Neutral dress as backdrop: Five easy pieces

I enjoy a well-designed print on a skirt or blouse but when I'm looking for a dress, I'll usually choose a neutral backdrop for accessories, in a style that I can wear again and again. I'd have to see them in person, but these are options for a passe-partout dress, where colour or pattern are not the star of the show. They look austere in the photos, but there are no accessories shown.

Many who comment here are young 'uns under 50. Perhaps you'd choose something like the Black Halo dress, top. But this post isn't for you, cutie pie. It's for those of you like me, who need more cover, who know the cruelty of the cap sleeve crimping a looser arm and the reality of hip spread.

1. Marks and Spencer 3/4 sleeve belted shirt dress, £39.50, in black or navy.

Part of their Portfolio line for women 45+ that The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant, skewered, and I agree- most pieces are matronly. The length is good, there are sleeves, and what if one changed the buttons?
But it looks irredeemably boxy.

2. Talbot's double-knit dress, $149, is a drapey rayon-nylon blend that you can hand wash, which gives it travel potential.

Could showcase killer
shoes or luscious scarf, or just look sad- really will depend on fabric and cut. In navy, black and blonde.

3. White+W
arren's black cotton caftan from
Neiman Marcus' site, $155, would show off chunky necklaces and since I'm tall, I'm relieved to see some length. But why is she standing like that? Because her shoes are so dull?

Fasten y
our seatbelt, our price point is moving way up.

4. A dress that makes me sigh with pleasure: Rue du Mail by Martine Sitbon's black and white organza and silk embellished dress, $1, 265 from Net-a-porter. The sleeves are minimal, but I'm loving the dress and would sacrifice coverage for charm. Besides, this demi-sleeve is more flattering than a tight cap.

5. The numero uno, a smokin' L'Wren Scott Headmistress Dress, $2,895 (also from Net-a-porter). Heel, boy.

For your three grand you will enjoy fine details like precise white stitching (the back of this dress is as perfect as the front), tiny velvet-covered buttons, lace-trimmed hem.

Dream dress; I'll be looking for this effect no matter what I end up with.


Susan B said…
Oh lordy, I LOVE that L'Wren Scott number. I've been tempted to try the Talbot's dress you've shown, and am wondering if it could be worn beltless.
VisualYour taste is esquisite and elegant. Maybeyou could help me find a dress for that daughter of mines wedding. Dread, dread, dread.....Sigh, sigh, sigh.....

Steady On
Reggie Girl
materfamilias said…
It's true that the neutral dresses are much more versatile, and these offer much potential for variety through accessories. I do love a print dress, but I have to resign myself either to it hanging in the closet quite a bit OR to being willing to tolerate those imagined comments that "she's wearing THAT dress again"!
Frugal Scholar said…
My thoughts have been turning to dresses too. It's hard to find anything--I can't wear things with belts; fabric is too thin, etc. I even went to Talbots because I love their new look--sadly, what I tried on had the same old boxy (on me) fit.

OK ladies: I want a simple machine-washable dress that can be worn with a cardigan at work and as is in the summer. Not too expensive.

Great line-up. thanks for the ideas as always.
NancyDaQ said…
I love the last two--but doesn't the white trim make them less versatile? If I'm going for backdrop I want plain, plain, plain.
Duchesse said…
Nancy: Yes, b/w and style limits for scarves.

Frugal: Dresses are THE hardest for me, too. I have best luck in small boutiques.

materfamilias: I love a print dress too but tend to make them summer sundresses, cheaper and cheerful.

Pseu: I'm gonna go to Talbot's and see.

MMM: Net-a-porter has the best dresses online, I think- even just for ideas. Also J Crew.
Love no 5 - sexy but sophisticated!

I'm under 50, but never do too much skin - so many shops I walk into I walk straight out again saying to myself 'not enough fabric'!
Anonymous said…
Reading your piece inspired me to dig out my vintage YSL navy sheath dress in wool twill, bought on ebay a while ago for next to nothing. Worn with a small camel cardigan and navy and lime green Hermes scarf, I'm afraid it is absolutely perfect and nothing made in this day and age comes even to its ankles!
Anonymous said…
I like the Kaftan despite the models strange stance, but I have a suspicion that they have pinned it to get that fitted shape. L'Wren Scott makes the most incredible dresses, I would so love to have that dress in my wardrobe.
Duchesse said…
Imogen: Sometimes I ask, "Where's the rest of this dress?"

GP: Wow. That sounds like one incredible dress. eBay, consignment or high-end vintage dealers can offer far better quality than many goods made today.
Mardel said…
Hmm, the Talbot's dress looks interesting and might even get me to drive the 40 minutes to the Talbot's store, please report if you look.

The last two are TDF, even though I think the L'Wren Scott number would be even more fabulous all black, perhaps a subtle detail at the neckline that would be interesting but still not interfere with jewelry.

Oh so much easier to ogle dresses online than find one that actually fits and flatters.
Anonymous said…
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