100 Possessions: Little Black Dress

littleblackdress-2mSometimes people ask me if minimizing your wardrobe involves ditching all your old clothes and buying sleek new ones. Certainly not! In fact, some of the oldest items in my closet are my favorites.

For example, this little number here. I purchased it from J. Crew in…{drumroll, please}…1998!

This little black dress is the closest thing I have to a uniform. During the summer, I wear it at least once a week—usually on its own, but sometimes dressed up with a scarf or jewelry. In colder weather, I pair it with a cardigan, tights, and my knee-high boots.

Why do I love it?

1. It’s versatile. I can dress it up or down with a simple change of accessories.

2. It travels well. I can fold it, roll it up into a ball, or leave it in a heap on the floor and it doesn’t wrinkle. It’s been all over the world with me.

3. It wears like iron. I’ve been donning this dress regularly for 13 years (!), and it’s still going strong. The tag says it’s made out of 75% rayon, 17% nylon, 8% spandex. Is that the reason for its longevity? Or is it because…

4. It’s “Made in USA.” Oh, how that little tag makes me smile!

5. It’s incredibly comfortable. The material is soft, and there’s enough stretch that I have complete freedom of movement. It feels more like a second skin than a dress, and I could probably play a sport in it if I wanted to.

I know my beloved dress won’t last forever, and I’ve kept an eye out for a replacement for some time. Unfortunately, it seems that clothing quality has gone drastically downhill over the last few years. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places, but from what I’ve seen, the fabrics are cheap, the cuts are poor, and almost everything’s made in China.

I suspect that when it comes time to replace my wardrobe staples, I’ll be heading to a tailor. I’d rather select a quality fabric, and have something custom-made, than buy a flimsy item made under sweatshop conditions.

So, what’s the oldest item in your closet? And do you have any recommendations on where to find classic, well-made clothing these days?

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

75 comments to 100 Possessions: Little Black Dress

  • I agree about the poor quality in clothes in the last few years. I have tended to hold on to clothes that I might have replaced because the “new” store ones are in poorer shape than my old ones. Having specific trouble with t-shirts.

    I have written to some stores that I have frequented in the past and let them know I am disappointed with their quality of late. I have done so respectfully and cordially. I have also written emails through chainstorereaction.com to help make companies aware that we all wish to purchase products free from ties to slave labor.

    Every bit of voice to these issues counts. Keep up the good work everyone.

    • Ruth


      I have had a lot of luck with Banana Republic’s classic t-shirts. They wash well and last a while. While the quality of their clothing has gone down it seems this hasn’t effected the classic t. Today I am actually wearing a classic black pencil skirt I purchased from Banana YEARS ago so their older products were made very well. Good luck on your quest for the perfect t!

  • Ashley Laurent

    I don’t really have any super old clothing because I donate and recycle my clothes a lot. Although my clothes were expensive, what I have can be replaced at any moment because I really don’t have an attachment to clothes.

    I do have to say that, I’m not trying to be a snob, but as a person who was seriously considered going into the fashion industry and can pretty much make anything from wedding gowns to haute couture, etc, I find that many people cannot tell the difference between good and great quality. Many things today regardless on where they are made can still be manufactured cheaply with cheap techniques. I’ve seen hundreds of historic and modern garments from museums and private collections with outstanding extended techniques and finishing. I feel that most clothing nowadays, especially the high end brands, are just items in which you are really paying for the label.

    On the positive side, I must mention that I do have 3 little black dresses, I am a dress person, have only 75 clothing items total, and really loved your article.

  • Sarah

    I have a black knee-length Ann Taylor skirt that I bought in 1999 or 2000. I still wear it 2-3 times a week to work year-round. It wears like iron and somehow magically fits through the weight fluctuations.

  • Karen T.

    I don’t think I have anything in my closet older than 4 or 5 years, but for at least 12 years I have worn only classic black or charcoal skirts or trousers with jewel toned tops (I especially like cotton tops with 3/4 length sleeves). With different scarves, jewelry, the addition of a cardigan or blazer (not in summer!) and plain black shoes and handbag, I can easily go to work, church, or dinner and a play. I suppose this is my “uniform.” I do well with about 35 different pieces, and never feel my clothes are inadequate.

    BTW, I probably wouldn’t have felt confident enought to do this when I was as young as you are, Francine!

  • Ellen E.

    I have the same dress you wrote about. I purchased it before I got married and it has lasted through weight fluctuations after two pregnancies. J. Crew truly makes quality clothes that last. I’ve been trying to pare down my wardrobe and I’m going to try not to purchase clothing for a year and shop in my own closet. Thank you for inspiring us to be less of a consumer!

  • As a dressmaker, I see an easy solution! Before your beloved dress falls apart, bring it in to a seamstress and have a pattern made from your dress. This should be very easy, especially since I imagine you dress is a simple design. Instead of looking for a new dress, start looking for new fabric! 2 yards would probably be enough.

    Then take your pattern and fabric to a dressmaker and have a new custom dress made. Not only will it be made in the USA, you’ll know the name of the person who sews it!

    I haven’t bought any clothing in years; instead I make everything I wear. I try not to become attached to the clothes I make, because sometimes they just don’t work out how I imagined, and my friends are only too happy to take my ‘cast-offs!’

  • Mary

    It may be worth it to have a duplicate made at a tailor’s or dress maker’s. It might seem like an unnecessary expense, but you will be certain that your favorite and most versatile item can remain so. Heck, get two made. Or! OR! Find a used sewing machine and do it yourself! (This second option has proved to be difficult but rewarding)

  • I just got a LBD from JJill that is similar to yours (more A-line) that’s rayon and spandex. It’s machine washable, and I was delighted when I took it out of the bag it arrived in and it had NO wrinkles. It’s part of their Wearever collection, and it might make a good replacement for you…. :)

  • […] of the specific items in-depth as part of my 100 Possessions series (I’ve already covered my black dress and black […]

  • Khadijah

    My LBD is not too dressy, but it has a little ruffling edge at the bottom that makes it look kinda salsa/flair but it wears so well and its the perfect date dress, dinner dress, appropriate-looking dress that fits well even when weight fluctuates. Its about 5 years old.

    The oldest thing in my wardrobe is a set blouse and skirt (that I still wear sometimes) belonged to my mother when she was a teenager. Its about 38 years old.

  • swynedig

    Francine, my versatile little black dress looks very similar to yours.
    I’s 86% viscose, 10%polyaster, 4% elastane. I bought it over seven years ago in Warehouse, which is a British chain! I have a few clothes from Warehouse, they tend to be easy to wash and they lok well even after years of use.

  • Inga

    Have you ever looked at the Uniform Project……..one dress per year

  • TMT

    I have some very select vintage clothing that I refuse to part with since they are made extremely well. I have a borgana winter coat from the 50’s which I’ve been wearing for the past 15years. I also have a vintage burberry trench coat with the original removable wool lining (which apparently they don’t make anymore-sad. Can’t afford it anyway) The trench is from the 60’s which I still wear every year. I’m 38 and haven’t bought a coat in YEARS and I still get compliments on both coats. They refuse to die or go out of style. Now if that isn’t quality I don’t know what is.

  • Jaime

    A belated response, but I have a long black J.Crew skirt from 1997 which I’m still wearing. It traveled to Central Asia with me and has survived everything I can throw at it for the last 14 years.

  • Matildafromsweden

    Hi! i know i`m slow, but hopefully you`ll see this and read it:) I just wanted to give you a tip were you can find good quality clothing made in USA-American Apparel!!

    LOVE your minimalist wardrobe tips!!
    Hugs, Matilda

  • Rachel

    I am not a LBD kind of woman, but yours is great, Francine! The oldest item of clothing in my closet is a red Junior Miss tee shirt that I got while doing a high school pageant. The color suits me and I could pretty much wear it through three pregnancies (I carry small.) The shirt is finally showing signs of wear, though. The lettering is peeling and I noticed a hole in the armpit. I am not that attached to it, though, it has just been so practical.

  • carolyn

    I have found Hobbs do a quality dress, and must admit I have 3 of theirs in my wardrobe, but not plain black, one is black and white poker dot, silk and I feel fab in it, the other a special occasion dress multi flowered coloures similar, and the third a grey white rose one again silk which I got on ebay for a snip. I have used all these dresses well in the last few years, when nights out are few with young children and feel special when I wear them. They are well made and fit just right. Not sure if in USA expect so.

    Found Ashleys comments very interesting and useful.

  • Tina

    I have one black dress I’ve been wearing for years to weddings and other dressy occasions. I have shawls I throw over it and nice earrings and I bet it is 10 years old. If I ever lose a lot of weight I will buy a smaller one just like it.

  • Tina

    I have a sweatshirt that is at least 20 years old. I wear it as a layering item in the winter. I have 4 sweatshirts because I am retired and live in the Midwest where we have serious winters. By dressing in layers, I don’t need to own a giant heavy parka since if it gets around zero, I just don’t go out. We never turn on the heat because we live on the 4th floor of a 9 story building so we are insulated, and all our windows face south.

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