How to dress down a black dress

This post shares ways to dress down a black dress so you can get more use out of your clothes.

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Raise your hand if you own several black dresses.

Hand raised high over here.

I was in a boutique yesterday and grabbed a black summer dress. Held it up oohing and awing over how cute the dress was.

The impulse to buy this dress was strong. But I stopped and thought about what else I had in my closet. I realized that I own 3 dresses that are very like what I was holding in my hand. So, I put it back on the rack and left the store without yet another black dress.

I don’t wear the black dresses I own already, enough. I started changing this last year, when I removed the labels I’d given my black dresses and clothes in general. This one is for date night, this one is for daytime, this one for work, and so on.

Outside of a true cocktail or formal dress, a black dress can work for lots of different events. Today I’m going to focus on dressing down a black dress because this seems to be a challenge for most women.

A few simple tweaks can take a black dress from office attire to a morning at the farmers market.

How do you dress down a black dress?

There are a several items that can change the way your dress or any outfit looks. Today I’m going to focus on these 4:

  • shoes
  • a jacket
  • layers
  • accessories

One or many of these will change the look of any dress you want to get more wear out of.

Footwear to dress down a dress

Adding a more casual shoe makes all the difference in making a black dress less formal. Tennis shoes, flip flops, casual sandals, or loafers make a dress look more like everyday wear. And usually more comfortable.

Adding a jacket

A casual jacket changes the look of any outfit, but especially a black dress. The go-to option is a denim jacket for an instant dress-down. But try to think of other things you have on hand as well. An army jacket, white denim, casual blazer, or knit moto jacket are all great options. These also come in handy when taking a dress you wear on a date night into the office. They may have straps or be sleeveless which may not feel right for the office. Adding some sort of jacket eliminates this problem.

Be intentional with your layers

This can be a scarf, sweater, or shirt worn over or under a dress. Be sure to add layers and textures that make the outfit more casual but interesting. This is also a great way to add patterns for a more unique and unexpected outfit.


This is my favorite way to dress something up or in this case down. Selecting casual earrings, necklaces, purses, belts, and bags changes the look of a dress. This is also a great way to add pops of color to a neutral dress and infuse some personality and style into your look.

How do you make a black dress less plain?

Often you will use more than one of the above styling tricks to dress down a black dress. This makes your outfit more interesting and gives you lots of opportunities to make the look uniquely yours. It’s your chance to add texture, color, and flair. Make this fun, take risks, and see what happens. I promise you, your outfit will look anything but plain.

I found 4 dresses and am showing them dressed up and down. Visuals are the best way to understand a styling technique.

From happy hour to running errands

Adding sparkles at your ears and shoes, this dress would be something you could easily wear to happy hour after work or with friends.

White enamel and rhinestone earrings, pearl colored sparkle wedge slides, black long sleeve tiered mini dress
Sparkle earrings in white/ black long sleeve dress/ sparkle wedge slides

To make this dress an everyday garment I added an acrylic link necklace and dark clog-style slides. Please take a moment to look at these on their home website. The buckle feature makes the shoe. This casual shoe and necklace combination makes this a dress you could wear running errands, to a casual lunch or coffee meet-up with a friend.

Tortoise acrylic link necklace, long sleeve black mini dress with one tier and chocolate colored slides with large buckle
Tortoise link necklace/ black long sleeve dress/ chocolate colored slides

Wedding guest dress to the farmer’s market

This is a beautiful wedding guest dress. I added a deep pink (remember magenta is the color of the year) for accessories to add color and femininity to the outfit.

If you, like me, are not in the wedding season of your life, then you’ll want to know other ways to style this to get more wear out of it.

Pink bow flats/black off the shoulder dress/ pink flower earrings/ rhinestone clutch

To dress it down, I added a straw bag with subtle stripes of green in it. Then pulled the green for the linen scarf and a touch of it in the vegan leather tennis shoes. Topped off with neutral gold hoop earrings and this dress is ready for the farmers market, lunch, or kid’s sports games.

Green linen scarf/black off the shoulder dress/ gold hoop earrings/ straw bag/ white and green tennis shoes

Work meeting to Sunday brunch

This is a beautiful work dress. Paired with a simple gold knot necklace and black slingbacks and you will crush any client meeting or lunch you have on your calendar.

Black sheath dress with a gold knot necklace and black slingbacks
Gold knot necklace/ black sheath dress/ black slingback shoes

But if you only go to work a couple days a week, then you need other ideas for how to style and wear this beauty.

I went with a large pink neoprene bag and pink ombre earrings. Then a casual but still nice-looking pair of flip-flops. This is a great Sunday Brunch look. You can wear tennis shoes if it’s too chilly for sandals.

Black sheath dress wtih neoprene orchid colored large tote bag, ombre pink earrings, gold circle  at the toe flip flops
Pink neoprene tote/ black sheath dress/ pink ombre earrings/ gold filp flops

A day at the office to a day at the mall

For the workday look, I went with contrasting bold colors. An electric blue woven purse and bright pink sling-back shoes.

black flutter sleeve dress that hits just below the knee, gold drop earrings, electric blue woven purse with chain strap, hot pink pointed toe slingback shoes.
Gold drop earrings/ black flutter sleeve dress/ electric blue purse/ pink slingback shoes

To make this more everyday wear, I added raffia slides and earrings as well as a canvas striped tote. Of course, the denim jacket alone would take this look casual, but the other items add color and style. This would be a great look for a day of shopping at the mall or your favorite boutique-lined street. It’s casual but still very pulled together.

Denim jacket in medium wash, black flutter sleeve dress that hits just below the knee/ raffia hoop earrings/ red and white striped canvas tote, raffia heeled slides. Wooden heel
Denim jacket/ black flutter sleeve dress / raffia hoop earrings /striped canvas bag/ raffia heeled slides

Next steps

I’m sure you have a black dress in your closet. Perhaps many. Go find one that you reserve for work or a night out. Pull out your casual accessories, sandals, tennis shoes, and scarves. Then start playing to create a dressed-down version of the dress.

Think of your dress as a blank canvas. You can add anything you like to make it whatever you want. I hope this post helped you envision a few ways to dress down a black dress that is hanging in your closet, dying to be worn.



I show women over 50 how to get noticed, stay relevant, and be connected through their wardrobe. Getting dressed is something you have to do each day, why not make it fun.



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