The One Dress Every Woman Needs in Her Closet (and in Her Suitcase)

My Great-Aunt Lavada was 101 years old when I met her. It was because of a visit to her house that I learned about the one dress that every woman should own (and pack for every trip).

I was twelve years old, visiting my granny, and it was the first time I had ever packed my own suitcase. I had packed nice things, clothes suitable for our usual activities of arts and crafts, cooking and window shopping. Everything would have been fine, except the yellow rotary phone in my granny’s kitchen rang and one of Aunt Lavada’s daughters asked Granny to pay a visit. Plans were made and we were set to drive down the next day.

In the morning I had dressed nicely (I thought) and presented myself ready for our trip to Belton. Granny met me in the hall and smiled sweetly and said, “Why don’t you put on a dress. Aunt Lavada is old-fashioned and doesn’t believe that ladies should wear pants.” Her smiled dried up like West Texas in August when I told her I hadn’t packed one.

We got a late start that day because we had to wait for J.C. Penney’s to open so Granny could buy me a new dress. It was a floral denim number with a pointed waist and lace at the sweetheart neckline. It was also stiff, smelled of sizing and itched because it had never been washed.


When my mother found out what had happened, she told me that a lady always needed to pack what she calls a “Funeral Dress”. I call it the one dress that every woman should have in her closet (and in her suitcase). Think of it as your “Essential Dress”.

Your “Essential Dress” needs to be able to perform multiple functions. Easy flexibility Sketch29694425~2should be its hallmark. I have worn mine to funerals, weddings, business functions, church events, and for an evening out. Just a change in accessories and it is good to go wherever I need it to.

An “Essential Dress” doesn’t have to be any particular shape. Wrap dresses, sheaths, shifts, fit and flares all can work if they meet a few criteria:


The length needs to be at your knee, or below, because it has to work in even the most solemn occasions and conservative venues.


The neckline shouldn’t reveal too much, not just for the same reasons I listed above, but also because it should serve you well in the office. Research shows that the more skin a person reveals (male or female) the more vulnerable that person appears, and the less intelligent. If you do not want to appear vulnerable, or less intelligent than you are, you need to keep your neckline higher.


The dress should have sleeves. This is for two reasons. First, a good “Essential Dress” will serve you year round, so a sleeveless style just isn’t practical. Second,  some venues, especially formal churches, require that your arms be covered to enter.


The fabric should be easy care and appropriate for day or evening. If you’re traveling you don’t want to have to spend an hour pressing finicky material. Your dress should need a quick steam at the most to be ready to wear.


The dress should be easy to wear. It shouldn’t require special undergarments, or specific makeup to make the color work for you, or grow so clingy with static when you wear it that you are constantly tugging it back into place. If it’s high maintenance, it isn’t a good “Essential Dress”.


It took a hot, uncomfortable, itchy-denim ride for me to learn just how important it was to pack a dress suitable for all occasions. Now, I always make sure I have an “Essential Dress” ready to wear in my closet and ready to wear in my suitcase, because you never know when you’re going to get a call to visit your Great-Aunt Lavada.


2 thoughts on “The One Dress Every Woman Needs in Her Closet (and in Her Suitcase)

  1. I’ve been hanging onto some dresses in my closet the past couple of years now that I’m in my mid-20s and the weddings (and funerals, sadly) are rolling in faster. I think the only part I’m struggling with now is finding a color that works well for all occasions.


    1. @thismisscooks Jewel tones and saturated colors are a good way to go. They stand out more than black, but are appropriate for somber occasions, as well. My current “Essential Dress” is a deep turquoise.


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