Sometimes I decide I want to throw on a dress, but my decision-making doesn’t stop there. There are so many types of dresses to choose from: Will I go sexy and sleek with a simple slip? Girly and sweet with a flared lace number? One thing’s for sure—my pick will most likely be black. What can I say, I’m a sucker for Little Black Dresses, not to mention Long Black Gowns, Frilly Black Minis, Fitted Black Sheaths…you get the idea.
As former Chanel Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld famously said: “One is never overdressed or underdressed with a little black dress.” He’s not wrong—wear a black dress, and you can pretty much go anywhere. That said, not all little black dresses are created equal. Some are better for trendy seasonal flings and others are timeless pieces worth investing in.
The great thing about there being so many types of dresses is that you can own them all and style them a million different ways. While you might prefer a professional-looking sheath at work, you can add a red lip and your strappiest heels and wear the same dress to happy hour, too. A floaty, boho maxi is the perfect weekend look, and it’s just as good for date night paired with a denim jacket and a great crossbody bag.
Since you can’t buy up every LBD you see (I mean, you could, but I don’t recommend it), it’s worth paring down the selection until you have a few essential basics that transcend seasonality and complement each other. Here, we break down the seven kinds of black dresses every shopper should try to get their hands on—and how to style them.
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1. The Casual Maxi
Look effortlessly glamorous by throwing on a minimalist black maxi like the Z SUPPLY Marta Maxi Dress and calling it a day. Perfect for running errands, brunching with friends, and going on semi-casual dates, this dress is extremely versatile. And that’s not even the best part! Not only will a black maxi keep you looking great, but it’ll also keep you feeling comfy all day long. Why wear something fitted and stiff when a floaty maxi looks so fierce?
2. The Sheath Dress
A classic black sheath like the Cinq a Sept Havana Dress will fill the hole in your wardrobe other, more casual LBDs left behind. A structured piece like this is excellent for a formal affair or a day at the office. The cherry on top? This dress will make going from day to night an absolute breeze. Just swap your jewelry and shoes accordingly and you’ll be set.
3. The Flared Dress
No silhouette is more flattering than the 1950s-inspired classic flare, but this tiered Amanda Uprichard Sleveless Saffron Dress gives it a playful, modern upgrade. I’m prettier sure the empire waist will never go out of style, so you can rest assured this basic will be with you for many years—or even decades—to come. Plus, since the dress is both fun and sophisticated, accessorizing should be a cinch, and you can dress it up or down.
4. The Slip Dress
Slip dresses are the effortlessly sexy basic every wardrobe needs, and the Reformation Astrid Dress is proof! Dress it down by wearing it over your favorite tee—and pairing it with some chunky sneakers. Or, dress it up with a choker, some earrings, and your favorite heels. You can pretty much do whatever you want with a black slip dress, so spend some time in your closet and pull out some oft-neglected accessories and just see if your fave slip doesn’t suddenly make them work.
5. The Party Dress
Whether bejeweled, feathered, or draped a la the exquisite Black Halo Brett Sheath Dress, a black party dress is the kind of necessity every closet needs. I mean, what else are you going to turn to for that super fun festivity coming up? Feel free to go all in on the accessories, layer on everything sparkly you can find and opt for a bold makeup look, or keep it simple and classy with minimalist heels, clear gloss and a mega-chic bun.
6. The Lace Dress
A classic black dresslike the Torrid Lace Ladder Insert Midi Dress becomes instantly more glamorous when covered in intricate lace. Though the move with most other LBDs is to go all out with accessories, with a piece like this, you’ll want to keep things simple. Opt for neutral, understated shoes and jewelry, and instead, keep the focus on the texture.
7. The Fabulous Gown
Dressing for a black tie occasion can be tough, which is why everyone should have a black gown at the ready for any surprise galas that make their way onto your calendar. Might I suggest the BHLDN Thompson Dress? Since a well-fitting black gown dress is so sleek and simple, you can accessorize at your leisure—which is great, because different events demand different vibes, ya know?
A version of this article was originally published in April 2014.