Most of us suffer from this wardrobe problem.  We have an event to attend and the first thing we do is we head out and buy something new to wear to it.  Then  it hangs there in the closet causing you guilt for not wearing it more often.  If you have the luxury of being able to buy something once and never wear it again then kudos to you.  However, f you the person who doesn’t have that luxury then perhaps a different way of thinking is in order.  Sure, a new dress is always fun, but not when it winds up taking up space with nowhere to go.  How can you maximize what you already own or make future special occasion dresses that have a bit more longevity?  This is a question I get asked all the time.

The first thing you want to do is take inventory of what you already own for dressier events.  Everyone should have at least one go-to dress that you know you can grab in a pinch that acts as your fail-safe.  I have a brown dress that does that.  I won’t buy another go-to dress until I am tired of this one and I’ve been wearing it for the past four years.  The reason I don’t get tired of it is because every time I wear it I try to do something different with it. In order for your fail-safe dress to be versatile it should be simple.  Too much novelty and it can be challenging to change up the look.  A novelty dress is also too memorable.  I have probably worn my fail-safe dress on more than one occasion around the same group of people yet nobody ever notices that it is the same dress.  I suggest a neutral color like a black a brown or a navy, for example. The components you wear with the dress to change it up should be options that you would wear with other pieces in your closet.  So, for example, if you wear a strappy black shoe with your little black dress, try to find other functions for that shoe in other areas of your wardrobe.  Don’t relegate it to only one dress.  You’re not getting maximum wear that way.  If it is possible have at least two to three alternate shoe options that you can wear with that one dress in order to change up the look in a pinch.

Additionally, by keeping the dress in a basic neutral, when you do want to change up the look it is easy to pull in a pop color.  Imagine a navy dress with a purple necklace or a brown dress with a brightly colored wrap.  I have a bright green pashmina that I have worn with my brown dress.  I also use that pashmina for other looks as well. The goal in all this is to build a wardrobe with easy crossover options and the ability to take most of what you own and cross-reference it with other things in your closet.

Here are some looks I put together showing this solution in action

Here is a basic black dress from  Now let’s put a few different looks together. This look is relatively basic and straight-forward but it does show how you don’t have to have a ton of stuff in your wardrobe to pull off a look.  It also shows how you can work with what you have or at least buy things that you can use again.  First, the shoes.  This basic strappy pair by Banana Republic not only works with this dress but can be worn to dress up a pair of jeans or with a pencil skirt.   The chandelier earrings are a great thing to have in your wardrobe to dress up any look and are great to have on hand in a pinch.  For a wrap, this basic, yet decorative scarf is dressy enough for a night out but can easily be wound around your neck with a pair of jeans or for a work look.  Lastly, the clutch which is a fabulous grab and go basic that can be worn with any after-five look. Using the same dress, the second look uses the same clutch from the first look because, again, it’s all about repurposing.  I fell in love with these lacy black shoes by Badgley Mischka that are currently on sale and another easy shoe to use in other areas of your wardrobe.  To give this dress more of an art-deco look I chose a long necklace, a pair of stud earrings and this faux fur wrap scarf that, again, can even be worn with a more casual look. The last look using the same dress utilizes the earrings and the fur wrap scar from above.  Instead of a necklace,  I chose this fun bracelet from Banana Republic, a different clutch that had some sparkle and, last but not least, a pair of colored shoes.  I went with this fun yellow satin pair by Nina Forbes but you can choose any color you want.  Wearing colored shoes is a great way to add color to a black dress to make it look a little different.  And don’t think you can only wear yellow with black.  A pair of shoes in this color can look great with grey, navy or brown as well as with a pair of jeans and an evening top in a print.  They’re more versatile than you think.

So you see, the point of making special occasion work isn’t to necessarily to have a closet full of dresses but to bring a variety of versatile components in to easily change up the few dresses you own.