How to Build an Evening Wear Wardrobe

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I don’t spend much time wearing evening wear anymore, with small kids and no full time nanny or relatives to babysit, it’s costly to get out of  the house.  But about once a year I’m suddenly needing to wear something a bit special to a dinner or event and so have to cobble an outfit together from clothes that I already have.


So I was thinking, maybe I should think about building a fairly timeless evening wear wardrobe – that would last for years and I wouldn’t always be wearing the same clothes.  Here is what I’ve come up with.




Evening Wear Wardrobe
Evening Wear Wardrobe by imogenl featuring Roberto Cavalli


So what are the elements?


See that great black dress – you can wear it as a dress, with a wrap, or little jacket, or even put a sparkly top over the top and pretend it’s a black skirt.

Change up your shoes, add a different belt and you have a whole new outfit or two or three!



A great pair of dress pants can be glammed up with a sequin top, or jacket with sheen.  Add some sparkly earrings and a cocktail ring and a great pair of sandals or shoes and you’re good to go (don’t forget the pedicure).


Sometimes you need to go the whole hog, the formal gown, choose one in a colour that brings out the colour of your eyes, add a wrap and a great clutch to hold your lippie, phone, keys and money, maybe a wrap if it’s cool.  Remember to choose a classic shape – the one pictured here, this shape will stand the test of time and not date for decades!


Maybe you have a great skirt that you can dress up, add a simple top with sheen, some nude heels to elongate your legs, and a sparkly necklace to draw attention to your face.


When you consider the cost-per-wear formula, there is no point in spending lots of money on something you’ll wear once.   Try and find items that you can mix and match, change up with different accessories to change the look of the outfit without spending a fortune.


What are your essential items in your evening wear wardrobe?

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13 Comments

  • Ha! Couldn't agree more!. I finally bought myself the Little Black Dress for this decade:). And the black pants plus killer evening jacket + sparkly tops that change over the years, well, can't get much better than that. I must confess, I am lacking a long dress at this point. On the other hand, I'm in California.

  • Oh, would that I could find a great evening gown in the color of my eyes! These are some great pieces. I've relied on the same few dresses for years, but I always enjoy them and they are so pretty and comfortable. There are a pair of great black satin ankle pants I like with a small cuff and rhinestone ball buttons on the cuffs. You'd have to wear heels for sure, but I'm tempted to sacrafice leg length to show off some rockin shoes.

  • I have no need for formal wear any time soon, but of course you can never predict when you might need something!

    And then once you DO need formalwear, it's hard to find something that fits well and is affordable.

    I'm going to keep my eye out when I'm at the thrift stores. If I find something classic that fits me and looks great, I'll get it.

    Formal wear might be good for a fancy wedding, a special party, or on a cruise ship.

    I do have one LBD and it might work in a pinch for a formal affair.

  • You asked about the essential items. Well, for me they are my jewelry ( no, not all the same time ), a crocodile clutch, high heels, a great pashmina of mink or silk or likes, or my mink coat. I really wish to wear a simple dress, and I think that using the accessories I mentioned, will make this easy for me. Thanks, a splendid post.

  • The only thing that I consistently reach for is an ankle length, beautifully fitted black Eileen Fisher dress. I have a shorter LBD dress,and some thrifted seperates, but they don't give me the same confidence boost.I've dressed it up with silver shoes and a pashmina, but it also works well with good boots and a silk scarf all through Christmas Day.

  • Fantastic! I always struggle when formal occasions arise, since I automatically think, "gown." What a great reminder that elegant eveningwear needn't be all about the dress.

  • Ugh, this is my weakest link. I have so few opportunities to dress up, so it's always a scramble when I do. Black wool trousers or a black pencil skirt get glammed up with something velvet on top and sparkly jewelry is usually my fallback. LPC has inspired me to keep searching for my LBD (and to expand that search into higher-end territory).

  • I just love that frilly skirt! I rely on LBD and black pants. Formalwear is a challenge; if you choose a memorable colour it is "that dress again' (and on the ball circuit here, that is read as a signal that the family is experiencing difficulties). This is according to my high society friend- I never need formalwear.

    metscan, where did you find a 'mink pashmina'- is it knitted?

  • Duchesse: I´m sorry, I didn´t get the word right. What I mean´t is a mink stole. But I have seen knitted ones too. We have great,creative open-minded designers here. You must pay a visit to Finland!

  • In my 36 years I have never needed a floor length gown! (But I've often worn cocktail-length equivalents.) I love the rest of the items – I have many of them but should fill in a few more. Thanks for the suggestions!
    -YSJ

  • I have thought of this in the past, but after I bought a lovely going-out dress one year ago and then got too fat for it about 4 months later (only a little, but enough to make a difference), I have decided it's better to wait until an event comes up – and hope I get at least 2 months advance notice.

    Or the other option for me would be to only buy loose-fitting evening clothes.

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