One Dress Four Ways

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As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I am going to try once a month to review a classic wardrobe piece that is under $100, preferably under $50.  The item needs to be available in a good range of sizes and be versatile – something that is quality that will survive and a style that can work in multiple situations with a quick switch of accessories.  For this month I ordered the Halogen Long Sleeve Midi Dress – this is the link for the dress in regular and plus sizes; this link has more prints in regular and petite sizes. While I'm not in love with this dress (see below) I feel it does have the elements of a wardrobe workhorse and decided to use it as an example of how to switch up a dress for multiple situations.  Below I style one dress four ways for fall:

This is the Halogen Long Sleeve Midi Dress in the color Navy Peacoat.  I ordered it in a Large Petite. The dress is 100% polyester with a crepe/chiffon feel of fabric with a lining in the bodice and skirt.  There is a zipper in back with a hook and eye closure at top.  The waistband is elasticized, there are no pockets.  For reference, I am 5'3″ and usually wear a 14 petite in dresses. 

This is the kind of fabric that steams out wrinkles beautifully, but if you sit for a long period of time it will crease up again.  The elastic on the wrists is loose enough that you can push up the sleeves without losing circulation.  I needed help getting the zipper up; a Zipper Genie may work but it may be hard to connect as it is a small zipper. There are no pockets, and I really missed that feature.  I find the length a bit awkward, a length I would expect with a regular not a petite dress.  The only thing that felt petite was the waist, which is a bit too high for my tastes. The dress in regular and plus sizes comes in black, navy, a black and white print, and a navy-based graphic print.  In regular and petite sizes, the dress comes in the same four options, plus a navy and burgundy print and an orchid color called Purple Dewberry. I would like this dress better if I were taller, and I think if I had chosen one of the prints. 

woman in a navy dress with two long strands of pearls and nude colored heels

For this look, I embraced the return of pearls as a trend this fall and winter.  I've had these two strands for eons, they are from Nordstrom's house brand, but they don't have anything similar this season.  However, I found this strand and this strand at Macy's which will achieve the same effect for a lower price. I added nude-to-me pumps (these from Nine West, I have the Light Natural) to keep the look feeling light and bright.  This would be good for a day wedding, for attending a house of worship, or even to the office.

woman in a navy dress with a black leather obi belt and black heeled tall boots

The exposed elasticized waist I felt was begging to be covered with a belt. I love obi belts (I wore my tan one recently in this post) and I love mixing navy with black, so this time used my black one (it's old; this is similar and is available up to 5XL).  With the temps dropping, there's no better way to winterize a dress than with tall boots.  These boots are over a decade old and no longer available; these are a similar silhouette at a great price. Add a pair of hoops for some shine (these are the ones I'm wearing) and this look is great for work, for brunch, or date night.

woman in a navy long sleeve dress with a camel beret, gold pendant necklace, and brown knee high boots

Navy also looks great with brown, so I decided to try the dress with my tall brown boots (old; these are similar in coloring and silhouette).  To give it more of a retro feel, I added a vintage pendant necklace (this one is from Sweet & Spark; I think I found the same exact one on Etsy).  For warmth, style, and to hide a bad hair day I love a beret.  I've had this camel-colored one for a couple of years; this one is similar. This is a more casual version – meeting a friend for lunch, going shopping, visiting relatives.

Shop Vintage Pendant Necklaces Similar to Mine:

woman in a navy dress with a black leather skinny belt with rhinestone buckle, black leather clutch purse, and black strappy heels

And this look, I glammed up the dress for a more formal occasion – it could be a wedding during the day or even in the evening.  Switching to an open shoe (these are similar) and sparkly jewelry makes it feel more formal.  I chose these earrings which I wore in this post with this ring.  Switching from a handbag to a clutch also offers formality; this bag is very old but this one is similar.  The belt is over 20 years old; I got it when I worked at Express after college.  I couldn't find a similar one, but I do believe in the power of a dressy belt like this so I have shared a few I found online below:

Shop Dressy Belts:

Shop the Items Featured in this Post:

I hope this post gets your creative juices flowing, seeing how you can have big style with a small closet, and how you can get several different looks from one garment.  The details that make this dress so versatile:

  • The color.  We often gravitate towards black finding it so versatile, but a dark non-black color can actually be a better choice.  Navy, plum, teal, pine green, berry… darker jewel tones will work for day and night, festive and sober situations, and work well with brown, black, and other colors of footwear and accessories.  Also consider colors like mustard, pumpkin, jade, dusty blue, and other muted brights. 
  • The fabric.  Even though it's polyester, the crepe-like finish and bit of transparency makes it feel dressy… but not too dressy for the office. Chiffon overlay, matte jersey, crepe, silk… these are fabrics that will give a similar effect and can be found at a variety of price points. Sometimes with fit and flare styles, a ponte or scuba knit will work.
  • The silhouette.  Super simple.  A waist that can work with or without a belt, and belts in a variety of widths. A neckline that isn't too interesting so it can handle anything from a choker to a long strand of pearls, a scarf tied at the throat, or a wrap thrown around the shoulders.  A length from the middle of the kneecap to middle of the calf muscle can dress up and down nicely and works with a variety of shoes.  Shifts, sheaths, fit and flare styles… they are also versatile silhouettes.  This dress could have a slightly fuller skirt, different or no sleeves, have a couple of inches taken off and it would still work.

Below I have a carousel of dresses that I found online that look as though they may be as versatile as this navy one from Halogen.  However, with such dresses, it's important to try it on and see if it works for your unique body and life.  This one online looked great but isn't the waist height I prefer so it's not even worth it to hem it to a shorter length.  I also prefer pockets.  But this exercise has forced me hold off on buying for emotional reasons.  It's easy to justify a new dress for a funeral, a wedding, a high school reunion but often we already own the perfect thing in our closet.  By spending the money on tailoring and accessories, you not only reduce spending but you extend your style for future outfits as well. 

Shop Versatile Dresses:

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Just for the record, some of us prefer and only buy dresses without pockets. I carry my weight in my hips and thighs and THE LAST thing I want are dresses with pockets. By the way, I’ve noticed a lot of retailers like j crew and mm lafleur are making many more dresses with pockets, so I think there a lot of choices out there for women who prefer that.

    1. I carry my weight in my hips and thighs and with a full skirt like this in a drapey material, if it’s made properly, no one would ever know that you had pockets. I am plus sized and the only retailer I know who reliably puts pockets in dresses in my size is eShakti.

  2. Fellow obi belt lovers:

    All of the belts are lovely — supple, smooth, and come in gorgeous colors. I have A LOT, although I tend to prefer the one-size styles because they’re easier for me to play around with. Ada Deferarrari is the talented designer, and she does some really cute videos that give excellent ideas for styling the same belt multiple ways. There’s even a short video that shows (I think) eight different ways to tie a wrap or obi belt! I also learned to store my belt collection in clear hat boxes on an eye-level shelf in my closet — keeps ’em clean, neat, accessible, and I actually remember to wear them!

    One of my favorite Ada tricks is to wear an obi belt “backward” — the wider part in back, the ties pulled to the front. Gives a completely different look with the now-longer length to tie or knot in new ways. A little boho, if that’s your mood for the day, but also great when you’re pregnant and just want to wear a belt.

  3. Thanks for this post! I have a dress with a very similar silhouette in my closet in a burgundy and navy abstract print. I will definitely have to try it with a wide obi style belt! I really like the look and was looking for new ways to style it. And I just reclaimed it from the Poshmark pile yesterday!

  4. I often have issues with waists being too high for me but I don’t have the boobs to carry off the empire waist look. I do like this dress but can also see how it might not work due to the issues you mention.

    If you are looking for interesting lower-cost items for this series, you might look at Target. I am slightly embarrassed by how much of my wardrobe comes from Target but it’s a retailer that is working hard to show more sizes, uses plus-size mannequins in the stores, and in general, their style zeitgeist hits my sweet spot. And if you are savvy, you can find some well-made items, especially in the women’s clothing part (not so much the teen fast-fashion sections). I got a fantastic white denim sleeveless sundress for under $30 and a super cool red and cream linen/rayon woven midi skirt (again, under $30) there this summer and both became summer workhorses. Both washed up well (they did need to be ironed but I have no issues with that, YMMV). both have pockets. They are classic enough to last through multiple summers, I suspect. My biggest indicator was that I wore both to a conference this summer, and another attendee who is retired as a textiles/clothing professor complimented me on both garments and was particularly interested in the skirt. This is a woman who has impeccable taste and dresses well.

    1. I am wearing the black and cream midi skirt right now and agree with all the things you said. I almost kept the white denim sleeveless dress because it was so well made, but it didn’t flatter me. I love pockets and I don’t mind ironing – it was a relief from clingy jersey (I wear a 12 or 14 with curves so I appreciate drape, but I don’t need to show every bump or dimple.) I also have two pairs of classic tailored trousers from Target for years now that have held up really well.

      I had wanted to commit to no longer buying my clothes where I buy groceries, (trying to move on from mom wardrobe to more professional one) but Target is close to home and I’m in there a lot. If I don’t have time to try things on while I’m there, I can try it at home and return it easily, because I’m always back at Target for something.

    2. I wish I lived near a Target with a decent apparel selection in-store. Their site is a pain to shop for clothing, the pictures do not clearly showcase the clothing, the search functions suck, and the nearest decent Target to me is 45 minutes away. 🙁

  5. The vintage look and the obi-belt look are my favorites too! I agree with you, though, that the waist is way too high. That dress would be so much better if the waist were a tad lower and if it had pockets. Why is it 2019 and we’re still begging for pockets???!!! This is a timely post for me–look in my own closet for ways to re-wear what I already have. I went a little nuts last month with so many great sales going on and it all added up…oops! Thanks for reminding us that we don’t “need” something new; we can often use what we’ve already got!

  6. I also like the obi belt look best. What I would love to see is if you can revisit the everlane berry dress and come up with some fall looks for it! Or does it feel strictly summer?

    1. Ooh that’s a tough one. With the wrap style it doesn’t lend to belts and longer necklaces. The silhouette doesn’t look great with jackets and cardigans and I don’t think it’s the right fabric or cut to wear over blouses. I love that dress, but it’s pretty summer specific unless it’s a dressy occasion where sleeveless would be fine. In that case, I’d do dark shoes and heavier jewelry to make it feel seasonally appropriate.

  7. I know you don’t like this dress, but the obi belt look is fantastic! I tend to shy away from belts b/c I’m large-chested and short-waisted, but I see now that it could work. Trying! Thanks!

    1. I think wide and obi belts are quite flattering to large busts because they are long enough to make it clear it’s not maternity and it highlights the smallest part of the torso to separate the bust from the belly creating an hourglass shape. I have loved wide belts for decades because of this way of elongating the torso!

  8. I agree with you; the waistline is a total miss. I have the same problem when I buy online and can’t try them on. With a flat chest, the waistline would have probably been fine. But we have boobs! Take notice designers when sizing clothes.

  9. I like the wider belt best. The dress is a bit high-waisted, which is a good look that gets a little lost with the narrow or no belt option.

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