If I have one piece of clothing in my closet that wear more than anything else, it’s my black cotton shift dress that I found a tiny boutique in NYC last year. It’s my go-to piece all year round when I don’t know what to wear, especially during the spring and summer months. Now, I know what you’re thinking: A black dress for Spring and Summer? Why would you want to wear black when you have so many prints available to you? I’ll tell you why. A black dress works for any and every occasion, a shift works for any and every body type, and you have the freedom to dress it up or down however you please! If it’s not the most versatile piece you could have in your wardrobe, then I’m the newest star of Taylor Swift‘s music video.

(Related: How To Wear Culottes, This Season’s Trendiest And Most Confusing Pants)

When I bought the dress, it was kind of an impulse buy. I threw it on, loved how breezy it was, then purchased and pranced (I think I literally pranced) out of the store without giving much thought as to how I would style it. When the time to wear it came around, I ended up spending an extra hour emptying the contents of closet, dresser, and jewelry box on to my bed, only to give up, completely frustrated. After a few days of trying things out though, and weeks of wearing it during different types of weather, I finally figured it out, and guys, the frustration was worth it. This dress is, if I may say so, the tits.

But I want to spare you the frustration I went through, because I like you guys and having to put all of clothes away after that mess-inducing hour was a serious pain in the patooty. For purposes of keeping things uniform, I’m using American Eagle‘s Swing Tank Dress ($34.95). It’s the dress on the far right of the above photo, if you need a reference point.

Here are a few styling tips to help you pull off a black cotton shift for spring and summer:

For Casual Wear


My big things for warmer weather is layers. I get hot really easily, but the air conditioning is usually blasting anywhere you go in the spring and summer, so I like to have something I can easily take on and off, like thin cardigan or a chambray shirt (Oversized Chambray Shirt, Madewell). The basic dress also allows for fun accessories, like colored espadrille flats (Lottie Slip-On Espadrilles, Jigsaw), a chain necklace (Gold Beaded & Knotted Lariat Necklace, Charlotte Russe), and a hat (Urban Renewal Whisler Civilian Cumberland Hat, Urban Outfitters). And, since it is sunny out, sunglasses are a must-have (Let’s See Here Gold & Black Sunglasses, Lulu’s). I’m pretty sure 90 percent of the people I interact with in warmer weather don’t actually know what my eyes look like.

For A Date


I’m a pretty big advocate for keeping it simple on a date, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never actually been on a fancy date to which I wore heels or a dress. I’m not sure if that’s depressing or not, but hey, I just like dive bars, I guess. Anywho, the fit of the blazer (Chic Lapel Two Pockets Stylish Blazer, offsets the looseness of the dress, and the pop of color is the perfect way to spice up a basic look. This leaves plenty of room for a fun statement necklace (Gildstitch Statement Necklace, Madewell) and, my favorite part of the outfit, ankle strap heels (Canter Single Sole Ankle Strap High Heels, Delicious). Guys, I can’t stress how much I love ankle strap heels. If you don’t have a pair in your closet, get one now. Do it. I’ll wait here. When you’re back, throw on some winged eyeliner and maybe even a red lip if you’re feeling matchy and you’re good to go!

For Work


So I’ve talked about work-appropriate outfits for warm weather before, but I didn’t mention this dress. Again, if you work in a corporate environment with a strict knee-length dress code, then this might not be ideal, but the concept can still apply. I paired the dress with a light blue blazer (Blue Ponte Blazer, Miss Selfridge), a delicate—but still a little bit bold and not without personality— necklace (BaubleBar, shop similar here), sheer tights (literally any drugstore will have these, and for under $5 no less!), and ankle boots (Ankle Boots, H&M). So long as you’re not showing too much skin and the blazer isn’t too thick, there’s nothing wrong with wearing something like this to the office.

For Brunch


I’m all about keeping things cozy when I brunch, because who wants to be wearing tight jeans when they’re sucking down mimosas? Pairing the dress with flats (Tamera Flat, Steve Madden), a breezy kimono cardigan (Macrame Fringed Kimono, Monsoon), and a turquoise pendant (Anthropologie, shop similar here) is easy while still looking cute and put together.

For A Girls’ Night Out


Okay, so this might just be a personal preference, but when I got out, I generally go for a head-to-toe black ensemble with one or two pops of color, usually in the jewelry or the makeup. Here’s the uniform: Black dress, black leather jacket (Biker Jacket, H&M), black heeled booties (Cuba Women’s Pull-On Boots, Steve Madden), and a statement necklace (Bold Beaded Strands, BaubleBar).

(Featured Photo: Brandy Melville, Forever 21, American Eagle)