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How to Find and Wear a Little Black Dress for Less

Since its debut in 1926, courtesy of fashion designer Coco Chanel, the little black dress has become a go-to outfit for many women. While there's no shortage of high-end pickings, shoppers on a budget will find an abundance of cheap LBDs that can be dressed up (or not) for any occasion.

Almost all major fashion retailers carry good-quality black dresses for less than $100, so there's no reason not to keep one on a nearby hanger. An inexpensive little black dress is perfect for work, a lunch date with friends, a dinner party, or a romantic evening. The LBD can be dressed up with pumps and bold jewelry or dressed down with flats and a cross-body bag.

Where to Buy a Little Black Dress

Ann Taylor, Nordstrom, and Macy's carry black dresses in varying lengths, styles, and sizes. While Ann Taylor is known for work-appropriate dresses, Nordstrom stocks a variety of styles, most of which bear high-end labels -- and higher prices. At both, LBD prices settle in at, or slightly above, Cheapism's $100 ceiling. Macy's diverse offerings fall well within our budget.

H&M and Zara also sell budget LBDs in styles similar to those at the higher-end vendors, although the quality is often lower and styles skew younger. If you find a cheap black dress, do your homework and check seams and fabric quality. Black hides a multitude of flaws, but shiny or pilled patches of fabric after a few washes are not among them.

A Felicity and Coco pencil dress may seem like a steal for $98 at Nordstrom, but a jersey dress from H&M ($13) puts a youthful spin on the look for a fraction of the price. Ann Taylor's All-Season Stretch Sheath Dress goes for $139, but younger consumers who prefer a higher hemline and aren't looking for a work-appropriate option can find a lower-cost LBD at H&M ($35). Rather than invest $2,650 in a Fendi leather dress at Bergdorf Goodman, fashionistas on a budget can pick up a faux leather dress at Zara for $70.

Get the Most Out of an LBD

One of the key reasons to own a classic but cheap LBD is its blank-slate quality. It can be readily styled in a number of ways to fit any occasion. One golden rule when shopping for the perfect LBD is to avoid embellishments that could undermine its versatility. A little black dress with a fixed belt, puffy sleeves, cutouts, or ruching could be on-trend now but look dated later. A classic silhouette in an everyday fabric, such as cotton, polyester, or rayon, will work in the long-term whether it has long, short, or three-quarter-length sleeves.

The way to make an LBD look current is through accessories and statement heels. Dangling earrings, a bold necklace, a wide belt, or even a colorful clutch can instantly transform a basic dress into a knockout. Dress up that LBD for less than $10 with a strand of glass pearls, long earrings with emerald-cut stones, or an enamel bangle with a chevron print from an online vendor such as Charming Charlie. You can score a pair of Mary Jane buckle-strap pumps in a nontraditional color, such as pewter or nude, for $35 at Target.

Here's the skinny: Look beyond the designer LBDs, and also the very cheapest versions. While an investment piece will pay off in the long run, good quality near-knockoffs can keep you in style and in the black (pun intended) right now.

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