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Is a Little Black Dress Formal?

Typically, a little black dress is a casual or cocktail dress. The traditional LBD is a cocktail dress meant for after-five wear or semi-formal events. You should only wear a formal gown to a white tie event. You can wear an LBD to a prom or other school dance.

A woman wearing a little black dress at the park.

Ah, the little black dress (LBD) belongs in every woman’s closet. This versatile fashion piece adds to your ability to quickly accept many invitations for a night out. Broadly considered, an LBD can fulfill the wardrobe need for a casual or semi-formal occasion. A traditional LBD of cocktail length is not a formal gown.

The Little Black Dress Considered

When an LBD breaks with tradition and hovers around the ankles or reaches the floor, it works perfectly for a formal event. The typical LBD though hits just above the knee or about mid-thigh. It uses a mini-dress length, hence the little portion of LBD.

Any cocktail dress of all black, regardless of length, qualifies as a little black dress. You pair it with matching heels and an evening bag, and you can attend any event except a wedding or formal event.

Much variation exists in these dresses. You can find them in nearly every cut and style. The bevy of LBDs includes a sheath dress, formal dress, bodycon dress, mini dress, cocktail dress, slip dress, party dress, maxi dress, and a simple black dress. Any style of dress, as long as it is sexy and all black, can qualify as a little black dress.

Hemlines vary, as do necklines. Some intricate beadwork covers some LBDs while others feature sequins. You might find a fitted and flared cocktail dress or a one-shoulder or off-the-shoulder LBD. You could wear a longer LBD or tea-length for a black-tie event, but for a white-tie affair, you must choose a suitable evening gown and that means a full-length formal gown.

Styling a Little Black Dress

This is a close look at a little black dress with its accessories on the side.

Since Little Black Dresses have so many designs, you have a plethora of outfit ideas. You can purchase more than one LBD and find yourself with many options for dressy occasions. You can wear LBDs during summer and winter. Its versatility makes it easy to style.

Styling Basics

While you can bend the fashion rules here and there, you do need to know the do’s and don’ts first.

  • Do dress for the occasion, which means you need to learn what type of dress to wear for each type of event.
  • Do wear a belt with your LBD. It will accentuate your waistline.
  • Do layer your look in winter. For an edgy look, add a leather jacket. For a casual look, choose a denim jacket.
  • Do style an LBD with a black, formal blazer if you need to wear it to the office.
  • Do add black leggings beneath your dress. You will still look fabulous and stay warm.
  • Do accessorize with a patterned scarf or a colorful stole. You can pair these accessories with your jacket without overdoing it.
  • Do wear sandals in summer or strappy heels or statement heels or boots in winter.
  • Do not add metallic leggings or colored hose under your black dress.
  • Do not go overboard with jewelry, bags, or accessories, even if you think black is too drab.

The Outfit Ideas

This is a close look at a woman wearing a little black dress that she paired with red accessories.

You can just wear your sophisticated LBD with black heels and a wallet purse also called a wristlet, and call it done. You can also go much further with your styling and create a stylish vibe that sets a local trend.

Pair a little black dress with a camel or beige overcoat. You can wear a wool coat or trench coat. A duster length works with any length of the dress, but for a pea coat, you need a shorter dress. Your coat should be longer than your dress, not shorter. This mix adds subtle color to your outfit without detracting from its sophistication.

A woman wearing red strappy heels with her little black dress.

You can wear shoes that combine colors such as strappy heels with variously color thin straps. Remember that thicker strapped heels and sandals work best with pants. A dress needs a slinkier shoe.

Mix black knee-high boots with a midi- or maxi-length dress of a casual style. Boots do not go well with a cocktail dress and they should never be worn with a formal gown. Heels or slippers go with a gown.

This is a woman wearing a black dress.

To still look sexy while pregnant, purchase a stretchy little black dress that can snap back into shape after washing. This lets you wear it post-partum, too. Pair it with black pencil heels in the earlier months of pregnancy, then switch to flat pumps for your final trimester. You can look stylish and feel comfortable. Accessorize it with an animal print evening bag or a gold or silver beaded bag.

Spring’s perfect LBD is the traditional lacy black lace dress with cutwork. Choose from sleeveless or long-sleeved see-thru sleeves. You can add to its romance with cream or nude-colored heels and a matching purse.

This is a close look at a woman wearing a black dress with lace gloves.

During the winter holidays, choose an LBD with red piping or an overlay of red lace. If you celebrate Christmas, pairing a long-sleeved LBD with black and red heels and a red purse lets you look festive while staying warm.

For New Year’s Eve looks, try an LBD paired with silver or gold metallic heels and purse. Stick with nude hose on this look though. Neither metallic nor black hose go with metallic shoes. Anything metallic should simply remain an accent pieces.

A woman wearing a little black dress with colorful details.

Plus size women rejoice because the little black dress looks gorgeous on you. Black is the most slimming color. LBDs come in a variety of lengths plus you can nab them in various sleeve lengths. You can choose a skirt length that makes your legs appear longer and a sleeve length that covers any arm fat just beneath the armpit. A three-quarter length sleeve or full-length sleeve works beautifully.

Women with toned arms can show them off in a strapless or spaghetti strap little black dress. These variations come in all lengths from mini-dress to full-length ball gown. Strapless or spaghetti straps always lend an elegant look to your wardrobe. They work perfectly for any semi-formal party or dance.

This is a woman wearing a long black fur coat.

On chilly nights, you can go beyond a coat to style yourself warmly by donning a cape or a fur stole. You do not have to stick to trench coats or pea coats.

Keep your jewelry matching. If you choose gold dangling earrings, wear a simple gold necklace and bracelet. If you wear simple earring studs or solitaires, wear a statement necklace in a matching metal or that features matching gemstones. Always balance your one bold piece of jewelry with one or two unobtrusive pieces.

A woman sitting at a cafe wearing a black dress with a hat.

The LBD can also provide a grand casual look for a coffee date or dinner. It also lends itself to concerts and the opera. With respect to the latter, when your seats are in a box, wear a semi-formal LBD. If you sit in the main auditorium, you can wear a “Sunday dress.” For a coffee date or other casual gathering, pair a black shift or simple black T-shirt dress of midi-length with white mules and a black and white clutch purse. On a chilly day, wear it with a black cardigan with white piping or a black bomber jacket.

Every Woman Needs a Little Black Dress

Every woman needs at least one little black dress. It truly has become a staple of the modern woman’s wardrobe. Without one, your wardrobe remains incomplete. Many fashionistas advocate owning more than one LBD though. You need a cocktail LBD, a formal one, a casual “Sunday” look, and office LBD.

A woman walking her dog while wearing a little black dress.

Where to Buy a Little Black Dress

Start by perusing the major department stores online. Many options exist for LBDs. Some designers specialize in these dresses and you cannot go wrong by checking out the current line of Vera Wang, Gucci, Versace, or Calvin Klein. These dependable haute couture houses provide impeccable style options. Start with their websites for ideas if affording their couture remains out of your price range. After you build your ideas, try H & M for its selection. Charlotte Russe also offers an immense selection. Happy shopping.


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