I went to a wedding of a uni friend the other weekend, and that got me thinking about the times when we need to get a bit fancy. In all of my writings and ramblings about living with less, what do we do for those occasions where we need to get dressed up?
Well it makes sense to have a capsule of formal wear – pieces that you use only for when there’s an event. The days of bar hopping and clubbing have now been replaced with engagement parties, weddings, PhD graduation parties, and Christmas get-togethers.
Un-Fancy initially maintained a capsule of 3 formal dresses (which most recently has been pared down to 2) but my own efforts are a little less structured. A lot of what I own survived my initial wardrobe cull and are varied enough to suit me from casual, semi-formal, cocktail, formal, and black tie events. As a result, I haven’t bothered to invest in ‘quintessential’ must haves like the Little Black Dress.
Floral chiffon dress // This is one of mum’s creations and it’s over 30 years old (you’d never know, right?). The drape of the chiffon is incredible and fantastically flattering. Normally I hate anything that is sheath cut because I need a defined waist to not appear like I’m dressed in a hermaphroditic burlap sack (as Barney Stinson would say), but this dress is tailored really intuitively and subtly with darts at all the right places. The overall style is truly timeless and is as appropriate now as it was back in the 70s. Bonus fact – it effectively hides any food baby should I overindulge!
Red lace dress // I think everyone needs one truly loud, extroverted dress that’s full of fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I get a kick every time I take this one out for a spin. The lace is feminine, but the halter neck is a bit cheeky and flirty. Because of this overall vibe, it’s really perfect to wear for parties. I’ve worn this to an engagement party and a Christmas one as well, and usually pair it with a leather jacket for an edgier look to break up all that lace.
Blue whale dress // Mum spied this dress one time when we were in Singapore (say what you will, my mum has the eye for simple but cute dresses) and I was so taken by the whimsical nature of the whale pattern that I bought it. A definite impulse buy. This is a great little day dress in an almost vintage cut, with its full skirt, nipped in waist and boat neckline. It’s doubly brilliant because it has pockets too (what is it about pockets in dresses that makes us go squee?!) I’ve worn it to a garden party for a PhD celebration, and an engagement too.
Wedding dress // When I got married I knew I wanted a colourful dress and something that I could wear more than just that one day. The fact I’m Eurasian probably helps me get away with wearing something that looks culturally traditional, and I’ve taken full advantage of that fact. My wedding ensemble (sarong kebaya) is a two piece affair, made up of a blouse and a skirt. These elements can either be made as a matching pair, but more often than not are versatile enough to be paired with other complimentary pieces and interchanged. I’ve worn the skirt to 3 weddings now, this specific gold top twice (to my own wedding and to the uni friend wedding) and then used different complimentary tops with the skirt to a further two different weddings. There are times where a full length skirt is required but without heading into ball gown territory, and sarongs are usually a great way to tick that criteria. The slim profile is much more chic and demure despite the loudness of the batik pattern.
I do have a few more than what I’ve discussed above, but these are the ones I’ve constantly reached for in recent years. I’ve often wondered if I should invest in something more neutral, like an LBD, and I still play with the concept of owning one. So far there hasn’t been any event where nothing of what I already own hasn’t been able to cover the occasion, so the need for a truly blank canvas in the form of an LBD hasn’t really occurred.
So, where to begin in your own foray?
- Starting off with 3 dresses to cover a basic spectrum of casual, cocktail/semi-formal, and formal makes sense: a dress for each occasion.
- Choosing dresses in solid colours will actually give you a lot of versatility in accessorising with jewellery, handbags, or open layers like cardigans and shawls.
- The higher the hemline, the less formal, and the reverse is the same for more formal (i.e. midi-length to floor length).
- Simple cuts with little to no embellishments will age better over the years and will give you more options to wear them to different events styled with different accessories. If you do choose to colours or patterns, make sure they’re universally flattering on yourself and not the current trend, otherwise the dress will look dated over time.
- Don’t forget to experiment with separates too – an outfit can be a jumpsuit, or a dress made up of separates that you can mix and match with other items in your wardrobe to match the occasion.
If you’re starting from scratch, one of the first pieces you seriously consider may be the LBD. Or a Little Purple Dress. Or a Little Navy Dress. If you know your dress sense well enough to buy that with confidence first, then you can explore other styles and patterns for the remaining two options. Fancy dresses don’t have to be dazzling visually if you know how to accessorise well, and you definitely don’t need a gazillion of them for every function you attend.
You might have noticed that none of my own dresses are neutral or solid colours. I have relied on the style of the dress to convey the vibe instead – despite the sarong being multi-patterened and multi-coloured, its essentially a floor length pencil skirt, and that firmly puts this in the formal category; the halter neck and full skirt of my red lace dress doesn’t take itself too seriously, and those attributes means this dress is more for cocktails; the chiffon dress falls in straight lines and has a very simple cut, so I can get away wearing it in the day or for semi-formal situations.
For a person who usually dresses by colour, I have let the physical appearance of the dress set the tone.
What’s your fancy wardrobe look like? Do you have favourite dresses you default to when going out?