Rise to the occasion
As summer invitation season kicks off, Charlie Gowans-Eglington presents the 10 rules for modern event dressing
Weddings, christenings, graduations, race days, barbecues. The idea of a summer 'season' might sound outdated, but that doesn't stop our calendars from filling up every year. And if the 'helpful' dress codes that accompany each invitation are to be believed, each calls for a brand new outfit.
Difficulty factor increases if you've got a tight knit group of friends who will see you - and your outfit - at every event, but even so, planning ahead and only going shopping with a list will provide you with as capsule an occasionwear wardrobe as possible. Here are my rules - arrived at after a fair few clangers, I might add - for easy event dressing.
Don't be afraid to recycle
While the idea of a new frock for every occasion appeals, it's neither ethically or financially sound, and we are not social media influencers, paid to change our outfits five times a day. No one will ever take as much notice of your outfit as you do yourself.
Look for striking accessories, like large graphic earrings or a belt (if you're looking for something in a specific colour or style to match, you can find good options on the high street: start at & Other Stories and Mango). Or treat this as a long term investment, with some built-to-last items. Cheap or expensive, they will change the overall impact of the same piece and satisfy that urge for something new at the same time.
Layering a high-necked Victorian lace blouse under a trouser suit for one event, and a slinky camisole for another, and you have two entirely different outfits - though even taking your hair up or down could have a similar effect. Buying one piece, rather than many, and restyling it to suit means it may be worth investing a little more in a good quality fabric that will wash well without the colours fading.
It's not an inexpensive option, but if you've got a really special occasion coming up and you're not sure where to begin, then you might consider having something made. Mothers of brides and grooms or party hosts planning in advance, make the most of all that preparation time and plan ahead. Focus on a flattering cut and colour for you, rather than anything too trend-focused; if you're investing in bespoke, you want to be able to wear it for years to come.
...Or befriend a tailor
"I'm obsessed with getting stuff altered rather than made from scratch," says Sophie Goodwin, Fashion Director at British Tatler. "My tailor Raj Mirpuri can turn outfits around in a matter of hours." These tweaks are especially game-changing in making high street pieces look far more expensive.
"He's transformed an ill-fitting baby blue Zara trouser suit, modernised vintage dresses, changed the buttons on shirts and jackets and made hem lengths far more flattering," she adds.
Don't rule out the high street
A bonus of the current trend for modest silhouettes (you can thank everything from the Valentino catwalks to The Handmaid's Tale costumes) is that the high street is experimenting with not-too-low-cut, not-too-highly-slit dresses that cover your knees and elbows all at once - ie, the sort of dresses many of us have been asking for all along. I for one am hoping these shapes continue, but if not, at least you can make the most of the grown-up silhouettes while they last. H&M's inexpensive florals are particularly good, though the fabrics can be a bit sweat-inducing for sunnier days - they have a 100pc silk navy floral dress for a little bit more (€129).
M&S's pale-pink tiered smock dress (100pc cotton, €88) can easily be dressed up, providing the blush colour isn't too close to your natural skin colour.
… But do consider the guest list
If the event is small - like a christening - then buying a floral Zara dress that week offers less risk that another guest will have done so too. For anything larger scale, like a wedding, avoid prints on the high street. A block colour high street dress, like Whistles' vivid blue silk, can be made to look unique with the addition of a contrasting colour bag or unusual shoes, but two dresses in the same print will force you to fake laugh through jokes from inebriated uncles ad infinitum.
Don't save things for best
Buying a really lovely something and saving it for 'best' only to find that, when you actually go to wear it, it either no longer fits you, has gone out of style or has been attacked by moths (on that note, I'm trialling a new pheromone moth spray and will report back) is a waste of wardrobe space.
Invest in a smart cover-up
Forward-planning an outfit just to cover it up with your black wool work coat or the mac you wear to walk the dogs is such a waste. We Irish can't count on sunshine or warmth, even in June, so a dress coat is often more important than a dress: Kate Middleton (left), for instance, rarely reveals what's underneath her Catherine Walker coats. A pastel or brightly coloured blazer (try Paul Smith or Marks & Spencer) will work over pleated skirts or floral dresses. If you'd like something a little less tailored, follow Meghan Markle's lead in a light-coloured duster coat. Personally, I love something a little bolder - a brocade fabric will work for evenings too.
Stick to flats
Heels will work for certain occasions, but if you want to buy one pair to see you through multiple occasions (on lawn, cobbles, parquet floors). only flats will tick all the boxes. Kurt Geiger's crystal-strap velvet pumps are a great option as they've got a closed toe and you can wear them in the cooler months.
And while there used to be snobbery about high street shoes, Mango and Uterque have options to rival designer footwear.
Better overdressed than under
Wedding dress codes, in particular, are often more hindrance than help, with many couples using them to add an original (read: unfathomable) aspect to their wedding. Unless there's a specific colour scheme, wear whatever you feel comfortable in and err on the side of overdressed - it's better to be the smartest person in the room than the most casual.
A moment's discomfort is a small price to pay for ensuring you won't offend your host.
Finally, find a really good hat
One that suits the shape of your face and covers the crown of your head (in line with race-day dress codes), in a shade that will work with most outfits.