Frequent reader and all around awesome human CBackson submitted this request:

So I'm heading to a gala in NYC in early fall. It's black tie, and although I know that frequently means cocktail (and I'm willing to think about cocktail), I'd love to wear a long dress. The problem? Everything I see looks too bridesmaid-y, too prom-y, or too old (like, beads everywhere). I'm 32, and although I dress in a fairly classic style, I'm thinking something modern would be a fun change for me. I'm a fair-skinned blonde, on the short side, and slim-bordering-on-skinny (I'm a size 2/4, with a fairly boyish figure). I would LOVE to get something that wasn't black. Other than that, I'm open to all kinds of craziness (except maybe animal prints; girl's gotta draw a line). I was thinking $400 max, but would go higher for something timeless.

So, there's something I have to confess to you - my dear readers - there is almost nothing I like more than shopping for gowns, especially for other people (so I don't have to pay for them.)  So of course this request from my beloved C. Backson is right up my alley. I'll try to give you a variety of different looks from different designers and in different price points but, for the interested, I've become more and more drawn to the Tadashi Shoji dresses I've seen at Nordstroms and other stores on-line lately. T.S. seems to design dresses that are classic while still having a little modern edge or something that makes it just a bit different.  So there's a better than average chance that a couple of those will sneak there way in here. But I'll make sure to mix it up. :-) 

As for the dresses themselves, I think generally something with a fairly slim fit will look great on you.  First of all, you should take advantage of what sounds like a lovely, slim figure.  But in addition, since generally there's a mix of cocktail length and full-length dresses at these sorts of events, you may be more comfortable in a dress without too much poof.  But that certainly doesn't mean your dress can't have some pizazz.  Okay!  Now on to the recommendations!
Alice + Olivia Open Back Embroidered Maxi Dress at Net a Porter ($395 - from the front this dress looks like a pretty simple lace/embroidered gown, but turn it around and its DAMN sexy.  And honestly, even the lace has a little something sexy about it.  Plus, I actually like high necklines like this on dresses because it creates a wonderful base for jewelry.  This red would be a lovely color for fall.)ML by Monique Lhullier Crisscross Chiffon Gown in emerald at Nordstroms ($298 - what drew me to this dress, first and foremost, is the color.  I think if you want to stand out that a kelly green gown is really the way to go.  Plus, the cut would be flattering on almost anybody and since you're relatively flat of chest I don't think you have to worry about the crisscross neckline [which I think adds some much needed interest to the gown.]  I would consider the possibility of adding a belt at the waist, but that might drag it into the bridesmaid looks, so perhaps just gold or silver jewelry?  Or, if you can find it, navy goes wonderfully with this shade of green so navy and gold jewelry would look fabulous.)
Nicole Miller Printed Wrap Bodice Gown at Neiman Marcus ($208 - I'm not always one for prints on gowns, but I'm sort of drawn to this one for some reason, perhaps because its not *too* busy, you know?  Also, I like that the cut is relatively simple - though I would add some color in the accessories I think. Heads up though - the only size left is a 4 which I know is the upper end of your size range - but I wanted to throw it out there anyway.)

Notte by Marchesa at the Outnet ($394.50 - I think I have recommended this dress to someone before but it remains one of, if not actually, my favorite formal gowns that I've seen floating around out there [though I think when I first saw it was in navy but this lovely coral would do wonders for you.]  And sizes 2 and 4 are the only sizes left!  The gold embellishments add just enough interest to make the dress interesting but otherwise it is a very simple cut.  It is not too grand for the type of event you're going to, but you could wear it to basically anything requiring a formal gown.  Basically, I love this dress - though I realize that other opinions may vary.)
Tadashi Shoji Portrait Collar Pleated Mesh Gown at Nordstroms ($298 - so I know I have also suggested this dress on this blog before [and to you on the 'rette when you first floated this question], plus its basically black, but it is also one of my favorite formal gowns that I've seen in years so I can't help putting it out there as a serious option.  I think the elaborate collar would add a little something at the bust area and the underlay of cream keeps it from being traditional black.  Either way - this may be more my taste than yours but I wanted to include it anyway.)
Twobirds Convertible Maxi Dress in Deep Ocean at ShopBop ($310 - technically a bridesmaid dress, but its a lovely color.  I'm not sure what to do with the different ways you can wear it, but I like the one shoulder design and the color would look awesome with what I think your coloring is.  This is a simple but yet lovely dress and the pleats add a little something special.  Definitely something to consider.  I'd style it with purple and gold shoes and jewelry - perhaps go with a slight peacock look.)
Tadashi Shoji One Shoulder Illusion Gown at Nordstroms ($368 - going back to red and Tadashi, if you want something a bit more form fitting and in the almost mermaid category, I don't think you can go wrong with this dress.  It has the best elements of a bandage dress, but the illusion striping at the bottom and the neckline add interest and enough pizzazz that you'll be making a statement.  But not the sort of statement you *don't* want to make.  Actually, I really like this dress a lot, but don't think I have the figure to quite pull it off - it sounds like you might though!  There is a similar, non-one-shouldered in cobalt that is also lovely if that tickles your fancy.)
Kay Unger gold silk and metallic lace overlay party dress at Bluefly ($347 - so this last one I'm recommending in case you decide to go with a cocktail length dress because, quite frankly, it is a FABULOUS cocktail dress and when else do you have an excuse to wear a gold silk and lace cocktail dress except at a formal gala like this?  Plus, lucky you, only your size is left.  So I'm throwing it out there as an idea, as a counter-balance to what I hope you found were helpful gown ideas.)

So okay!  I hope you found these ideas helpful!!  I know it was fun finding them for you.  Write back when you pick something if you need help picking jewelry and/or shoes (because you know what a BURDEN it is for me to vicariously shop for jewelry or shoes.)  But no matter what, let me know what you go with!  I have to live through my friends and internet friends who get to go to grand galas since I spend most nights at home in pajamas.  So have fun!  Don't partake too heavily in the open bar.  And show off that dress girl, because no matter what you pick, I know you'll look fierce.  Happy Shopping and may the Odds be Ever in Your Favor.
8/8/2013 16:29:22

Okay, my actual vote is that blingy coral Marchessa gown. Because it is baller. HOWEVER: That Alice and Olivia thing is spectacular and you (judging by your description) would look spectacular in it.

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cbackson
8/13/2013 13:29:52

Oh man, I have been clicking and considering and daydreaming and showing these to all of my friends for the last few days. I LOVE the black Tadashi Shoji (even though I said not black!), but I love the TwoBirds dress EVEN MORE. I have to be honest - I have a weakness for dramatic backs, and MAN is that dramatic.

I'm thinking flat gold sandals with this, maybe? Thoughts on jewelry? I know that it's adjustable, but I dig the one-shoulder neckline, which mean no necklaces, I think.

Thank you SO MUCH! I can't wait to share pictures of the final outfit once I get it together :-)

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