The five new rules of wearing an LBD at any age
How often has a little black dress come to your rescue? I can’t be alone in regularly standing in front of my wardrobe at about 7pm on a Friday night, make-up and perfume on, while dithering about what to wear.
Red can feel too much, leopard print doesn’t always go with a new winter coat or a pair of heels, and however stylish this season’s suits are, sometimes you just want to wear a dress. That’s when most women reach for an LBD – one that is as flattering as it is easy to wear, that works as well with heels at an ultra-dressy dinner as it does with flats for a fun night out with friends.
The black dress is the ultimate party piece, so it is no surprise that searches for them have risen by a whopping 3,614 per cent in the past month, according to Media Vision. The season of going out-out is upon us, and Adele, Holly Willoughby, Taylor Swift – and Princess Diana via Elizabeth Debicki in The Crown – have provided timeless (and ageless) inspiration for what to wear.
Coco Chanel has been credited with making the colour black, previously worn only when in mourning, fashionable – and some of the styles available this season look remarkably similar to those early slim-fitting dresses she released, only with a fun modern twist.
This means opting for an LBD in a rich velvet texture, or one with sequins or a statement sleeve – and, crucially, getting ready so quickly that your partner won’t have to spend 20 minutes loudly sighing while you decide what to wear...
Go off shoulder
Shoulder-baring dresses are one of the most timeless styles around. Unlike other parts of the body, shoulders don’t visibly age much, nor are they as susceptible to winter weight gain or the flaking our legs can suffer from after months indoors. Instead, an off-the-shoulder dress is the best way to show some skin in a flattering, age-proof way, as illustrated by Adele’s head-turning number.
Worn to her recent TV special, it was designed by Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquière, and nodded to old Hollywood with ruching at the chest, short sleeves and hundreds of silver crystals.
Midi dress, £320, Self Portrait
Beautiful as it is, a style like this is probably too dressy for those of us who aren’t performing to a room of A-listers, which is why Holly Willoughby has once again provided a masterclass on festive dressing. Nailing LBD (this time Long Black Dress) style in a piece by Australian ready-to-wear brand Rachel Gilbert, she has opted for a nipped-in waist, a hint of cleavage and thick straps across the upper arms – a design that would look as good on a woman of 60 as it would on someone of 30.
Tip the velvet
Velvet is as Christmassy as mince pies and mulled wine, and Karen Elson’s short, tight, long-sleeved black Valentino dress would be a very welcome addition to any festive party – silver snake included. The material is a winter winner, mostly because it achieves the holy grail of being warm and feeling comfortable, while looking glamorous enough to wear to the most dressed-up of events.
Better deployed for short dresses than longer styles (when it can look a bit Fergie circa 1988) it is particularly good for any festive season dates, due to its unbeatable tactile appeal.
Add a sequin
If there was ever a dress to say this December is going to look very different to last year’s locked-down, party-free month, then surely it is this long black dress with rainbow sequins, worn by Gwyneth Paltrow to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
In thin jersey material with colourful sequins on the skirt, it couldn’t be more cheerful. When in doubt, look for styles with sequin embellishments on one part of the dress rather than all over it if it’s long and – like Paltrow has here – keep hair and make-up simple, and jewellery to a minimum.
The LBD that Diana, Princess of Wales wore to an event at the Serpentine Gallery in 1994 is one of the most famous dresses in history. Nearly 30 years on from her headline-grabbing appearance, the “revenge dress” – aka a Christina Stambolian number worn the night a controversial programme aired about Prince Charles’s infidelity – has re-entered the limelight thanks to images released of a statuesque Elizabeth Debicki recreating the scene for the next season of The Crown.
Clearly Taylor Swift is a fan as earlier this month she chose to wear a design very much modelled on the dress that sold thousands of newspapers. Appearing in David Koma on Late Night With Seth Meyers, she proved that long, floaty designs have some serious competition this season. For those of us who aren’t ferried to events by a chauffeur, these styles look great with sheer black or print tights and flat shoes.
Do a statement sleeve
Women have been saying for years that the sleeveless dress is not always their friend, and the fashion industry is finally listening. Illustrating how the addition of sleeves can make an entire dress is Emerald Fennell, who chose to wear a simple black column design with sparkling silver metallic sleeves to the Cinderella gala performance.
The result is both flattering and fashion forward – not least because sleeves like these look great under the disco ball, and will make you smile every time you wave your arms about.
Five little black dresses to wear this festive season
Sequin knit dress, £99, Zara; balloon-sleeve dress, £280, Cefinn; minidress, £291, Helmut Lang; sequin dress, £285, Rixo; Velvet minidress, £85, & Other Stories