Style

The Perfect Black Dress in Normal People

normal people Italy

Did you watch Normal People? Everything about the show was sexy (understatement), and that includes the costume direction. Especially lovely was this black dress, which Marianne wore in Italy. Reportedly, costume director Lorna Mugan and director Hettie Macdonald thought it would stand out against the “blinding light” of the Italian square. Although Marianne’s dress was thrifted, here are nine that would be equally great for riding bikes, eating ice cream and flirting with your crush…

normal people in Italy

Thoughts? Which would you wear? This one is pretty, too!

P.S. Q&As with the costume designers of Fleabag and Crazy Rich Asians.

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  1. Erin says...

    This house is lovely, but I was disappointed they didn’t shoot these scenes in Trieste, where they are set in the book (and where I live!)

    Trieste has a very different feel than Rome/central Italy (for one thing, it’s on the sea) and when I read the book I loved being able to exactly imagine them at a charming little Carso country house.

  2. Diana says...

    I don`t know about the dress…but oh, the show!! I love it! Those feelings when you are 20, obviously I still have them…

  3. After I saw this episode I’ve decided to ride my bike wearing a dress hahaha also loved this dress and the location;)

  4. Caroline says...

    came here to comment the same. it feels a little “hit the token one plus size image” and the rest are all the exact same thin models we see everywhere. i’d love to see more diversity in the options in posts like this! even some of these dresses are carried in plus sizes, but not shown.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh yes, they didn’t have plus size models for those dresses. I wish they did! I love how madewell often offers multiple models for the same item.

      we will do better in the future, thank you!

    • Ally says...

      I agree! I could NEVER wear any of those dresses with my bust size! I need a bra! Spaghetti straps are the enemy!!!!

  5. Tshego B says...

    Do lovely! I want to make myself a silk one

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so cool!!

    • Allison says...

      this made my day – thank you for sharing! ?

  6. Lindsay says...

    She looked so beautiful in that dress. I think it suited her very lean, straight body type well. I would get a different style for my hourglass body.
    This scene made me want bangs too. But again, not the best on my face shape! Gotta do you lol.

  7. CR says...

    Do you have a recommendation of a dress for petite (or people with short legs). I am 5’3” and I can’t wear a dress below my knees (it looks awful).

    PS haven’t heard of the show but now I am intrigued

  8. Rue says...

    True story: I wore a VERY similar black dress on my first date with my now-fiancé. The dress was a few years old already when I wore it on that date. The date itself was such a success that I wanted to hold onto the magic and I was convinced the dress was key. Plus now I needed more casual sexy date outfits! I hadn’t planned for that! So I rushed to our very lame local mall and got almost the exact same black dress, but with the smocked back rather than the front ruffles, because, you know, it had to be a different dress.

    Luckily the good vibes were about US and not our outfits. I still have both dresses. I may never get rid of the first date dress, TBH, even though it’s finally showing its age.

    I’ve recently fallen down the wedding dress shopping rabbit hole, so this is making me realize my dress choices that fit this silhouette and understated vibe might just be the right call for me! It hasn’t let me down yet in this relationship! (Wish is luck as we plan a 20-whenever wedding.)

  9. Anon says...

    The dress from Mille is so charming, and the model looks so beautiful, it made me wish it were summer in my early 20’s again. Lovely. Thank you.

  10. Katie says...

    Loved this book. Nothing better than Irish lit! Dress is gorg!

  11. becky says...

    I just started watching! (read the book months ago but was stubborn about watching) and its so strangely awesome that I’ve been thinking about a black dress and white sneaker combo this week and here you are writing about the dress! I am very fair and in the last few years have been sensitive about it. However I love that the actress is fair as well and wears shorts and black dresses, exactly what I have been avoiding. Can’t wait to buy a black dress!

  12. Megan Flowers says...

    Just ordered the Krinkle dress!!

  13. i watched the show then read the book, the show is sooo much better in my opinion!!!
    at first i thought it was slow but then when i finished it, i went back to watch again earlier episodes to catch every detail and every look!
    so glad they announced there will be a second season!

    • Lourdes says...

      OMG, Coco! I thought the same thing. The book was ok. A little cold. But the show was delicate and tender. I loved it so much more.

    • sophie says...

      totally agree! very impressed with their adaptation. the chemistry was unreal.

    • sophie says...

      and, they haven’t yet announced a second season, unfortunately, however, they did announce they’re adapting Rooney’s other novel, ‘Conversations with Friends’, into a show.

    • Sophie Proud says...

      There was actually two bonus episodes made for an Irish charity, search, “Normal Older People” into YouTube, they’re fantastic! X

  14. Samantha says...

    Speaking of Normal People….
    what happened to the Cup of Jo book club?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      it’s coming back! just had to take a quick break when quarantine got busy (blame the kids:) xoxo

    • Samantha says...

      yay!! (and totally understandable :) )

  15. Agnès says...

    Thank you. Totally made my summer. I will try.

  16. Natalie says...

    I have been chasing this damn sundress since I saw the series! Don’t you just want to put that dress on and never take it off!

  17. C says...

    Okay, yes, the outfits were good. The dialogue was excruciating at times. The sex scenes were hawt. But more importantly than Marianne’s dress, can we get a post about men’s chains bc omg I loved Cornell’s chain and did not realize other viewers felt the same ??
    https://www.instagram.com/connellschain/?hl=en

  18. Lara says...

    I agree with Bridget’s comment below that the most gutting part of their story is their inability to truly communicate. It’s like they are both trapped in themselves; how painful (and what a reminder that no relationship, no matter how sparkly of a connection you might have, can thrive if we don’t learn to authentically represent our own needs and wants).

    In case anyone is interested and hasn’t seen, here is a short story written by Sally Rooney that can be seen as an epilogue to Normal People (my understanding is that she wrote it before the novel and the novel builds out the characters’ history, but please correct me if I’m wrong!). https://www.thewhitereview.org/fiction/at-the-clinic/

    Warning… it’s not exactly cheery. But for anyone craving more Connell and Marianne, check it out.

  19. K says...

    I loved that dress in the show!

  20. Tara says...

    THIS DRESS FEELS LIKE THE TRAVELING PANTS OF 2020. Fuck we need linen dresses to get us through this year. Marianne is my girl crush. Thank God for this hulu special/soft corn porn that we all needed. I really want Connell for quarantine. Just to love me up and read to me and give me chocolate when I’m PMS ing.

    I’m filling up my inflatable pool as I type, putting it in the shade and I made brownies with old weed I had thanks for the cup a joe brownie req’s. Y’ALL feed me to in so many ways. Thankful for this space <3

    • Emily L says...

      OMG this comment made me laugh so hard! Thank you for just making my day.

  21. Jessica says...

    FYI the “smocked back” dress also comes in Plus sizes, in case people are looking for more options :) Only a 14+ and 16+ are in stock, but I’ve found LOFT plus to be generously sized and the smocked back might provide a little extra stretch.

    • Terri says...

      Thank you for this! I love how Cup of Jo strives for inclusivity in so many ways, but I felt a little left out in the post, with most of the models looking much thinner than I am. Great to know of options for me. Thanks for sharing!

  22. MacleanNash says...

    I LOVED Normal People (especially Connell’s mom)!
    I havent read the book, and I do agree with some other comments here that it was, at times, slow. But for me, the show accurately portrayed uni life which can certainly be slow and monotonous which the show’s pace reflected. I thought it was refreshing!

  23. Emily says...

    Try the Lively Busty Maternity bralettes – inexpensive, wide size range, and cute straps / styling :)

  24. Chandra says...

    The sexiest summer show and so well styled! We need the house tour of Marianne’s house during college.

  25. Bridget says...

    I am so surprised by how sexy people think the show is. I watched (and read the book) with profound sadness for these two young people. Yes the sex scenes between Marianne and Connell are hot, but more than anything, how they can’t stop hurting each other is so difficult to watch.
    Maybe I just needed the catharsis of crying my eyes out (b/c 2020) but more than make me horny, this show just made me cry for these two people who can’t really say how they feel or let themselves be really seen.
    Anyway thanks for the cute dress recommendations.

    • lydia says...

      i agree!! i said to the tv out loud a couple times, just tell him/her how you’re feeling!! it made me so sad for them too.

    • Megan says...

      SAME x100!! But man if it wasn’t beautiful to look at, loved how Marianne was styled throughout.

    • Sadie says...

      Yes! They do not communicate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! I wanted to yell at the screen, “you’re always so happy together, just STAY TOGETHER.”

    • Lindsay says...

      I agree!! I was sad and frustrated for days after I finished the show. I loved them together and wanted them to figure out how to communicate what they were feeling. They went through all of that just to walk away again every time.

    • K says...

      YES! I read the book last year and felt so conflicted. It was really difficult to watch, the hurt and lack of communication. She obviously has huge issues with trust and self worth. She let him hurt her because she doesn’t think she’s worth loving. And he is never comfortable with them being together. Argh! Reading the book made me sad and angry and I was very hesitant to watch the show. I watched maybe half of it, but had to stop because it frustrated me just as much as the book. I did not find it romantic and sexy. Yes, it’s beautifully cast and filmed and gorgeous to look at but the story just made me feel exhausted and exasperated. Thank you for listening!! lol

  26. Sadie says...

    Did anyone else grow up calling thin straps, “spaghetti straps”? lol

    • CaraM says...

      Totally, Sadie! I went to high school from 1996-2000 and I remember spaghetti strap tank tops were all the rage. It always made me laugh because my Mother would get so annoyed that no one wore a strapless bra with them (her pet peeve was bra straps showing). I remember feeling very free when I purposefully wore fun bra straps under such a tank top (yeah low-risk rebellion)!

    • Colleen S says...

      I did, and still do. They were banned when I was in high school in the late 90s, but us girls got away with it as long as we wore collared tops with snap buttons over them.

    • Katie says...

      Fellow late 90s high schooler here (94-98) and I still call thin straps spaghetti straps. They were banned from my high school as well but somehow I got away with a red one?!? I’d wear with jeans and my gray bra strap definitely showed.

    • Emily L says...

      Yesss! The key was trying to find bras with cute straps!

  27. Janey says...

    Loved the show, even better than the book in my opinion, and adored all of Mariannes outfits. Oh to be young again!!

    • Karen says...

      Agree 100%

    • Quinn says...

      I agree! And I almost never like the show/movie better than the book. It was so beautiful to watch and the chemistry between the actors was something else!

  28. Hannah says...

    Last summer I fully embraced black, strappy tops and dresses as my uniform. I could get away with a regular black bra or a strapless on occasion. But! I’m about to deliver my 2nd baby and while I keep eyeing all these beautiful strappy tops and dresses, some of which look perfect for nursing and these last few hot months of summer, are there nursing bras out there to wear with stuff like this?? Or do I need to just embrace the granny bras and wide strapped tanks until next summer? I’m a DDD not pregnant/nursing, so I can’t really make a lot of the strappy bralettes work for me without a peep show. If anyone has any recommendations, send them my way please & thank you!

    • Jane says...

      I’m small chested, so it may not work for you, but I used to wear a tank top under strappy dresses. I liked that I could lift the tank and lower the dress, or vice versa, so my tummy wasn’t exposed and I didn’t feel my chest was either. I wore a lot of black as I leaked all the time.

  29. Andrea says...

    Joanna, love you, but that black dress is perfect only for slender women with small breasts… Would love to see a wider range of “perfect black dresses” and the bodies they’d fit!

    • Meg says...

      Respectfully disagree! This post links to a similar H&M dress that goes up to 4x and the model wearing it in the photo is not “slender with small breasts” and she looks gorgeous in it.

      I’m also not “slender with small breasts” and I own some spaghetti strap dresses in this silhouette and no I don’t look exactly like Daisy Edgar-Jones wearing them but I still think I look damn good tbh :)

    • a.n. says...

      also respectfully disagree! i am slender with small breasts but own the same linen blend dress, as does as a dear friend of mine who is completely the opposite body shape as me – curvaceous and has huge breasts and it looks fantastic on her!

    • CaraM says...

      I’m a size 16/18 with E boobs and that hasn’t stopped me! I found a great strapless bra that works so well from the store Torrid. Normally, I’m hourglass figured, but this still worked for me.

    • Meredith says...

      I agree with Andrea! I don’t like strapless bras, nor do I like having bra straps showing. I’m glad this works for the rest of you (truly!), but I had exactly Andrea’s thought when I clicked on this. This curvy girl is tired of clothes that are designed for and modeled by slender people and then just sort of sized up for those of us with curves. From the spaghetti straps to the “midi” length…it’s frustrating!

    • Kate says...

      I agree with Andrea and Meredith! This is very much a small-boobs type of dress and while it’s possible to find one or two versions scaled up, it’s really not a style that will work on most curvier figures. I’n glad it works well for some, though!

  30. Denise says...

    Has anyone ordered from Mille before and know how they run? TTS or generous? I’m usually between sizes and not sure which direction to lean into (my smaller of the two sizes or the larger).

    • Chandra says...

      I LOVE Mille!! I would say they are true to size. Some of the clothing is made in fabrics with more give like the cotton gauze. When in doubt I’ve sized down and everything fits wonderfully. Hope that helps! :)

  31. Theresa says...

    OMG I searched the web for way too long after I watched this episode looking for this dress and made my roommate watch this episode just to see how nice this dress looked on her with Italy as a backdrop. I gasped when I saw the title of this post. I guess I’m not the only one who was obsessed with it!

  32. jane says...

    The mille slip dress – siiiigh love it so much. I could break my ban on black for this one, feeling like Italy all day wearing that with flip flops and a bamboo bag.

    I was one of those who could not get into the book but I’ll definitely give the movie a shot.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      me too, the shape is so pretty! and I’d HIGHLY recommend the show, I hope you enjoy it!

  33. Claire says...

    Love the dresses, but what bra would you wear with them? Going braless isn’t an option for me unfortunately!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good question — could you wear a strapless bra, or those chicken cutlets? https://bit.ly/31p3stY

    • Jessica says...

      A black bra with any of these – especially the ones with slightly wider straps like the midi and the tie detail – would pretty much just blend, don’t you think?

    • liz says...

      I have a bunch of cotton bralettes that have normal cotton/elastic straps (the straps don’t look like typical bra straps). Whenever I don’t feel like wearing a strapless bra, I wear one of those and the straps look like they are just part of the dress.

      Also, some of these dresses look they may be extra supportive upper halves so you may not need a traditional bra

    • Em says...

      oh I totally just wear a black bra with anything spaghetti strap like this and I think it still looks great.

    • Claire says...

      Thank you for all the suggestions! Adding some bras to my shopping cart now.

  34. celeste says...

    I feel like I have to watch Mrs. America before I get around to Normal People. I like black dresses with wider straps – the 90s are coming back in full force :).

  35. Maire says...

    I own the tiered dress shown here from the GAP, and I will attest that is a great dress. (Does run a little large. I got a M, but probably could’ve ordered a S. I’m a 36C, size 8-10 if that helps anyone) Can dress it up or down and it is super comfy and forgiving since it is only fitted in the chest. I also have the orange color and love it as well. I’ve been wearing both all summer.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good to know! thank you, maire xo

  36. Gray says...

    I personally felt the show was over-hyped and slooooowwww, but the costume designer absolutely aced it when it came to Marianne outfits. The LBD from Italy was a favorite of mine and I liked the easy Free People-ish style from her highschool days.

    • Kellyn says...

      (that’s how I felt about the book — but haven’t tried the show)

    • Lynn says...

      Same. I realized I had read Conversations with Friends a few months earlier (slow, threadbare plot, and self-absorbed characters all made it forgettable). I guess I am not a Sally Rooney fan :/

  37. Amy says...

    Lovelovelove.

  38. Sarah says...

    Anyone have a good above the knee version to recommend? This midi length that’s so around right now isn’t really flattering on me.

  39. Olivia says...

    This may have been done in the past so certainly correct me if I am wrong, but I would love to see fashion posts LEAD with the image of a plus-size model, not somewhere towards the end, and more than one. :) Thanks for considering this!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thank you so much for the feedback, Olivia! We are on it. Xo

    • Olivia says...

      Awesome, thanks, team! Appreciate the response and consideration!

    • Elizabeth says...

      I was thinking the exact same thing.
      Thanks for flagging this editorial tic (or blindness), it’s the default on the blogoverse whenever there is a style round-up.

  40. Normal People saved mu quarantine. Sexy AF, and the best portray of male vulnerability I have ever seen in film.

    • M. says...

      Dr. Koplin, I agree! Paul Mescal’s acting combined with the character development written for Connell were so refreshing.

  41. Agnès says...

    I feel my arms are too big, but that’s okay; I enjoy the pictures! The atmosphere of the movie reminds me of “Call me by your name”. Ah, to go to Italy! Maybe next year.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, such an amazing, romantic atmosphere for sure!

    • Lauren says...

      I can guarantee you, your arms are not too big!

    • liz says...

      what Lauren said!

    • LS says...

      haha I feel you – I always filter by “sleeve” for this reason.

    • cilla says...

      what Liz said!

    • Ange says...

      wear. the. dress.
      wear. the. shorts.
      wear. the. bathing suit.
      xx