Zero Waste Wardrobe IV: Dresses


When it comes to dresses, only Dior survives the scorched earth policy I apply to my wardrobe. Fully lined in silk, with hook and eye closures above a concealed zipper and attached belts, in smooth wool and crepe, they handwash (or machine wash) beautifully and dry wrinkle-free overnight. I love dresses because I'm lazy- put on a coat and shoes and you have a complete outfit without needing any other accessories (I'm over cardigans and would rather die from pneumonia than put a sweater over a dress again). Plus I love seeing people's minds explode when I tell them how much I paid for each, and where I found them- "This was $36 at a thrift store," I say, before walking away, leaving them to recall their last, more expensive Zara purchase- mic drop.

I realize that, as much as I loved my Prada shirtdress in a Bianca Stratford kind of way, full skirts and unlined dresses are problematic for me, a person who never met a subway grate she didn't accidentally step on. Or I'd ride the Metro from Barbes to Chatelet and struggle to keep the skirt down whenever a gust of wind came through the car. Plus, cotton is a pain to take care of. I always felt messy in that easily wrinkled dress, which my more polished sister owns now.

These days I stick to close fitting dresses, with open necks (the black Dior scoops down just enough) for freedom. All my dresses have the advantage of looking kind of nice with sneakers, especially with a coat on top. They hit just below the knee, which is the most versatile length- as appropriate in the office as at dinner or Silencio (does anyone still go there? Does it even exist anymore). My dress collection isn't extensive, but I never need anything else:

  • 1 crepe Dior dress (similar but not really), for formal events, cocktails, dinners, work, and funerals. The simpler the better, especially if it's black. I learned the hard way that black clothing must be extremely well designed and well made, because the shade betrays every error of cut and finishing.
  • 1 wool navy dress, pictured here (similar). I chose wool because it's seasonless and navy because it's the official color of Paris. This is my everyday workhorse, and the longest lasting piece in my wardrobe. I've never needed a tailor to fix anything on it, only to take it in.
  • 1 grey wool dress (similar). I chased this down because I remember seeing the actress Nora Arnezeder wear it to the 2009 Dior Haute Couture show and thinking, "It will be mine someday." It surfaced years later on the secondhand market, and I had the skirt, which hung straight down, taken in on an angle to make it more fitted. I don't usually wear the attached belt with it because I'm short and I feel it cuts off my torso (I prefer the belt with jeans), but it's nice to change up the look once in a while. This is my go to for interviews, presentations, or big meetings. I wore it to COP21.
  • 1 ponté foil American Apparel dress, $12 at a thrift store, my casual dress to wear with sneakers (pictured here). I unexpectedly fell in love with it and remember thinking every roll would show in the ponté but a girl in tiny disco shorts shook her head and said, "Tu es mince." That was it. With her blessing I've worn it to picnics, Versailles, lunches, nights out, shopping, hot chocolate runs, donut runs, and with heels at the Chedi. It's my favorite because it packs so easily and rolls up really tiny.
  • 1 grey ribbed cotton American Apparel henley dress. I mostly wear this around the house and to bed now, after my friend's chic Parisian daughter told me it looked like pajamas. Sometimes I'll wear it to a barbecue or to play outside with friends' kids though. As a house dress, it has the advantage of not being embarrassing when someone drops by unexpectedly (which seemed to happen every week I lived in France- we were too liberal with our code. Also: our gardienne was the worst), and I could run out quickly for groceries or whatever without feeling indecent.
Since I collected them over many years, and cared for them over several more, I love these dresses more than I love most people. Also, I just found the Reformation Capri dress in Marley secondhand and ordered it, so we'll see if it works, but who knows. I get a sick thrill from the restrained, somber simplicity of my dresses now. I might be too neurotic to handle something patterned.

Paris to Go


  1. To me, Reformation always looks like minimalist Laura Ashley. I honestly don't know why people shop at mall stores when they can get designer stuff for the same price or less...!!! But I'm glad they don't in some ways because then there would not be so much cheap designer secondhand stuff for me. I feel bad encouraging consumerism like they... But it's really out of my control!

    I remember you used to have an American apparel Ryder dress...I got it as well when American apparel was going out of business for $12.

    The cut is kind of weird and I feel a little cooked! And I can't figure out what weather to wear am open backed long sleeve dress...I feel like I am got and cold at the same time.

    1. Yea that Ryder dress was weird. I loved the color and wore it in the Middle East and once out in Arizona but anywhere else it just seemed out of place (I wore it as a top with my skirts for a little bit but it twists and rides up more than any dress should too).

      Perfect description of Reformation's summer stuff. I'm already regretting getting the dress but I'll try (more carbon emissions, sigh). Exactly, malls make zero sense to me. So expensive and undesirable. Even J Crew- I4ll never pay full price, thrift stores are chock full of their stuff for a reason.

    2. Oops my comment reads a little like nonsense because I didn't proofread for autocorrect.

      I have the dress in umber and love the color, but it does weird so I'll probably trim the top and just add an elastic waist for a stretchy pencil skirt. I wish it was a tiny bit longer but that's ok.

      Glad you figured out what I meant. I love J. Crew but full price for it is wild. Especially now that Jenna Lyons, the greatest lesbian style icon of all time has left. It's so cheap at thrift stores!!! You can always find it for like $2.

  2. I think this is THE most funny post you have ever written.
    Also, I am envious of you. Just not wearing sweaters or cardigans would kill me, and I am only mildly exaggerating here.

    Loving the posts! Content and language wise.
    You rock.

    1. <3 hoping you are loving your new home

    2. Do I love it...

      Please come over to our home whenever you are near Clinton Hill/Fort Greene in Brooklyn.

  3. You would find that Reformation dress secondhand! I wish I'd bought it before it sold out, but couldn't stomach the $198 price tag.

  4. My favorite installation of your wardrobe series. I'm kind of looking for a dress to buy in the next year, but I've mostly given up (linen, A-line, dark color). I hope to source more of my future wardrobe from the secondhand market so your posts are a good resource. And now that I see you endorse the quality of American Apparel clothing, I wish I had taken a closer look at them while they were still in business!

  5. Hi Ariana,
    Thank you for this blog! You've inspired me to go as zero waste as possible. So, question about hand washing your wool dresses. Do you ever find that they shrink after washing (I've tried washing them in tap-cold water and liquid castille soap and air-drying)? My dresses are 100% wool with silk lining and I've found that they've shrunk a bit. Do you have any tips for how to avoid that? Thanks so much.

  6. I bought that ponte dress during the AA closeout sale for the reasons you mentioned above (i.e. non fitted dresses blowing away, wrinkles, etc). Amazing what that fabric does to the body.