

    I also have a lovely navy number that’s not quite as versatile (it has 3/4 sleeves) but can be dressed up or down, and be worn for work and partying.

    But when I have a fancy event or want my inner bombshell to shine, it’s my white Bettie Page or jewel green Pin Up Couture dresses that get trotted out. They fit like a glove and stand out from the crowd.