Ah, the enigmatic party dress code. We all know that we have to go formal for Friday and Saturday night weddings. We all know that we should probably not throw on that little red dress for Aunt Mae’s funeral. Hell, we all even know that we should probably pair a cute sundress and a cardigan for that Saturday afternoon baby shower. But how many times have you gotten an invite to an event – a rehearsal dinner on a weeknight, a wedding at 11am on a Sunday, a 50th birthday party at a catering hall – and not had a clue as to what to wear. Do I err on the side of too dressy or on the side of “if I wear this I might look like a slob?” You’ve suffered over it. I know. Its one of life’s big questions; its right up there with “is there life on other planets?” and “where do babies come from?”
But this is one that I’m fully prepared to answer for you today. Oh yes. I’ve solved once and for all the quandary of how to prepare and dress for even the most enigmatic of events.
First of all, and I know some of you might hate me for this, YOU CAN’T WEAR PANTS. With the exception of possibly a shower, dress pants aren’t for parties, they’re for work! If you’re pregnant or post-surgical or something of the like, I’ll give you a pass, but for everyone else – suck it up and throw on a skirt or a dress. Trust me. When a woman wears pants to a wedding, everyone is pointing and talking. I’ve been the pointer and the talker. Don’t be the victim!
The trick is to keep a spare set of accessories in your car, and sit outside and watch other people walk in. Insane? Absolutely. But you’re talking to a girl who purchased a plastic mannequin on Ebay to display clothes on. Trust me on this one! I’m not talking about a full outfit change in the back of your Corolla. A spare pair of shoes… a quick earring and bag change… BAM you’ve gone from funky artistic casual to polished and semi-formal.
Invest in ONE simple, neutral, classic dress. You need one. You’ve heard that every woman needs a little black dress… well, IMO it can also be a little navy dress, or a little taupe dress, or even a little red dress. Just make sure that the cut is classic, not overly revealing, and around knee-length. Even at the wildest of wild retirement parties, no one really wants to wonder if when you bend over in that tight little number, will they in fact get a flash of the hiney? This is a dress that you can wear to a wedding… to a shower… even to work with cute heels and a cardigan or blazer.
Stella is going to model one of my favorite basic dresses, and then I’m going to show you how to dress up (or dress down) two simple dresses from Ann Taylor Loft (they have some awesome dresses in-store right now! Go see!! plus 40% off clearance this week!)
This dress, which I purchased at Marshalls 5 years ago for 16.99, has seen the inside of many a formal function. Its a black, jersey, wrap style dress, which is ideal. Let me tell you why. First and foremost, we all know black is slimming. Second, its jersey so it packs well in a suitcase and washes in the machine. Third, its a wrap, so if you gain or lose a few pounds, it adjusts accordingly. Awesome.
Here, Stella models a casual look centered on the Marshalls dress. She’s dressed it down with a cotton cardigan (Loft) and a wide leather belt (Target). This look could take her to a nice dinner out, to the office, to an afternoon First Holy Communion party. She’s ready for anything.
To keep with the casual feel, Stella would choose a cute wedge, such as these, from Steve Madden. A chunky shoe like this always dresses down an outfit.
Stella chooses earthy accessories for this look. Tri-color bracelet, from target. Wristlet, Coach. Earrings, street vendor courtesy of Jen Esquire.
Stella and her husband Tony were invited to a Friday evening wedding, but for a coworker of her husband that she doesn’t know very well. Stella decides to use the black dress again, and dress it up a bit without going over the top formal. First, she throws an animal print wrap over her shoulders, because catering halls can get chilly sometimes.
Stella chooses standout accessories to make her look special. Gold wedges, Tahari. Black clutch, my moms closet. I think maybe she got it at Sears. Who knew they had cute stuff?? I usually just go there for screwdrivers and washing machines.
Stella throws on these gold dangly earrings, which I actually bought from Marshalls in FIFTH grade. Yes, these earrings are 20 years old. I’ve kept them in a silver-saver box all of these years, and they’ve stayed as good as new!
This is a simple black strapless Loft dress. Its a great one to keep in your wardrobe because the shape is universally flattering and you never have to worry about it going out of style. The best way to casual-up a dress like this? Throw a knit shrug over it. This one, from Old Navy, is a nice neutral color, so you’ll get lots of use out of it. (Obviously you would not wear the tank w/this, but I couldn’t edit it out, so imagine it cami-free) With flat, but still posh, sandals from Ninewest, funky earrings from Anthropologie, a demure bracelet from House of Harlow and a little straw clutch from Big Buddha, this outfit is great for a more casual affair. You’ll feel put together, but not stuffy and formal.
So, you showed up at the party in the outfit above, but you notice everyone walking into the Sunday afternoon wedding is looking pretty damn formal… you feel dumb. Then you remember that you brought an extra tote with some formal accessories. You breath a sigh of relief. You can transform this look into fancy pants in mere seconds! Throw on some gold Stuart Weitzman heels, change your purse into this metallic Kate Spade number; a dramatic gold bib necklace is a great way to fill in the space between your head and the top of the dress, and with a necklace this dramatic, I’d go with simple earrings, like these from Anthropologie. Now you’re ready to steal the show! And if your feet hurt from dancing too much, you know that you have your flats in the car!
This dress is an interesting shape (I personally LOVE the one shoulder look) but its in a great neutral color, especially if you’re looking for something other than basic black. Imagine how great this dress would look with a tan! Anyhow, its easy to dress down this dress. Here I’ve paired it with simple stud earrings from Urban Outfitters, a cute basket weave clutch from Loft, a turqouise bracelet, also from Loft, and very low wedge metallic sandals from Bandolino. Because the dress is slightly dramatic because of the ruffle on the one shoulder, I’ve kept the accessories on the demure side.
You showed up for the anniversary dinner wearing the above outfit, and now you feel like a dirty hippie because you’re the only one who isn’t wearing high heels. Oh no! With some quick changes, you go from vacation casual to the best dressed girl in the room. Dramatic earrings and cuff bracelet, from Anthropologie (where else??) Faux python clutch, Cole Haan. Red rose shoes, Pierre Dumas (available at Piperlime.com – they’re only $30!!) Its like you’re fashion superman, only you’re not a man and you don’t have to change inside of a phone booth, or wear a weird blue unitard.
You know I love this dress, no only because its adorable but because its by Bcbg.