To understand the imperative of the little black dress, we must turn to the scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's, when Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly emerges from the bathroom dressed for her weekly visit to Sally Tomato in Sing Sing. Although Hepburn wears other black dresses in the film, the clean design of her slim sleeveless outfitt is still fresh and modern after more than 40 years.
But as perfect as that iconic dress was for her, it's not the right silhouette for every woman. In my style seminars, I bring in a similar dress (a slim, sleeveless, back-zipped shift with a boat neck), and typically only two out of every 10 women are able to wear it.
Every woman needs to know how to find a dress that matches her particular body type. In this case, let's work from the classic Breakfast at Tiffany's model: a structured black dress that can go from day to night and lend itself as a canvas to accessories.
Step 1: Identify your body type.
In order to get a little black dress that works for your body and your wardrobe, you have to understand what looks good on you -- a deceptively simple task. To do this, take a good look at your body and match it to one of these four basic silhouettes:
• Rectangular: You are shaped a little like a boy, with a longer torso that goes right into your hips. This shape -- in which the torso and hips are often in a straight line -- is usually accompanies by a broader shoulder and slightly flat chest.
Solution: You need to create the illusion of curves by picking a dress with a slightly empire shape. Look for details like a line (piping or stitching) about three inches (7.5 cm) under the bust. This will give you a waistline where there is none and naturally enhance your bust.
• Hourglass: You are a voluptuous woman, with a bigger chest, an indented waist. and a noticeable curve to your hips.
Solution: You will look best in an A-line dress that "grabs" your waist and flows out over your hips, accompanied by a fitted top with darts and a V-neck, which is particularly flattering to a larger bust line.
• Top heavy: You have wider shoulders and larger breasts with a torso that tapers down to an indented waist, slim hips and thin legs.
Solution: Look for a dress with a draped (perhaps even slightly blouson) top and fitted skirt that "grabs" you where you are slimmest: the lower half of your body.
• Bottom heavy: You have wide hips and a slim torso, the opposite of "top heavy," above.
Solution: Your shape will be enhanced by a fitted top and straight skirt that is wider at the hip and falls straight (a "pipe" shape), unlike a pencil skirt that tapers at the knee.