Back in December, I needed a dress for a black tie optional wedding, and felt completely uninspired by everything in my "dressy" wardrobe. As I often do in these situations, I turned to my friend (we’ll call her M) in hopes she'd let me shop her closet. In a scene out of a movie montage, M pulled out dress after dress and I wiggled my way in and out of them in front of her mirror, finally settling on a simple, black midi-length shift with inverted pleats on the side and a modest slit up the center. It was cool. It was flattering. It was from Forever 21.

In the same way that a lie of omission is still a lie, I essentially stole my friend’s dress by not giving it back. It hung in the dry cleaning bag for about a few weeks—ready and waiting to be dutifully returned—until I needed something to wear to a rehearsal dinner in Washington, DC. Then I had a first date on a warm spring evening. Before long I had my first day of work at InStyle. Then brunch in the West Village with friends. You get the idea. This dress—which is currently on sale for less than $30 on—became the most essential item in my closet. (And I feel like I should note it looks must more polished and a bit more structured in person than in the above image.)

For those dressy occasions, I slip it on with a couple of layered statement necklaces and black strappy sandals. On the weekends, with my Chuck Taylor low-tops and a field jacket. At work, I pair it with block-heel sandals and a braided updo.

Snag this magic dress via before it sells out! (And don’t worry, I already bought a replacement for my very patient and generous friend M.)

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